As we piled into the car recently for a trip into Edinburgh, I had the strangest feeling I’d forgotten something. Purse. Check. Phone. Check. Mask. Check. Three children. Check. Then it suddenly hit me. I’d forgotten what it was like to set off on a grand day out without first packing the car for what seemed like a family expedition to Mount Everest. Thankfully, those days are in my distant past but they are still firmly etched on my memory.
Rewind back the years to ‘Toddlerdom’. You are under no illusion as to why you’re heading off for a grand day out. You’re not going to the zoo to pique their interest in the natural world because they’ve taken to cuddling a stuffed monkey at night. You’re not going on the forest bike trail because they’re obviously natural athletes and are showing glimpses that they could be a future Bradley Wiggins or Victoria Pendleton. You’re not going to the ceramic pot painting hut because you want them to embrace their inner creativity and express themselves meaningfully on a mug. You are going on a day expedition to tire the buggers out and to keep your house or holiday accommodation reasonably clean for longer than five minutes.
The nappy bag. Wrongly named because it contains a whole lot more than nappies. It’s a Mary Poppins bag. Whatever your infant is twining about, the remedy will be found in the bag. Once you’ve searched every pocket and compartment that is. Carrying this will probably lower your right shoulder by a couple of inches but god forbid, you set off on your grand day without it.
The pram. This is not just a vehicle in which to transport a small human. It’s a versatile piece of equipment. It’s also a baggage carrier. Rather like ‘Double or Drop’ on Crackerjack (apologies to anyone younger than 40 but there’s always Google), the day will be spent seeing how many bags the pram can hold without any spillages. Yet, no matter how many times it has happened, you are never prepared for the moment the child makes a swift and unexpected exit from the pram and the whole thing topples like a game of Jenga. Stu Francis would not be impressed. (Again, young people, google.) The pram also doubles up as a battering ram. Queue not moving quickly enough. Attack. No room at the fence to watch the sea lion show. Attack. Feral child (not your own for once) really getting on your nerves. Attack. Husband (your own) being generally annoying. Attack. I sometimes miss not having a pram.
The picnic. You can’t afford to eat at the extortionately priced cafe with their homemade cakes and sausage rolls because someone keeps getting pregnant and appears to be on permanent maternity leave, so there’s not enough money coming in for sugar ridden soft drinks and energy inducing cappuccinos. So you make a sandwich selection to rival M&S’ chilled cabinet because everyone annoyingly likes different fillings. Plus throw in some crisps and Aldi’s version of Kit Kats and the meal is complete.
The refreshments. You have to have a completely separate bag for the myriad of non-spill, toddler proof sippy cups/drink bottles which leak everywhere. It would be so much easier to take one large bottle of plain tap water, but, in the days before COVID, cross contamination was definitely not an option. Sam would have killed anyone who merely looked at his cool Thomas the Tank Engline drinks canister with matching strap. It was also his secret weapon because, should his younger brother revert to being an annoying younger brother, he could swing it round and whack Joel on the head (but it was ok because there was a first aid kit somewhere in the nappy bag.) Meanwhile, nobody could share Joel’s juice because it had magical enhancing ingredients which made him run like Sonic the Hedgehog and behave like an utter fruit loop and he wasn’t sharing that with anyone. And nobody wanted to drink whatever was inside Abigail’s cup adorned with Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy because that relationship was just weird; even Joel thought it was strangely disturbing.
The buggy. At some point in time, you have a buggy to accompany the pram. Why though? Two of the three offspring have learnt how to put one foot in front of the other. They don’t need to be ferried round like prima donnas. Although, thanks to his special sonic juice, the middle one did have a habit of racing off with alarming speed and a distinct lack of sense of danger, so maybe it was better to contain him. Yet here we are, pushing two four wheeled perambulators, not necessarily containing children either. Invariably, the little human, who can’t actually walk yet, wants out so has to be bribed with chocolate buttons to stay put or plopped on a hip like a sack of potatoes. Before you know it, the five year old has jumped in their place and feels the same weight as the elephant he’s meant to be showing an interest in. He’s not. He’s sucking his thumb and looking with drooping eyes at the pavement!
There’s the days you decide to treat yourself and/or risk embarrassment/chaos/devastation. You’re not going to make a packed lunch. You’re all going to enjoy a freshly cooked meal in the cafe. And so you enter the judging arena. Please god, let there be kids worse behaved than mine. Please god, let there be food my children will eat. And please god, let this experience be over as quickly and painlessly as possible. First problem. The buggy tipples over as soon as the five year old jumps out, having spied chocolate buttons (of which there are drawers full back at the holiday cottage). Cue the first FFS. Next there’s the quick decision you need to make as you furtively glance around. Which is the best option? Stay with the kids or queue for food and return having purchased everything abhorrent to your three offspring? You opt to stay and they immediately and in unison start shouting they are sooooo hungry and soooo bored. Cue second FFS. You’re left to do the quick cleanliness recce. Baby wipes at the ready, you go crazy doing the job someone else in the building is apparently being paid to do. Unbeknown to you, the baby has sourced some other family’s chocolate button and is now having the mightiest of tantrums as you snatch it from their grasp. No amount of going ‘yack yack yack’ is working because, as far as baby is concerned, those brown droppings are ‘yum, yum, yum’. Cue third FFS. You glance at the husband who is smiling smugly as he finds some inner peace standing in the queue, free of all responsibilities for a brief moment in time. Cue fourth FFS.
You’ve obviously packed for every weather condition because you are, after all, in England. The suitcase is ready. But as the car park is located on the opposite side of the country, you have to empty its contents between prams, buggies and backpacks and continue your Sherpa training. It can be safely assumed you will be rained on, blown over and over heated. It’s generally a re-enactment of Aesop’s The Wind and The Sun. You spend the day simultaneously battling the elements alongside your children.
Whatever it is you’ve come to see, they lose interest within the first thirty minutes. All of a sudden, they don’t like animals when you’re at the zoo. All of a sudden, they’re terrified of rides when you’re at the theme park. All of a sudden, they’ve forgotten how to brake when they’re cycling in the forest. You bite your tongue, roll your eyes, sigh continuously and try to make it through until lunch.
Lunch is the last straw and you’re now trying to work out the quickest route back to the car park. But there’s one more challenge to overcome. The gift shop. It’s an unwritten law that you have to run the gauntlet of very expensive tat before you can escape. And, obviously, they absolutely have to have that stress ball, because life can be difficult when you’re four and they need some kind of release. They absolutely have to have that stuffed monkey, because the sixteen they have on top of their wardrobe which they never look at isn’t quite enough. And they absolutely have to have that packet of glitter crayons, because they’re a slightly different shade to the old ones in the tin and the baby thinks they might taste quite nice too. You simply don’t have the energy to argue and the battle to protect your small reserve of holiday money is lost before it’s even begun.
Finally you arrive back at base camp, be it home, a human nail infested caravan or a supposed family friendly holiday cottage. You’re now overdrawn, the kids are overtired but you’re just bloody relieved the day is definitely, certainly, absolutely over. Until tomorrow, when you have to tire the buggers out all over again.
Read about other activities all designed to tire the buggers out!