I see you. Your children see you. Can you see you?

The thing with Instagram mums is you can’t see them. If Sarah down the road has her shoes on the wrong feet (hers, not her child’s, it can happen) you can see it. You can see her unwashed hair, her red-rimmed eyes, the numerous fish finger boxes in her recycling. You can see her ill fitting jeans.

Women have never been perfect mothers. They just never got so incessantly pulled up by the media and they never had to compare themselves to filtered Instagram addicts. Looking back over time, billions of women have looked out for each other, helped each other, listened, noticed, shared and laughed with each other. That circle of support still exists today, down the street and online. My preferred channel of support is the bloggers and the writers who call themselves things like Unmumsy Mum and Scummy Mummies and Hurrah For Gin. They don’t fit the image of ‘mother’ that has been written not just by mothers, but by men, by media, by doctors and experts. They’re written by women who have kids. Mothers.

Modern day internet heroes are those women who make us laugh, who show us their red-rimmed eyes, their fat arses, their boredom, their bottle of gin, their tearful commute to work, their daily guilt, their imperfections, their love for their children. The Sarah Turners, the Helen Thorns, the Ellis Gibsons and the Katie Kirbys.  When was it decided that there was a bar to reach? And who decided it? It definitely wasn’t the woman sitting on the bench in the park with food-stained jeans on, hiccuping back tears and wishing she could just lie down for a minute. She has always been there. She has always sat on that bench. She just never had a world of comparisons and expectations on her shoulders. Her kids are alive and they’re in the park. You did it lady, these bloggers say, every day. You did everything you needed to and sometimes you need to hear that every day.

Kids don’t see Instagram filters or symmetrical cup cakes or fashion-forward scarves when they look at you or your home. They see lines and imperfections and sometimes they see tears; they see you. Not your 3495 followers. Not your dirty kitchen cupboards. Not your Valencia-filtered home-made egg muffins. They see you. If you transcribed the average mother’s day it would probably be a mixture of “God, can you just leave me alone for two minutes” and “I love you so much I can barely breathe” but there is no such thing as the average mother. To your child, the only person in the world who makes you a mother, there is only you.

And if anyone judges you for looking at your text messages from friends that make you laugh out loud and stealing a few minutes of feeling like you while your children play, or for feeding your kids the quickest thing you can find, then you probably want to scream at them that you weren’t always a mother and being a mother isn’t all that you are and, ultimately, you are just you looking after your child as best you can.

The fortunate mothers in this world aren’t hiding in broom cupboards scared of falling short or drinking in secret or pretending this is all they ever wanted or needed. They are doing it all in the open. They’re getting on trains across cities to work. They’re flying to meetings. They’re working night shifts. They’re drowning in laundry. They are fighting every day to balance everything their child needs with what they need. And they’re writing it all down, speaking it out loud and with it, millions of shoulders feel a little less heavy. Their words, their version of motherhood, their stories. Hallelujah to that. And to any mother who receives criticism for how she has done something from someone who has no business to say so, just remember to look down the street, or online, and there will be other mothers, scummy mummies and unmumsy mums and gin-loving mums,  leaving the house with a bat cape on, with cheerios in their hair, chairing meetings, attending school plays, writing presentations, saving lives, teaching other children, taking a bottle of wine out to the recycling and resisting a very slight urge to be sick. They’re doing all of these things.

So what does this have to do with the mummy bloggers who are much maligned by some? What these amazing women are doing is they are saying: You can be both. Just be both. Enjoy your life. Enjoy you and be glad to be you because that’s all your children want or need you to be. Above all, forgive yourself for not being perfect, so that your kids can look up to the happy, confident, joyful, imperfect woman that you were meant to be. To them, you are perfect and when it comes to judging mothers, whose opinion really, really matters?

Advertisements

Camping: Never. Again (until next week).

Camping. It’s basically just wiping toilet seats, dry retching, eating crisps and arguing, isn’t it? How many times in one holiday can you say “You CAN’T want a wee again already?” or “Have you finished yet?” or “Don’t go in THAT one!” or “You’re not hungry because you’ve eaten eight bags of crisps,” or “We can’t stay together if you think this is a holiday.” Precious moments spent choosing between the shower cubicle with dead flies or the knot of thick hair. The dry retching into the sink as you clean your teeth. The omnipresent smell of cooked egg. We camped for the first time as a family a couple of weeks ago.

It started well. Before check in we’d had a really splendid lunch at The Watch House cafe in nearby West Bay, a place famous for Broadchurch. Our tent was erected in sunshine and as we watched a glorious sunset a group of fun-looking people were kicking off a huge BBQ. WW leaned in, pointed to a lovely, be-shawled, wind-swept, smiley woman wearing the EXACT SAME red sandals as me, and said “She either lives in our village or she’s on TV.” “SHE’S ON TV” I assured him, recognising her deep guffaw as Kerry Godliman, who played the truly wonderful Hannah in Ricky Gervais’s Derek. Comedy gold, a red sun, a bottle of wine and my comedian-endorsed red sandals!

I practiced casually nodding and saying “Nice shoes” for the next three days, a killer line I failed to use as our bladders/bowels/ablutions/dirty dishes failed to synchronise. But the children were making friends with Kerry’s kid in an adjacent playground, and I was planning our future dinner parties with Ricky Gervais, we had pasta on the boil and all was well. I sipped Pinot Grigio alone, in the tent. The wind was beginning to get a bit, shall we say, flappy, as WW chased the children round a freezing pitch black patch of grass with a ball.

The next day, the driving rain was fierce, and cold, and sideways and yet WW leapt out of the tent and began cooking sausages and tomatoes to absolute perfection, his face being lashed by the rain. Not one to sit back and let someone else do all the work, I reached into the bag for some sliced bread. Unfortunately the bread had been in the cool bag with the ice that had now melted. It flopped down into our plates like a wet sponge. We cleared it all away and forgot to make a cup of tea.

Later, in the playground, my glands throbbing and my throat smarting, I overheard two men talking about a dog that had run off the edge of the cliff a week prior. “Lethal up there,” they were saying, gruffly. An air of doom started to descend, followed by a clanging headache. “Let’s go swimming!” said WW, pointing to the indoor pool we were fortunate enough to have on site. Everyone loves a public swimming pool right? Especially one with a one-in-one-out policy, that lets half your family in with your whole family’s swimming stuff, leaving you standing in the changing room with nothing to change into. I had to creep fully-clothed round the edge of the pool, ignoring the “Only swimming costumes to be worn beyond this point” sign and knock on the men’s changing rooms to retrieve my costume.

And who doesn’t like swimming pools that have no lockers so you have to put all your lovely dry clothes into a damp plastic container and store it on a shelf at the edge of the swimming pool, causing you to drop your partner’s boxer shorts on the wet floor as you leave the pool only for him to shout “My pants are wet!” at you as you scurry back to the changing rooms, hiccuping back tears? The tears weren’t because of the wet pants, no, I couldn’t care less about his wet pants, but because once we were all in the pool, I started to feel really, really strange. I had burnt my wrist on the oven at home a few days before and the burn turned bright yellow in the pool. I could see people eyeing my neon wound with suspicion and I immediately diagnosed myself with septicaemia. All around me were families throwing each other in the air and teaching the correct breaststroke technique and laughing, and I was swilling around in their chlorinated bum scum which I was suddenly convinced would be the last conscious experience of my 44 years here on earth.

And there it was again, the line so often muttered when we go to a public swimming pool. “I’ve got to get out of here,” I said to WW. “I’ll ask reception where the nearest doctor is.” As some sort of karmic payback for wet pants-gate, I got to the showers to discover I hadn’t brought my bag with my clean clothes and my shampoo in it. I had to climb back into my now wet old leggings and stretchy top, now festooned with strangers’ pubic hair, and return to the tent, in the rain, to retrieve my bag, before returning to the shower block with murder in mind. I washed away some of the torment and felt calmer as we drove to the nearest pharmacist who told me to visit the Minor Injuries Unit. I told WW to drop me there and go and get the kids some lunch as I’d undoubtedly have a wait on my hands. So off they went into Bridport and I was told I had an hour’s wait. An hour to myself sitting in a warm in a chair. This was only now becoming a holiday. I saw a man walking back to his chair with a cup of tea, at the exact time as I realised I’d left my purse in the car.

Exactly a parched hour later a nurse rolled up her sleeves to reveal an arm of oven burn scars similar to mine. “Ah, I know all about these,” she chirruped, before glancing at my luminous throbbing wrist and saying “That’s normal healing. Have a nice rest of your holiday.” Back in the car WW was in a stew. “What a waste of time, we’re going home tomorrow,” he said.  “No we’re not, we’re going home the following day,” I corrected him before realising I should have kept my mouth shut. But then he pointed to the footwell and said “Your lunch is down there,” and as I reached down and peeled back some paper to reveal some cold chips and curry sauce, I knew this holiday wasn’t over yet. “Charmouth now, for fossils!” he announced. On arrival, BUB.3 had fallen asleep in the car. “Oh no, what a shame,” I said. “She must be tired from sleeping in the tent, I’ll have to stay with her.” I was already winding my seat back and putting my feet on the dashboard before I finished the sentence. I watched their distant figures holding buckets and running towards the sea and back again and I gently closed my eyes to sleep. Which I did, for forty blissful minutes.

The day ended well, with a lovely meal in Lyme Regis. Blog posts could be written about our sea edge location, the wonderful behaviour of our children, the delicious food we consumed. But that’s for another day (never). The night ended with me taking a wee in a crab bucket that leaked, someone opposite us tent being completely flattened by the wind, and overhearing the Dad in the tent next to ours shouting to his sniggering kids: “I can STILL smell it!”

The next morning we decided to have breakfast in the onsite restaurant to reduce the risk of wet bread. We went for Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine, both of which arrived on untoasted bagel, dripping wet with egg juice. Nevermind, we’re here for fossils, not dry bread, we thought and sped off to Seatown, a beautiful spot on the Dorset Coast. Parking by the incredibly well-positioned Anchor Inn I went into order myself a cup of tea, leaving them to make a head start on the fossil hunting. It was a heavenly five minutes to myself.

Fully braced, we walked along the pebbled beach and fished out ammonites and rocks that looked like animals (a teddy bear! A whale!) before heading to Lyme again to spend the children’s spending money. Up and down the high street parents were all having the EXACT same conversation. “The toys were rubbish, they were better in the WHSmiths, let’s go there.” and “Next time shall we just camp in the car park of Smyths toy store?” We finally emerged with a Nemo bracelet, a marble egg and a fossil, a rich trawl compared to some of the rubber items we had been presented with. Relief flooded us, the children were happy, so back to West Bay for an ice cream…and crabbing. What? It was wet, cold and windy but, to my delight, it seemed that yet more fun was to be had. I strode off to buy a new crabbing bucket and we stood in the rain fishing crabs out of the harbour. “This is just the BEST most awesome day,” said BUB.1. It was awesome, I had a morning cup of tea, fish and chips for dinner and just as we were all dropping off to sleep, we were treated to the audio of a fantastically brutal war film being watched at full blast from a nearby tent that had arrived earlier that day.

Before our departure from the campsite the next morning, I showered with BUB.3 and as she was getting dressed she shouted: “Mum, what’s that red thing on your pants?” Her voice echoed around the shower block for all to hear. “It’s Elmo darling,’ I responded, looking at my “novelty” Elmo knickers. I had to stop myself following up with:”Hey everybody in the shower block, I’m a  44-year old woman with a big red Elmo on my pants, I’m not having my period. In case ya’ll were wondering!”

I don’t know if there’s been a lower point in my existence but I’ll find out this week. We’ve just booked to go camping in West Wales for four nights.

 

 

 

 

 

Ants, pants, wet gussets and battered plinths: My birthday lunch

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.

 

 

 

8 times I knew I was tired

 

I decided to adopt the “early tea and fast track into PJs” strategy, only to find everyone demanded a second tea and required a change of pyjamas. Double the work. Twice the pain.

I completely lost track of how many contact lenses I had put in each eye and took three out of one eye but still couldn’t see.

I listened to the entire Serial podcast thinking it was fiction.

I got the sofa bed out for use as a bouncy castle, and they used my face as the castle but it’s a lie down and I took it.

I wished for glandular fever & NHS-provided 24 hour childcare so I could watch back-to-back Line of Duty from the start.

I watched TV and for ten minutes thought Gino D’acampo was looking a bit old before realising it was Bruno Tonioli.

My request for an hour of nobody starting a sentence with “I want” so that Mummy can have a rest was met with “But I don’t want you to have a rest.”

My child said “Mum why are there two massive dogs in our living room?” when we don’t own dogs and I was in the living room and I hadn’t even noticed.

Solidaritea (and up yours Daily Mail)

Reading one of these women’s posts is the equivalent of panicking because everyone in your post-natal group is bringing out brightly coloured snack pots full of home made humous and pasta salad and you have forgotten a snack but then the woman opposite you brings out a tupperware from her bag from last week that she’s forgotten about and it’s got mould growing in it and everyone sees and you just want to hug her and say “Thank you.”

I started a draft of this post several days ago, before that odious Daily Mail article about Mummy bloggers was shat out into the internet, promoting the repulsed reaction of many alongside the hashtag solidaritea. I don’t have the time or inclination to finesse it so I’ll just churn out what I was trying to say, while the iron is hot (which is never in my house, because I’m ONE OF THOSE AWFUL MOTHERS).

There are several kinds of mummy bloggers. Hundreds of different kinds. Here are some of the more famous (and some of the ones mentioned in that ridiculous joke of a “story”)

  • The tell it like it is. She’s One of Us. (e.g. The Unmumsy Mum)
  • The hilarious, ranty, keeps her family quite private but CHRIST can we all relate to her (e.g. Peter and Jane)
  • The focus on the downright sluttishness, the things we dare not admit – until now (e.g. Scummy Mummies)
  • The straight to the heart, downright funny and visual (think lovely clever cartoons) (e.g.Hurrah for gin)
  • The ones who call each other queens and bitches and reveal painful truths, perfect for when we’re angry and we miss our old selves (e.g. LikeaQueen)

On the flip side, there are the super polished ones who became a brand by working with brands. They have pretty lives, which is admirable, in a way, but I don’t find it interesting. I have also read parenting blog posts that just detail a particular child’s bowel movements. Or their first steps. That is it. That is not a blog, it’s a journal. They’re not much fun to read.

I’ve been going through my old blog posts (dating back as far as 2012) and I like to think I’ve not embarrassed my children. Most of my posts are observations about the funny things kids say, or how a day has gone, or about relationships. General whimsical stuff, crazy pregnancy stuff, random musings.  I don’t complain about my children, I do that to their face. I laugh about them, usually at my expense, which is what most of us do to let off steam.

We’ve just come out of Mental Health Awareness week. We all know that things can topple onto you, make you feel claustrophobic, make you wonder how you’ll get through the day, make you yearn to be alone, make you yearn to be with anyone else but your children, make you yearn to only be with your children, make you so happy you can’t bear to think of all the things that could shatter that happiness if you walk out that door, make you want to stop time, make you scared of everything, make you glad to be alive, make you feel alive.

If you can make someone laugh out loud or let out a sigh of “Oh it’s not just me” you can make a world of difference.  All it can take is one thing to rescue you, make you feel you’re not alone. It’s not always easy to get that thing in the real world. Not on those days when you’re struggling with breastfeeding, liaising with a malevolent toddler, looking after a poorly child or trying to remember the last time you left the house.

Reading one of these amazing bloggers’ posts is the equivalent of panicking because everyone in your post-natal group is bringing out brightly-coloured snack pots full of home-made humous and pasta salad and you have forgotten a snack but then the woman opposite you brings out a tupperware from her bag from last week that she’s forgotten about and it’s got mould growing in it and everyone sees and you just want to hug her and say “Thank you.”

So thank you to all the Mummy bloggers who share their reality, their insanity and their joy at being a parent. And up yours Daily Mail (*swigs gin* AND *finishes the kids’ cold fishfingers dipped in lumpy ketchup*)

 

 

Fish heads 1 Parents 0

I sipped my tea from a safe distance, muttering things like “There’s no need for such a fuss” and “It’s nothing a quick rinse with some soapy water can’t fix” and “It’s just a matter of encouraging their individual interests,” as the children splattered and smeared fish guts all over the kitchen cupboards.

Flopping a raw dismembered fish head onto a restaurant table is generally considered bad table manners but so is lying on the restaurant floor and you let a lot go when you have a fussy eater. This delightful sprat head, which BUB.1 acquired near a fish market after a day foraging for fossils on the Jurassic Coast, eventually took pride of place in his ‘special things’ box alongside some rotten bird eggs, a mouse head and an empty bird skull. We thought we could exploit this new interest in fish – he gags on fish fingers, so the only way was up – and a few days later took him to the fish counter to pick one out “for lunch.” A seabass, we thought. It was the start of something

That afternoon, fish guts were strewn across our kitchen island and all up my splash backs. BUB.1 sawed through the spine and garotted the poor thing. We had fins drying on paper towels and silver slithers of flesh on all the cupboard door handles. “Can I float its head in water Mummy?” he asked, as we started to clean up.”Pardon?” “Can you get me a bowl so I can see how it moves in the water?”

I filled a long vase and we dropped the head in, watching it slowly sink to the bottom, spinning. It was like that scene in Jaws when they find Ben Gardner’s boat. The meagre remnants of fish flesh that remained were duly baked in foil and picked out with a fork, in 1mm x 1mm sections, while BUB.1 dry retched. When WW got back from work that Saturday, the surfaces had been hosed down and we gushed about how we had filleted our own fish, like something from The Waltons. I felt like a parenting ninja.

A week later, it was WW’s turn, and this time we had a mackerel and a trout. I have never seen WW get so angry, as he produced a box of thin protective white gloves for everyone to wear. I sipped my tea from a safe distance, muttering things like “There’s no need for such a fuss, it’s nothing a quick rinse with some soapy water can’t fix,” “It’s just a matter of encouraging their individual interests,” and “He’s no Bear Grylls is he kids?” as he shouted things like “Don’t TOUCH the shiny knobs! NOT the knobs!”, “Stop dangling that all over the floor” and “It’s dripping on my leg!”

However, being a truly remarkable Dad, he overcame his fury and while staying at the in-laws a few weeks later he promised to take them to Bolton fish market (“the fish mecca of the north west” – his words). We decided to make it a family outing, as we like to do with all bad ideas, and it coincided with bobbing into Clarks for some new shoes.

The view in the fish market was truly breathtaking. I held my scarf over my mouth and tried not to breathe. Mound upon mound of sea creatures. I looked at the floor to kick away a rogue tentacle and I noticed that the  ‘Light Up!’ lights on BUB.2’s shiny new trainers weren’t lighting up. “We’ll have to take them back! Let’s go BACK!” I cried.” “I need a wee!” said BUB.3, her timing, as always, perfect. For once, I was keen to visit a public toilet, in the belief that the horrors within were better than the horrors without. We skated on an ice rink of frozen rancid brine past gaping mouths, bulging eyes, bloodied cavities, fetid fins, purple sinews, black seepage and tiny, tiny killer bones.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw WW looking at me. “You’re turning green. Your face is actually GREEN. Look kids! Mummy is GREEN!” “Can we get a squid beak, Mummy, please?” begged BUB.1. For the love of God, I didn’t even know squids had beaks. I used to spend Saturday afternoons smoothing myself with shimmering body lotions and spritzing myself with wine rather than standing in a swill of sea sludge, coated in a glistening varnish of fish glue. I moved quickly towards the toilets.

One fish I could handle. One normal, sea bass, on MY kitchen counter, under MY terms, I thought as I hoisted BUB.3’s trousers back up. But this was just short of a joke. He’d taken it too far. We made our way back to the market. Where the bloody hell were the kids? I looked around and saw them at quite some distance, heading behind the salmon counter to get a better look. Behind the counter where the fish guts were knee-high. “NEW SHOES” I screeched, sloshing through the rippling tide of fish intestines. Too late. New sparkly silver and blue non-light-up trainers, coated in a veneer of fish gravy. “Can we just take a salmon head please?” WW said to the guy. “20p, what a bargain!” WW beamed as we left the market, head in hands.

Back at Grandma’s, BUB.1 began his precise work, nipping bits off here, peering at teeth, showing us with pride how the jaws worked. When he wanted to inspect the bones more closely, he asked Grandma to boil it up on her stove which she kindly spent her Saturday afternoon doing, without asking the question I’m sure was on her lips: “Does he not enjoy football?”

As the fish heads were boiling to the bone, WW returned with a refund on the fishy, non-flashing trainers.  What a Dad. Oh and BUB.1 wants pet fish now. He’s made a list. We’ve managed to persuade him that a gecko is a better choice. For the fish.

 

 

 

The Poo Lagoon* (*or Bank Holiday at the public swimming pool).

Further round we dance, ducking under buckets of cold water, ricocheting off of obese men’s stomach, rippling past frenzied children kicking, mouldy crocodiles and a demonic stork, we make it back to the baby beach, apologising to everyone we get kicked in the face by.

Bank Holiday Mondays. Sun blazing through a London pub window, dust sparkling in the glare of the midday sun, the first drink arrives. Or a walk around Hampstead Heath, arm in arm, settling on a pub with a cosy nook and a glass of wine. Telly and bed.

But wait, what is this fresh hell? I have children. So I wake up this morning to WW telling me we’re all going swimming today, to the only swimming pool that has ever closed for refurbishment and reopened grimmer and more disgusting than before. The BUBs are bursting with excitement, so we find towels (WW forgot them last time and had to dry the children with his jumper), make sandwiches, and go about leaving the house.

We see the queue of people snaking out of the building as we approach, so I send WW back to the car to get everybody’s coats because the freezing wind is rattling around our necks. Twenty minutes later, at the front of the queue, we discover we don’t have a £1 coin for the locker and the staff can’t help (“No cash back, sorry, next please!”). So WW dashes to the bowling alley to get cash out to change at the desk. We play an impromptu game, sparked by the fact that BUB.2 has decided to sit at a different table to us as we wait for WW. “Hello little boy, are you lost? Would you like to come and live with our family? I’ll be your Mummy!”. “Yes, OK!” A woman at a nearby table gives me a sidelong glance but I’m warming to my theme. “Let’s see if we can find a lost Daddy! Oh look, here comes one in a blue jumper and a scruffy beard and he’s carrying some loose change!”.

Once inside, I’m the only one who has forgotten to wear a swimming costume under my clothes, so what follows is five minutes of “Mummy is naked! She’s completely naked! *INSERT MY ACTUAL FULL NAME* is completely naked!” shouted from the cubicle.  We fill two lockers with coats, sandwiches and towels. BUB.3 wants a wee. We wade through what can only be described as an inch of human scum to get to the cubicle. Once in the pool, along with 673 other people, we decide to take a swish around the lazy river or the “lagoon” as it is optimistically called. Before we can get there, a bastard monkey deposits a bucket of water over everybody’s head, and I am struck in the eye by a spurt of foamy white water emanating from a rusty looking pipe at the entrance to the lagoon. Clutching BUB.3, we bob around the corner and past a screaming cauldron of children, going bat shit crazy (and possibly relieving themselves) in a little lagoon nook. Further round we dance, ducking under buckets of cold water, ricocheting off obese men’s stomach, rippling past frenzied kicking children, mouldy crocodiles and a demonic stork, we make it back to the baby beach, apologising to everyone we get kicked in the face by.

BUB.3 realises my worst nightmare and wants to go in the bit with the baby slide, which is populated by people who think it’s appropriate to wear elaborate Pat Butcher-style earrings to a public pool. Somewhere you crouch down in a foot of tepid water and turn your head sideways every time a stranger’s bum crack passes within an inch of your mouth. I hang my head in shame as BUB.3 decides to walk up the slide (“DANGEROUS. GET DOWN.” That is my voice, being a grown up). Then BUB.2 escapes the big pool and comes to use the baby slide too, only he’s actually physically longer than the actual slide so the momentum is never really there, an embarrassment only alleviated when a boy of at least 13 with hairy legs has a go. We can’t go on the proper water slides because the queues snake round past the toilets. We decide on another bask around the lagoon, a decision I regret as soon as the frothy, rusty pipe ejaculation hits me square in the face.

Back in the safety of the baby beach, which has now reached a temperature of 150 degrees, BUB.3 says “I’m hungry.”  Oh angel child of mine, you heaven-sent goddess of wisdom, you gift of life, you treasure, you fairy-winged saviour of mankind. “The BABY is hungry. We’ll have to get out. Did you hear? She’s HUNGRY everyone”. The “baby” is three, but that’s not the point. I gather everyone around and head for the Changing Village (has anything ever been less village-y? Where is the post office? The tea shop? Any of the basic facilities of a human settlement?) and find a miracle.  The holy grail of public swimming pools. A family changing room (cottage?). It’s not ideal, the bin inside it is bursting out with used nappies and sanitary towels, and WW suggests we put a bag on it because he has lost his mind and there is just one sodding hook for a family of five. “DON”T GO NEAR THE BIN” I scream. It only takes us the best part of an hour to get everyone dry, and dressed and sitting happily with a bag of crisps. I’ve only had to shout “DON’T TOUCH THE BIN” fourteen times as we manoeuvre our five bodies around the family changing room which would be big enough if we were the Sylvanian Family.

And then the words that come out of my mouth almost every time we go swimming. “I’ve GOT to get out of here.” It’s me, opening the door, grabbing BUB.3 and making a girl’s dash for the loo in the “Vanity Area” (if vanity means leaving great hunks of wet hair for people to step into, then it’s perfect), to avoid the human sludge in the pool-side toilets. There was nothing vain about the person who got there first and decided diarrhoea and flushing were mutually exclusive activities. Dry retching, and hoarse from shouting “DON’T TOUCH THE SEAT” we dry half our heads with the 20p hairdryers and make our way to the car, where all three children demand feeding.

Still retching, I vow never to eat again. We head for Costco, where we all down a hefty slice of pizza (*ahem*) before dragging the tired kids around a warehouse-sized shop, being forced to buy three whole sea bass (another story, another blog post) and a bumper bag of Cornettos to keep the peace. Home at last we chop a head off a fish (BUB.1 has a new hobby, like I say, it’s another story) and I beg WW to go the shop for wine but he tells me to try sparkling water. I weep openly and head to the fridge where I find an old can of Stella which I have three sips of before BUB.2 spills it. Fish head boiling in the pan, the children in their pyjamas, WW puts on some Brazilian music and we all start juddering around the kitchen, which is fun until I catch sight of my belly jiggling to its own rhythm. Flinging myself on the floor, I start to do some emergency sit ups, only to have WW and BUB.2 doing their Brazilian dance over me, legs akimbo, shaking their bums over my head. And laughing. With a fish head boiling on my stove, we are all laughing.

Because in between the dry retching, the human gunk, trampolining off men’s arses, the spunk face wash, the bum cracks, the bodily hair, the sanitary towels, the faeces, the greasy pizza, the boiled fish head, today was actually one of our better family days out.

 

 

 

Rhyming with Wine