It seems so obvious now. The walk there should have been a giveaway. BUB.3, aged three, decided to wear sparkly flip flops two sizes too big for her. Those damn shoes, and they’re not even shoes are they really, flipped off behind her about eighty times on the five-minute walk. Every time the shoe flew off, she cried. I brandished her sensible velcro-secured spare sandals from my bag (we’ve been here before) but this was met with more tears. When we eventually got to my friend’s front door, I was happy to see that the others had also just arrived, everybody in the midst of their own mini meltdown. That’s when we felt the first drops of rain.
We had expected sunshine. We expected to fling the seven children, whose ages range from one to four, out into the lawn, barely visible under the array of ride ons, balls, scooters and trampolines. We would sit enjoying the delicious lunch my friend had made for us, to celebrate my birthday, sipping a glass of birthday Prosecco, whilst the children squealed and spun and delighted us from behind the glass doors. We’d each bought a vast array of snack items for the children to eat before we sat down to our grown ups lunch. There were crackers and tuna sandwiches and party sausages and sausage rolls and cheese and veggies and grapes. They each ate 60 party sausages and left the table, now awash with spat-out tuna and vegetables. “Film anyone?” a few of us cried, hopefully, in unison. “Beauty and the Beast? Tangled? Moana?” I offered to sort out the entertainment while the host started to arrange a magnificent tuna niçoise but the words on her sodding remote control buttons had rubbed off so I was flailing around as the children started to turn. I only managed to find SpongeBob.
The host flung down the olive dressing and moved to the living room with stealth-like urgency and found Beauty and the Beast. She returned, and we spent a good ten minutes clearing the table of dribble and crumbs, and then she served up the beautiful salad. We all chatted happily for one and a half minutes while enjoying our food. And then it started.
Blood. Lots of blood. The children had tipped out the contents of the toy chest across the floor. BUB.3 had managed to get a shard of smashed something in the sole of her foot. One ran for kitchen towel, one for plasters, one for the antiseptic cream. There was LOUD, LOUD crying. The smell of olive and tuna steak was suddenly punctuated by a whiff of something less fresh. “Who needs a poo?” shouted someone. “It wasn’t him, he’s just had one!” Clunk! The scooter one of the three-year-olds had been flying around the kitchen on crunched into the kitchen cupboard doors. “Careful” said the host weakly. The heat was stifling, but the bifolds had to remain shut to keep out the rain and to keep the children in the dry. In our midst.
We returned briefly to our salads, about eleven different conversation threads hanging unfinished in the air, and the one we landed on was whether it was OK to let a potty training child poo in a potty in a pub, which definitely made the salad go down well. All six children were in the kitchen with us. There were wees, THAT poo, and another poo and then someone got run over by a ride on bee and several tears were shed over WHO BLOODY KNOWS WHAT. Then a roar from the living room and on investigation a swarm of ants was discovered amongst the toys. The host disappeared for a good ten minutes to deal with the infestation while we all crunched down on our iceberg lettuce. All of us apart from the one who spent the majority of lunch moving her baby from room to room in a car seat, trying to get her to sleep amongst the chaos.
On her return, my lovely host announced that she had been busy the night before making Mary Berry’s frozen elderflower posset. It was brought into me with a lit candle and everyone, for a moment, was united in singing Happy Birthday to 44-year old me. We then buried our poor, tired, end-of-term faces in it and tried to blot out the noise of Micro Scooters bashing into kitchen plinths. At one point there seemed to be more scooters than children.
Suddenly the window cleaner appeared at the bifolds, just at the moment I opened a bottle of something fizzy that exploded all over my lap. The host realised she only had two pairs of jeans that fit her but valiantly said she would loan one pair to me. If they would fit. But where to change into them, I wondered, as the window cleaner leered in. “Do it in the bathroom, the window is opaque,” she said. Determined not to be undone by the pair of jeans that my host still fits into, I wrestled myself into them and moaned and groaned as I tried to bend my body to sit back down at the table.
Somebody started to clang away on the piano. “Should we put them outside anyway?” ventured one. “Why not!” So outside the children went. This changed very little about our circumstances; we now just had to shout a little louder “STOP that”, “Leave him!”, “What are you doing with THAT?” “NOT on his head!”, “Don’t put that in your mouth,” “I saw that!” “Give it back to her,” “NO,” “Put that back,” “Not in there!”, “Do you HAVE to do that?”, “Share!”, “Do you want a poo?”, “Do you need a wee?”, “Oops a daisy, up you get,” and so on. And then it was time for the school run and time to get the OLDER CHILDREN, with their homework woes and eight-year old teenage angsts. Yes it was exhausting. Yes it was loud. Yes it was stressful. And no it wasn’t THAT much fun. But look at that posset. Look at that olive dressing. We’re in this together and to have someone to go to such an effort for you on your birthday means we’ll all get through it. One poo. One laceration. One ants’ nest. One ill-fitting flip flop at a time.
But next time, we’ll do lunch without the kids.