Birthdays. Everyone loves a birthday. Well, at least everyone did love a birthday, but I am not so sure now. My son turned two last weekend and I thought I would push the metaphorical boat out and celebrate it with something special. You see, I am not a huge party-thrower, cake baker or celebrator. (It’ s just one more thing that my kids can throw back in my face when they are stroppy teenagers and are regaling me with the long list of parenting misdemeanours for which I am responsible). To illustrate the point, let me tell you about the cake that I created for both my sons’ first birthdays. It was a slice of banana on a square of tin foil. Ta-da! Look, it had a candle stuck in it – I am not a total bastard, for chrissakes. But that was pretty much it. Well, neither of them had actually asked for a cake and it was a particuarly tasty banana…
Anyway, as my son had made it all the way to two without escaping, I thought we could take a trip to the local wildlife park. So off we all went. It wasn’t long before we came to the tiger enclosure. The last time I had been to any kind of a zoo, we were lucky to see anything even vaguely resembling wildlife. There was much “look, you can just see the tip of his ear over that rock…” and “well, it is difficult to explain just how big they are when they are that far away, and asleep…” whilst my son squinted dubiously in that general direction and gave a quiet ‘mm’ to appease me. But not that day.
As a special birthday treat for B, the tiger was pacing up and down a path right next to the fence. Well, fences. You know you are dealing with something that has the capacity to get really pissed off when there is more than one man-made obstacle between it and you. And as we watched the sodding great tiger stomp back and forth, it did cross my mind that he was looking a little peeved. I don’t know why I was so shocked to note this. Perhaps it was too many readings of When the Tiger Came to Tea. I mean, I do think that creature was a tad rude, rocking up unannounced and eating all the buns, but he seemed a genial kind of chap overall. Unlike this tiger, who it seemed would be more inclined to slam doors and throw something, if only he had opposable thumbs. And doors.
M wandered ahead with B, and sat at the end of the enclosure behind a glazed area to get a close-up view of the tiger as he walked directly towards them. I watched as the hulking great fur ball stalked down the path in their direction. Then, he quickened his pace. I raised an eyebrow. Then the tiger broke into a run. I peered down the path at the window, seeing the outline of my husband with B on his lap, who was pointing at the tiger, which was probably seeming quite large and perhaps a little too near all of a sudden. Then, the tiger pounced. He launched into the air, paws outstretched, jaws agape. On retelling this tale, I have spoken of a loud roar. To be fair, I am not sure he did roar, but he might as bloody well have done, so I am going to stick with my story and say he let out a loud roar.
The next thing I heard was the quite novel sound of tiger hitting window. Now, whilst I take an inordinate amount of glee from the unmistakable ‘donk’ of a bumble bee flying into glazing, this was a sound that provoked a little less mirth. I saw my husband leap backwards in fright, before the ear-piercing screams of my son filled the air. To say he was inconsolable was a little like saying that the tiger appeared to be mildly irritated that he hadn’t been able to grab that plump, juicy morsel of small boy to have for his elevenses. Tears repeatedly plopped down my son’s puce-coloured face as he pointed at the tiger enclosure, and perhaps more specifically at the tiger saliva that was dripping down the window, and howled.
Many, many sob-filled minutes later, calm was almost restored, and we decided a snack was just the thing, and found a picnic table. As soon as we sat down, two black chickens strutted out of nowhere on the lookout for a nibble or two. I say two black chickens. Through my recently-traumatised son’s eyes, they were ninja chicken assassins, hell bent on plucking out his eyes. It was interesting to watch my son physically scale his dad so that he was perched almost atop his shoulders, glancing over at the evil fowl lurking below, eyes filled with terror. To divert him, I held out a grape, but much like the British relay team, we had not practised our hand-over well enough and the grape fell to the floor, to be plucked up and devoured. Cue more crying. And his fear eventually got the better of his older brother too. So there we were, trying to have a nice relaxing snack on my son’s birthday, one child clinging to his dad’s neck and demanding through tears to be moved, whilst the other was on all fours on the top of the table shouting at the chickens to go away. Well, as birthday outings go, this was going swimmingly.
Perhaps we should abort any more close encounters with the wildlife, they all seemed a little too… well, wild. Let’s go on the train, instead, we decided. M stayed on the platform with the pram whilst I dislocated both kneecaps fitting me, my five year old and my two year old into a tiny carriage. Actually, carriage is a little optimistic as a description. Two miniature benches on wheels would probably suffice. We slowly pulled out of the platform, giving daddy a cheery wave. “Daddeeeeeee…” wailed B, as we trundled into the woods. “Dadddeeee…..” And he started crying. Again. Surely, he’d run out of bloody tears by now? If he cries much more I will be carrying home a large pale raisin once formerly known as my son. We rounded a corner to be confronted by a twenty foot fibre glass dinosaur, provoking yet more howls. Well, this whole train idea is turning out to be a stunner. The couple in the carriage in front of us turned to look at him, smiling thinly in that ‘oh dear, he’s not happy…now please bloody shut him up’ kind of way. I smiled back. Or I could have snarled, I am not sure. Let’s just go with smile, shall we? So there I sat, knees pounding with pain as we jolted and bumped our way round the track, clinging on to my wriggling, distraught son as if my life depended on it. Which it probably did, as if I had pulled into the station one son down, explaining that he had made a dive for freedom just after the fifteen foot high Kung Fu Panda (just don’t bloody ask) my husband may have throttled me. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity (although still a rip off at a pound a head and long term patella damage) we arrived back in the station. I glanced at my watch, wondering just how long it was to go before wine ‘o’ clock and whether the zebra-striped Snack Hut sold Jack Daniels.
We were all pretty relieved when we arrived home. I knew the whole celebratory day-trip thing was not for me. Nor, it turns out, for my son, either. Next year, I am reverting back to a slice of banana and a quick scoot to Tesco. That’s much more my style.
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