“Having a bad day?”
As I wedged myself back into my booth at Pret, the lady next to me gave a sympathetic half-smile.
“Not one of the worst, surprisingly, and up until now it had been going reasonably well…”
The thing is, I have discovered, when you think you’re doing well is often the exact moment everything goes spectacularly to crap. Let me rewind…
This morning, weather being classic English early autumn (cold and damp) I shoved the kids in the car to go to the outlet centre. I do love the outlet; it’s essentially an indoor, pushchair friendly circuit lined with discounted brand-named stores and cafes. There’s a covered playground outside, a food court upstairs and family accessible toilets. Basically, perfect for low effort entertainment when you need to burn energy without actually being outside. Anyway, this morning being what it was and me needing to fill a good 12 hours of parenting time, we headed off.
The signs were all there, if I’m honest. Big wouldn’t stop talking at all the entire 25 minute journey. Little fell asleep, so I was feeling confident. The petrol station had works going on and I very nearly cocked up driving in. Then I lost focus (watching a man on a cherry picker) and the pump sped past the amount I wanted to put in, so I obviously had to get the the next round number. Because hitting exact numbers on the petrol pump is something everyone does, right?
There was a parent & child space available right outside the doors. That should have tipped me off that the universe was coming for me. Lulling me into a false sense of security, if you will. Little woke up. Any parent can tell you that <25 minutes nap is not the right amount of nap for a baby who’s been up for 4 hours already. The low level grumble began. I should have quit, I know this now, but I am stubborn and an idiot.
The first half lap was ok. We got feet measured. We found an apron and mini baking set for Big. She promptly put the apron on and refused to take it off for the rest of the day. We managed a trip to the toilets, no-one opened the door mid-pee. The grumble grew in intensity. Silly me had assumed he’d go to sleep as soon as we got going with the buggy. Silly, silly me.
We made it out of Paperchase with the things we needed and without inadvertently shoplifting anything (and that’s happened before, so it definitely counts as a win). The grumble erupted. Lunch time.
Up to the food court, into Pret (another place I love: they have food that makes me feel healthy, fruit for the fruit bat that is Big and tub chairs I can trap her in at the table). We made our selections, I put back the myriad items Big tried to smuggle in. Life-saving coffee ordered, warm milk for Big and a (free!) gingerbread man to be rationed out over the day. To the table. And relax. Winning.
Except that as soon as Little latches on to eat, Big boots the table and sends coffee and hot milk everywhere. The chap at the next table whispers something to his wife (probably along the lines of ‘Rookie. Never take two out for lunch on your own, you’re outnumbered…’) and then very kindly comes to the rescue with napkins.
Big eats half of half a sandwich (the sandwich she specifically requested, no less) and wants to get started on the fruit pot, which I manage to open, one handed, like a boss. She loudly declares she wants my pasta (note: I highly recommend the ham hock and sprout mac & cheese. Pricey, perhaps, but tasty and filling) and then very dramatically spits it out with an ‘I don’t like it!’ (which is currently interchangeable with ‘I don’t want it right now’). She definitely likes it. Mac & cheese is a top 5 dinner for her in any form.
I refocus my attention on Little, who has cheered up and is giggling at me (and thus spraying milk everywhere like the Trevi fountain). As I do this, the chap at the next table calls ‘watch out!’ just in time for me to look up and see a fruit pot go flying through the air… and scatter fruit across the floor.
Little back in the buggy (cue screaming), me picking up strewn fruit, queue of people looking at me pityingly. Big yelling that she wants fruit. Me, picking up howling baby, explaining she can’t have that fruit, it’s been on a cafe floor and though I’m generally a 5 second rule kinda person I do have my limits. I clamber back round the buggy into the booth and sit down, feeling the zip on my skirt undo itself. Time to make some ‘now we’re out of the first 3 months’ dietary changes, methinks.
I shove some more food into Little. Big consoles herself with her steamed milk and gets chocolate sprinkle foam all over her face. The queue goes down and I go get another fruit pot because I am a Nice Mum (mug). Baby under one arm, because he’s pretty fed up by this point (and apparently me telling him this is his own fault and if he’d just go to sleep he’d feel better isn’t something he’s interested in hearing), wallet under other arm, fruit pot in hand. I am Mumming with great success. We shall save this!
Except that if you’ve been paying attention you’ll remember that my zip has released itself from its sole responsibility.
I reach the counter. Gravity does its job. I somehow manage to save it (well, partly) with a sort of interpretive dance manoeuvre, but you’ve probably worked out I am several hands short by now.
“What can I get you?” asks the barista.
“Just this fruit pot, please, and can someone hold this baby, as my skirt is falling off.”
Just style it out. You are cool and sophisticated.
Fortunately, it turns out I am in line behind everyone’s favourite person when you need a hand with a baby – a Granny. She’s thrilled.
“What an unexpected pleasure!” she beams (Oh, good, glad my dignity could provide that for you), cooing over Little, who incidentally has now moved on his Prince Charming act and is beaming at everyone. Which is a good thing, because it means no-one is really looking at me, as gravity has finally won. Thank the gods for million denier tights. Good job it was only lunchtime in a busy food court or that could have been embarrassing.
Back to the table, baby still feeling good from his surprise Granny cuddle, Big eats her fruit pot. And by ‘eats’, I mean ‘hands over ever other piece of fruit with a loud I don’t like it’. So that was worth it.
I’m pretty sure it was showing on my face at this point, as this is when the lady at the next table asked if I was having a bad day.
We didn’t hang around long after that. Little suddenly realised he was shattered and lost his tiny mind. Big thought she’d join in as he sang me the song of his people, with a rousing (and in a different key) MMMMMMMMMM sound.
I drowned them out with Loud Music. Sometimes a shouty singalong is as good as a rest. Little finally went to sleep, where he remains, pinning me on the sofa as I discover that the mantelpiece – last bastion of Places Big Can’t Reach – has fallen and she can absolutely get the scissors now because she needs a haircut. So that’s something.
If you very closely, you can see the last of my sanity escaping.