Let’s get physical. A foray into the sweaty world of excersise

yoga

Exercise is a tricky one. I exercise and I enjoy it. I’m fairly fit now, but it’s not always been the case….

As a child I danced, but when I stopped, the weight started to creep on.
I think most people want to be a little slimmer or more toned and so did I. The problem I had is that I really liked food. Giving up cake was never an option. So over the years I’ve dabbled with a fair few exercise regimens.
There was the phase where I joined the gym. It was a chore. I disliked the communal changing rooms, the pumping music, and the mirrors. What’s with all the mirrors?
The only thing I liked about the gym was the toasties, and the fact I could snigger at the Zen like yoga teacher.
I tried to follow the whole ‘fake it till you make it’ ethos and pretended to get into it.

One evening the gym was bustling and I found my way on to the only free treadmill. I started at a walk, then picked the pace up ‘till I was doing a fancy little trot (because I can’t run). ‘
Yeah!’ I thought. ‘I’m looking good’.
Suddenly I felt something working their way down my trouser leg. Before I could do anything ,a pair of renegade pants broke free, sped down the treadmill and flew on to the mirrored wall behind me. They slid into an inelegant heap on the floor, next to the busy water cooler.
I nonchalantly stopped the treadmill, picked up the pants (realising I had nowhere to put them) and made a swift exit.
After that, I didn’t really want to venture back.
 The valuable lesson I learned was to give your laundry a good shake when you get it out of the dryer.

I swam for a while, but the local swimming baths are full of floating plasters and the threat of verrucas. Normally a small child would dive bomb on my head. The sight of some of the people in there meant that David and I were well aware we were probably swimming in an elaborate testicle soup. We stopped going before we succumbed to dysentery.
I tried step classes. I managed three. I was genuinely convinced that it could only end in a snapped ankle. Not the up-down, up-down I was expecting. It was a mental foray of skippy moves. Leaping over this big grey hulk of plastic like a bleedin’ leprechaun.
When spinning became a thing I was rather hoping it would involve twirling around in circles with a 90’s Head bag, much like I did at school, but no. Spinning involved going on a bike and literally going nowhere…except maybe to Hell.
A short stout man who looked much like Dominic Littlewood barked orders at you from the front, which I chose to ignore. ‘Take it up a notch’…nope. ‘Stand up’…..nope.
At the end of the hour I thought I was going to pass out. 
`
As I stood, tactfully telling my friend I probably wouldn’t be joining her again, the Dom-a-like strode up to me looking triumphant. ‘Enjoy it did ya?’ he laughed. Before I could respond with a non-offensive reply, he grabbed my hips, wobbled them like they were some kind of pink blancmange and proclaimed ‘You’ll soon get rid of this’.
Stunned and still wobbling slightly, I backed off.
On a positive note, my friend fully understood why I didn’t want to return.
Cheeky bugger. I was thinner than he was!

Several more failed gym attempts, bike rides that ended with me being in a ditch of nettles and soul destroying classes. I decided to stop trying.

football
By this point David and I had decided to try for a baby. This wasn’t straightforward, as a genetic disorder meant we’d need a rare kind of IVF called PGD. There’s a whole different blog for this, and now isn’t the time. The first attempt failed and we had to go for a debrief at Guys Hospital. The doctor said ‘All I can suggest, is you get as fit and healthy as you can, and be happy’.

I remember driving home with David saying ‘what can I do? What do I enjoy that will keep me fit?’ and out of nowhere David stated the obvious ‘You used to dance right?’ Of course I used to dance!

Starting dancing again was one of the best things I had ever done for myself.
Why do we give up childhood hobbies? Life gets in the way of what is fun and before you know it, you’re robot just getting by.
Dancing helps me get my identity back. When I am there, I am Paula, not just Harriet’s Mum, or Dave’s wife or ‘That librarian, who won’t let me eat crisps’.
I’ve met some lovely people and I enjoy every second. It can be hard, I can wake up aching all over, but it’s totally worth the pain.
I’ve been turning up for over six years now, so I think it’s a stayer. Also it made me fit, healthy and happy which meant my second round of IVF worked.

At Christmas I received a Fitbit, which was a bloody good job as I’d been hinting for one for quite some time.
I decided in a fit of enthusiasm to start jogging. After thirty seconds pounding the icy streets, I had to slow to a walk. ‘No worries’ I thought. ‘I’ll build up’.
Still buoyant I purchased some fancy trainers online.
The next time I ran, I realised I wasn’t enjoying it at all and that I should only run if it’s away from an angry dog or towards an ice cream van.
If anyone wants to buy some fancy running trainers they’re yours for £20 as new.
Six months on and I still wear my Fitbit. It nags me to walk more and I have upped my steppage because of it. I also monitor my workouts at dancing and Zumba. I can totally see why I dropped two stone when I first started going. I suppose that’s the obvious trick to exercise isn’t it. Do something you enjoy in the first place and it’s not even like work. So if you are thinking of starting some new fitness thing, think back to your childhood. Go dancing or ice skating, play netball or just skip around. It’s a whole lot better than losing your pants at the gym.

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The fable of the perfect parent

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Harriet started school this year, which means I come in to contact with a lot more parents than I ever did before. I like talking to other parents. I also enjoy seeing all the different types of people and their relationships with their children. Clingy mums, shouty mums, busy mums, cheery mums, perfect mums and my favourite, flawed mums. No judgement of any, at some point we are all of these things and more.
When Harry was little I took her to various baby groups. I was always shocked to see how well presented some of these mothers were. One mum rocked up to every session in six inch heels, flawless makeup and bejewelled cardigans, not a hair out of place. How the hell did she find the time to do that?! She turned up in her sparkling clean car with her perfectly turned out child and spoke of delightful baking days, crafting and no T.V ever. I used to leave feeling like a failure. I’d not managed a shower, these jeans were out of the wash basket and Harriet was ripping the fire extinguisher off the wall. In my warped brain, I was meant to be like glamorous mum too.

I am not organised. I thought having a child would somehow have a chemical reaction on my brain which would change this. It did not. I am still not organised and now I have more things to forget. I would leave the house without wipes, changes of clothes, snacks….the list went on and on. I relied on organised mums to lend me stuff. One friend even loaned me her ‘third spare buggy’ on one trip. I couldn’t even remember to bring one!
I’m pretty sure the reason I breastfed for so long was because at least I couldn’t leave the house without my boobs (nipple pads on the other hand).

To me, other mums had it all sorted out. When they baked flour didn’t end up in every single room of the house, eggs got cracked perfectly into the bowl and their child never ever ate all the mixture before it got anywhere near the oven. Crafting days were contained to a kitchen table, probably covered with a wipeable Cath Kidston tablecloth. Glitter was never spilled, sequins stayed in their little pots and glue was used responsibly. Other mums didn’t go on Facebook and let their child binge on Cbeebies, and they all made their children eat organic quinoa which they gobbled up.….no, not gobbled, because they had impeccable table manners. Other mums didn’t stop visiting Supermarkets because it was too much of a rigmarole and never wanted to run away and have two minutes peace so they could eat their child’s chocolate.

I drove myself crazy trying to be the perfect mother. Trying to do everything. Until eventually I realised there’s no such thing as a perfect mother, just the illusion. Looking like you know what you’re doing is all smoke and mirrors, some people are just better at pretending than others.

That’s why I like the obviously flawed mums. They make me feel better about life and they aren’t pretending. Every morning I see the same family running down the street to school, pink faced and breathless, sometimes a child is crying, sometimes the cardigan is buttoned up wrong. That family make me smile and I love seeing them. You’re awesome nearly late woman!
I like to see people having to physically drag their children down from trees, or embarrassed because their child has just called someone something inappropriate.

At baby group I wanted to talk to the woman with a bit of sick on her shoulder who looked like she’d not slept for a week. I enjoy hearing funny stories and exchanging embarrassing anecdotes. I firstly warmed to one woman because her hair looked a bit greasy and I felt a solidarity with her as my hair was being held together with dry hair shampoo.

It’s great not being perfect and it great to not pretend. I find people with stories the most fascinating, funny and relatable people I know. I like that we can go out for drinks together, lose half the night to Prosecco and admit the next day that we pretended to be asleep so the husbands would have to get up early. I like hearing stories about the time you totally lost your shit because the Play Doh got trod into the new carpet or bloody glitter got bloody everywhere and you ended up in a job interview sparkling like a Twilight Vampire.

As for the uber perfect Mums all I can say is, calm down a bit love, Shakespeare was wrong, the worlds not a stage. Leave the eyeliner and Gucci bag at home sometimes and admit you feed your child fish fingers. That way we’ll all feel better.

 

I Dream of Sleep.

Bo's Bed

 

I’ve never been the world’s best sleeper. My brain has always liked to gently nudge me awake at 3am to remind me of all the things I could have said or done differently over the past thirty years. Some of the witty retorts my sleepy brain has produced are pure brilliance. If I only had a time machine, that person in 1994 would get the clever put down they deserved.

I have a hazy recollection of thinking up the premise to some fantastic story during one sleepless night. I got all excited. This was dynamite. J.K Rowling would’ve had nothing on me! I got to the point where I was thinking about what I would spend my film royalties on before I fell back to sleep, confident this piece of literary gold would still be in my head by the morning. Of course when I woke, it had disappeared along with the night. I really should take a pen and paper to bed, or a Dictaphone in case I’ve been lying on my writing hand funny.

Even though I’ve always been a light sleeper, it’s become much worse since having Harriet. Anyone with children will know that sleep is greatly affected once you’ve had a child. First its night feeds, crying and getting used to those weird dinosaur sounds babies make that no one tells you about.  Eventually you fall in to one of two camps. The first camp have children that sleep. They like to brag about it on social media, ‘look at me. Fresh as a daisy with my sleepy little cherub, still snoozing at 9am’.  It’s just smug. The second type, have children who refuse to sleep for allll time. It leaves you foggy brained, sleepy eyed and a wreck of a human being.  The stringing together of an intelligible sentence requires real effort and you may leave the house with your skirt tucked in your pants.

At around six months old Harriet put a self-imposed embargo on sleep. I’ve been told this will end at a few points over the last few years…when she stops night feeds, when she starts nursery and the Holy Grail ‘She’ll sleep when she starts school’. Does she buggery. When Harriet goes to bed, she is still full of energy. She’ll demand drinks and request toilet visits to stall for time. The bedtime story has become longer and longer until I’m basically reading War and Peace before she settles down.  An hour later, I triumphantly creep out of the room and head downstairs for a celebratory cup of tea. On occasions Harriet has been known to silently leave her room.  A while later, I’ll open the lounge door and shit myself as I am faced with her standing motionless and menacing on the stairs, like she’s an extra in The Shining. I’ll ask her, ‘what are you doing out of bed’ and she’ll reply in an ethereal sing song voice ‘I want you to stay with me, forever and ever’. That’s my restful night’s sleep gone for another week. Children are creepy at times.

Harriet never sleeps in her own bed all night. She has the most beautiful, hand crafted fairy bed to sleep in. It was a labour of love by her father, especially done to encourage magical slumber in her own room. Awesome bed or not, at some point during the night she’ll wake up and tiptoe into our room. However such a small child takes up so much space in a big bed is beyond me, but she’ll soon starfish her way to a good two thirds of the mattress, by which time David is hanging off the edge and I’m squished between the two of them, normally with Harriet’s toe in my ear, or elbow in my ribs. My legs are so bruised from all the night time fidgetiness that they look a bit like an inner city road map. I’ve even tried moving beds in the middle of the night to avoid the situation, but needless to say the next morning, I have my spiky little companion kicking me in the shins and winning the duvet war. On the very rare occasion Harriet does sleep in her own bed. I awake with mild panic as to why she isn’t there, and normally end up going in to her room and unintentionally poking her awake to make sure she’s ok.

I can’t remember the last time I woke up refreshed. I sleep so badly I am now ageing in dog years and there are occasions when I’ve recoiled in horror at the mirror and wondered who the hell summoned Beetlejuice during the night. Normally my morning routine will consist of me jabbing at my face with various make up brushes until I look less like the living dead, drinking coffee and handling an exuberant four year old, whilst I feel like dying of tiredness is an actual possibility. Sometimes my first thought in a morning is ‘I can’t wait to go to bed tonight’ not that that works, as soon as my head hits the pillow, old brain is there with replays of unfortunate incidences past.

I’m sure in time Harriet will stop wanting to come in to our room and I’m certain I’ll end up missing her terribly. Mind you, then I’ll have no one but myself to blame for my poor sleep. Maybe I’ll have to try lavender baths and copious amounts gin.

 

 

 

Why I am lucky to have ‘That Child’

HariboI remember many an evening spent in restaurants rolling my eyes at wayward children. I recall huffing at rustling sweetie wrappers at the cinema. In hindsight, I can see I was a frosty cow to all families that may have crossed my path anywhere my childless self was trying to have a good time.

I suppose that’s what you call karma. I am now mother to ‘that child’ you know, that child who finds the flip up cinema chairs fascinating and can’t leave them alone, who rustles countless bags of popcorn and gives away vital plot information. Who will be asking for a wee or more sweets when there is an important bit of dialogue.  She’s the child standing on the chair in the restaurant or scampering under your feet to view the ice cream. She’ll drop forty forks, wear the napkin on her head and probably make up a loud and raucous ditty about poo.

Until I had Harriet I really thought you could control your children. That wild behaviour could easily be nipped in the bud, but I’ve tried everything, reasoning, no deserts, shouting, evil stares, even eviler stares complete with brow furrow. Nothing works, and now I realise why. Harriet is a little person. She has her own personality that cannot be controlled by me and quite rightly so. I have my personality and no one can change me, good lord people have tried. So why should I expect to have the divine skill to change someone else’s…no matter how young.

Originally this was going to be a very different blog, a moan if you will about trying to control my mini firework, but then friends made me realise how lucky I am to have such a bright and sparky girl.

Harriet is a tiny bundle of energy. I dare not give her a blue slushy and I honestly believe if she even got a whiff of a can of Monster she would create so much energy that a nuclear reaction would occur and that would be the end of the world.

She is exuberant, joyful, adventurous, fearless and she never ever tires. What she lacks in stature she makes up for in pure spirit. This is a truly wonderful thing to see, but she is exhausting and exasperating. When she is doing a bare bottomed ‘wiggly bum dance’ on your bed at 6am or dangling perilously upside down from a tree that’s a fair run away, it takes all the energy I have to keep up. Since having Harry I’ve aged approximately 497 years.

Going out for meals is difficult. Harriet can barely sit still. Crayons won’t hold her attention for long and I’ve had to get over my deep rooted disappointment of her not colouring in the lines. She gives no shits about the lines…lines are meant to be coloured over, who has time for that?! She’ll want to explore the toilets, comment loudly on the other diners and basically avoid eating anything you have paid for.

Recently after an exhausting evening of trying to control her I wearily asked, ‘Harriet, why can’t you behave, why can you not sit like the other girls? I was embarrassed’. She simply looked at me, the only time she had been still and serious all night and said unapologetically ‘That’s just the way I am, Mummy. I can’t help it. I am just so EXCITED!!!!’ and with that I realised she was right. Harriet is being herself. She doesn’t care that she’s not like the other girls, she doesn’t care if frosty childless couples are tutting. She – just – doesn’t- care, and actually that’s great. She spent the tram trip home swinging on poles and trying to hit the stop button, still being herself.

How I’d like to go out and not once think about what anyone else thought of me. That kind of mental freedom must make you exuberant.

She wakes up nearly every morning and announces ‘I am SOOO excited’ I ask her what about and the reasons vary ‘It’s my birthday soon’ (it’s in three months) ‘I saw a butterfly’ ‘These pyjamas are purple!!!’ The most mundane things can be amazing to her. She’s been looking forward to a weekend away at Centre Parcs for months and her excitement is literally fizzing like a well shaken can. When we get there she may have to be let out of the car slowly so she doesn’t ricochet all over the park.

How wonderful must it be to be that excited about life? Even when I do have something to get excited about it gets tainted. When I wake up on the day we are going on holiday, my first emotion isn’t excitement, its worry ‘did I pack the sun cream, is my passport in date, who’s feeding the cat’ Oh to be like Harriet and just enjoy the day. I envy her.

Even though Harriet steals my energy, tires me out and embarrasses me daily. I love her just the way she is and I need to learn from her because who has the better outlook on life. The optimistic, go getter afraid of nothing who finds the world a glorious place full of endless possibilities, or the careful worrier who stops herself from fear of failure.

Who knew my best teacher would be a four year old girl. And if you ever see her around cover your can of Monster, one whiff and it’s the end of life as we know it.

When I Grow Up

meMany years ago when I was in sixth form, I proclaimed that I was going to get a really good job, save up and then retire when I turned 40. I would spend the rest of my life on cruises, living in my mansion and tending to countless ponies. I now laugh at my naivety and youthful optimism. Good job I didn’t opt for a career in soothsaying, I think I’d get my crystal ball revoked.

Truth is I’ve just turned 39 and I have an awful lot to catch up on if I want this to happen. Really I need a miracle, or a lottery win, which in itself would be a miracle as I don’t play it.

Over twenty years have passed since I sat in that shabby common room full of arrogance and aspirations. I thought that when I left school the ‘grown up’ fairy would come and sprinkle some kind of magic dust over me, meaning I’d wake up all adult and know what I was doing ………I still have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and I feel no more adult now than I did when I was twelve. The last t-shirt I bought had pink unicorns on it and I own more pairs of cartoon pants than is really acceptable for a grown woman of my age.

I never really knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want any old job, I didn’t want children ‘children make you old and poor’ I’d scoff. Well, at least I got one prediction right.

When I was young I was a pampered princess. I’m an only child and I had never been told no. I thought the world was going to be an opportunist place full of yes. It’s not. I applied for countless jobs and I got back countless rejections. This combined with a spot of unrequited love and a rising panic of having no idea what I was doing, and I broke down. My anxiety and depression got so bad, I barely left the house. When I did, the world would swirl around me and almost knock me off my feet, my chest would tighten and I thought I might die. During this time I started a degree at college. Not my best idea. My deep-set feelings of inadequacy paired with a massive fear of failure meant I lasted a year before walking out in the middle of a first year exam. I drifted from job to job. Mostly I‘d end up leaving for the same reasons, scared they’d figure out I was no good. Scared they’d realise I was only faking being a grown up. I worked in shops, banks, travel agencies, sex shops, call centres, offices, holiday camps…seventeen jobs in total. Some good, some bloody awful.

When David and I got together and bought a house, he had to deal with a lot of shit. He was pivotal in the return of my good mental health. Not that I still don’t struggle on occasions, but thanks to David I’m fully functioning and here, because I’m not sure I would be if it wasn’t for his help early on.

Approaching forty is making me feel old and a little inadequate. As John Lennon once said ‘Life is something that happens when you’re busy making other plans’ and I’m not sure how I’ve ended up here.

Don’t get me wrong. Life is pretty good now. Not anything like I expected.

My daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me and I am grateful to David that he begged to have a child, until I finally relented in my mid-thirties. I was scared to have a child, because it signifies being responsible for another person. A very adult thing indeed. I was scared that I’d be trapped. Another wise friend shouted at me ‘What are you going to do if you don’t have a child, run off to New York and become a Burlesque dancer?’ and although for a moment the sound of that attracted me no end. I realised I would be very happy staying here, raising a family.

I thought I’d grow up when I had a baby, but I didn’t. I’m going to be gutted when Harriet doesn’t want to go and see the Meerkats anymore and Horrible Histories is probably my very favourite T.V programme.

I’ve been working in a library for eight years now, quadruple anywhere I’ve worked before and although it would be easy to regret many decisions, I can’t regret a single one because they led me to where I am now. I have fabulous friends, a nice job, some great ‘when I worked at’ anecdotes, a wonderful husband and the best person in the whole wide world ever as my daughter. I’m happy with the idea that I’m not going to grow up. I’m not even going to try. I’m still going to demand birthday cake and parties, I’m going to put my hair in bunches and I’m going to join in when party dances are on. I’m going to stop pressuring myself to decide what I’m going to be when I grow up because, this is adulthood and it’s time I enjoyed it.

The Trip of a Lifetime….The Guilt Trip

tents

I’ve always been a pretty anxious person. I feel responsible for everyone and everything around me. Adding a child to that equation was only ever going to make this trait worse. Parenting is one massive guilt trip and it’s a ride you can’t stop and get off.

A friend once said to me ‘The thing you are least prepared for when you become a parent is the overwhelming wave of guilt’ and you know what? She is right.

Daily I am consumed with guilt. I cannot get it right. My brain is a big bully and it’s not relenting.

My daughter is happy and content, she literally sparkles with joy and enthusiasm. Before I start wallowing and doubting myself, I’ll say it now. I do a good job.

Everything I do makes me contradict myself. I work part time, within school hours. I attend the vast majority of school crap you have to go to, and I’m always there to pick Harriet up and drop her off. When I can’t attend an assembly or the mother’s day lunch, I feel I shouldn’t work at all, that I am not there showing support for my daughter, that I somehow must love her less, because I’ve not gone to eat shitty Shepherd’s pie with her on miniscule seats or I missed the dire rendition of ‘Cauliflowers fluffy’ in assembly. However when I receive my wage slip at the end of the month, I feel bad because I don’t earn more. I really need to contribute more to the household finances, why should that role lie squarely on my husband’s shoulders. Why aren’t I out there forging some sort of mythical career?

When I pick Harriet up from school and I take her dancing or I paint with her or we go to the park. It means I only have time to do a ‘quick tea’ you know something beige and oven-y. Then I fret I’m not feeding her properly. She’ll probably get scurvy or rickets from eating these waffles, she’s doomed to a life of high cholesterol because of that fish finger. I see dust building on the sideboard, I should be at home cleaning, and rats may take over soon. That thin sheen of dust is a slippery slope. On the other hand, If I go home and start a delicious meal of organic goodness from scratch, or Mr Sheen to within an inch of my life, the guilt creeps in because Harriet is there entranced by Cbeebies whilst I heartlessly ignore her. She’ll think that Rebecca woman is her mum!

I try and try to be the perfect mother, when of course there is no such thing. I spread myself so thinly that I’m turning into some cheap margarine.

Twice weekly I go to dance lessons. I love dancing and it makes me happy, but this couple of hours a week makes me want to explain myself to people. ‘It’s not that I don’t love my child, I just want a couple of hours to myself’ and of course I do, everyone does! The internal dialogues I’ve had with myself about this is ridiculous. I am allowed a life. I just don’t feel like I deserve it.

The guilt that you give birth to about nine months before your child arrives seems to last with you through everything, and is sometimes just enough to stop you getting a good night’s sleep. My brain likes to nudge me awake in the wee hours, just to remind me of a time I could have said or done something differently.

One thing that is great about motherhood. Is that you meet other mums you can use as a sounding board. When my guilt was giving me a thrashing for going away overnight, I knew exactly who to message to fight that guilt away and talk me into going. Thank you those people, you are ace. I had a great time.

 

No one else is judging me as harshly as I am. In fact I’m not looking at other parents and questioning the way they do it. Do I raise my eyebrow when I see a toddler supping a can of Fanta? Yes! But I’m not about to call social services on the woman.

I don’t need to give other mothers a break. I need to give myself a break. Now I’d better stop writing as my guilt is bubbling and I need to pay more attention to my child.

Welcome to the Sticky World of Soft Play

ball pool

I’ve always had a bit of an aversion to soft play areas. I know exactly where this aversion comes from. It’s the kind of thing that sticks in your mind. About twenty years ago I worked for Haven Holidays. Soft play was still pretty unheard of, but being a campsite that primarily caters for kids, they had a shiny new one installed. Unfortunately it didn’t stay shiny and new for long. One drizzly morning, a toddler waded into the pristine ball pool, took off their nappy and did a crafty poo. Unbeknown to anyone they waddled their way back to their parents and the pool was left, still looking perfect without any sign of what lurked beneath. Ten minutes later the ugly truth was revealed when a girl in her summer finery leapt with pure reckless abandon into the cesspit in disguise. A hefty dry cleaning bill and lots of calming frenzied parents later, the ball pool was cleaned and sanitised by hand (not by me I’m glad to say) but the image of my gagging colleague cleaning those filthy spheres has always stuck with me.

When I became pregnant I naively declared I would not be taking my child to any soft play area, no way. Dirty, sticky places full of germs and jam and snot. There were plenty of other ways to entertain a child. They didn’t exist in my day and I had no intentions of entering one now. Of course I was a fool, because you quickly realise that in this day and age soft play is an unavoidable evil. New mum friends start to suggest you meet for coffee in these inanely named brightly coloured crack houses for kids, ‘Hey Lets meet at Jungle Chimps at ten,’ and you do. Baby groups meet up there, Jo Jingles, Moo Music, Bongo Bongo and the like. After the session you can play for free and you do. It’s a squishy trap set up from the word go.

The places sell sugar and colour laden food. Blue slushies (blue, blue, I tell Ya!), Lollies, sweeties, massive milkshakes and candyfloss. They play Euro pop, or worse, discoed up kids tv theme tunes. They are decorated in eye stingingly, headache inducing primary and day glo colours. Slightly cross eyed Disney princesses stare at you from the walls, something about the way they look looks like they’re begging to leave too. Add into the mix 50+ under 6’s, super exited at the prospect of being able to jump and climb and bounce and they get whipped into an absolute frenzy. The result is pure madness. Banshees the lot of them wailing and whooping, expelling their E numbers as fast as they can consume them. Whoever invented this concept was an evil genius. Whoever decided to cram them full of pay extra games and air hockey and rides and those stupid impenetrable ball present things are even eviler geniusues (geniui, geniuen???). Because your child will always want to go on the stuff that’s not in with the price.

Like every parent I am now a bit of a soft play connoisseur. I can relay the different types of establishment you will come across. I can tell you which toilets definitely require shoes being put back on and where the hot dogs may cause your child to have the shits. I really should write some kind of soft play Michelin guide. Here is my synopsis:

Establishment A. The half arsed attempt.

Normally found at petting zoos or in old closed down pubs. Ripped sticky apparatus, suspicious stains and a carpet that is so embedded in biscuit crumbs that it looks like the base to some kind of sinister cheesecake. These are last resort kind of places like when it starts raining when you’re feeding the goats at shitty kids farm or when you’re still watching Cbeebies in the afternoon and it’s starting to repeat itself and you may just have to hunt Mister Tumble down and throttle him with his stupid bow tie if you don’t get out the house.

They serve awful food like those plastic cheese squares on toast and the staff look like they want to disappear into the biscuit crumb base that is the floor and cease to be. Your child may present you with a random plaster they found near the monkey bars or become friends with a child who looks like they want to hurt you. You don’t hang around in these places. As soon as it dries up or you know Pointless is coming on the telly you’re outta there.

 

Establishment B. The Ivy equivalent.

Super high tech, super clean and super massive. These places are in aircraft hangers. There’s a high probability you won’t see your child again until they hit puberty (and then they can be found in the ‘gaming’ section). If you stay still for too long you will be vacuumed up and you can tell the staff are ‘professionals’ oh yes, they have their level two childcare and embroided shirts. The problem with these centres are that the frapamochachino costs £8 and the brie and tomato bagel is going to require a short term loan. Sometimes there is a waiting list to get in and you have to reserve tables. Grown-ups have to pay too and the ‘look I’m only going to sit there and use your Wi-Fi’ argument won’t cut it.

I’m not joking it is like getting in to the bloody Ivy. They’ll be introducing a black sock only dress code soon.

 

 

 

Establishment C. Your bog standard party – rama screechathon.

This one isn’t too pricey and it’s spotless. The food is good and you don’t need to fit your child with a tracking device to find them. However the Goldilocks effect of this place means it is the ideal place to host a child’s party. Take the afore mentioned e-numbers, music and bright colours and multiply it with the excitement of a birthday and you have a riot on your hands. These places should come with ear defenders and there will definitely be tears before bedtime. They will probably be yours.

This takes me to another thing. Soft play parties. When you child starts school and has to invite the entire bleedin’ class to their party, soft play centres become a go to place. They provide food, they clean up, you don’t have to do anything yourself. Lazy but perfect.

It does mean when you attend these parties that you have to make polite conversation with the other parents having to contend with the spongey hades. There’s nothing wrong with the parents of other children, but two hour polite conversation can become terribly tedious. You end up discussing your child’s shoe size, the inclement weather and the contentious issue of world book day costumes. Soft play should serve adults gin, at least that way we’d make friends as quickly as the kids do and the singing of ‘Happy birthday dear neerr nerr’ (because who can seriously remember these kids names) would be sang with much more gusto.

I can sort of see the light at the end of the soft play tunnel now. My daughter no longer drags me along the icky sticky maze and I’m allowed to sit down and bankrupt myself by purchasing a coffee and cake. I’m hoping a couple more years and I’ll never have to go to one again. The initial memory never fades after all.

 

The Car of the Parent.

Back in the 90’s I drove really cool cars. My first car, an original Austin Mini was brilliant. I couldn’t take it out when it rained, as the first puddle would make it splutter and cut out. If it was too sunny the poor chap would overheat and emit a plume of steam. I could basically only drive it on pretty fine days…not too hot, not too cold. I loved it. The boot fitted a bag the size worthy of Ryanair hand luggage and the back seats? Ha ha ha! What back seats?!….back seats didn’t matter. In the words of the Supergrass song playing on my stereo ‘We are young, we run free’. In those days, cars signified freedom and joy. Two more Mini’s followed, then a series of nippy two doors, with sun roofs, tiny boots and immaculate upholstery.

Then I became pregnant.

Before we had bought a vest, a cot, or a cuddly toy, I was down at the local car supermarket looking for a more ‘suitable’ vehicle. There I was in my mid-thirties, buying my first sensible car. A five door, with a hatchback and a boot I could wrestle a pram into, something that was Iso-fix friendly, cheap to run and safe. Good God it was boring.

Cars when you have a child become something very different. No longer are they a joyous symbol of freedom and disposable income, but a drab taxi built for ferrying your most important person around.

When your child is a baby, the car gets thrown up on, shat in and covered in snot…basically bodily fluids stain the back of your car, impregnating the upholstery with suspicious smells that will linger as long as the vehicle is with you… (‘Remember that trip to the seaside in 2014 dear?’ ‘Of course I do, I can still smell the candyfloss infused vomit’).

We are scarred with the memories of that stage where children learn to straighten themselves with titanium strength so you can’t get them in the car seat. Stiff as a board, wailing at the horror of the three-point harness. We all quickly learn how to do the parental karate chop to get the buggers to bend in half. Last week I passed a mum losing her shit at a screaming toddler that was doing just this ‘Just sit in your bloody seat!!!!’ she yelled desperately. Before Harriet I’d have tutted and shook my head at this outburst. Now I give a small smile and a nod of solidarity. We’ve all been there lady and I feel your pain.

Then there’s the trippy ‘I spy’ stage. Many a long car journey playing a game only the tiny dictator in the back understands. ‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with blue’ after a good while naming blue things to an increasingly irate daughter she’d shout superiorly ‘It’s umbrella’ (no umbrella’s around) eh?? How do you win??

My Daughter is now four and at school. I see a long line of drab parent’s taxi’s lined up on the streets. All five door, big booted monstrosities. All spilling empty cartons and stray shoes when the back door opens. No one wants these cars, we need them. I bet Kia are pissing themselves at us.

My car is now akin to a skip. The boot is full of sand and soil, from scooters and buckets and spades that have nowhere else to live, as our garage is equally full of kiddy crap. Random socks and odd mittens carpet the floor, intermingled with bows, bobbles and sparkly clips making it look like a fairy threw up in there. There are enough sticks to start a decent sized campfire and patches of brown goo that I can only assume were once food stick to the door handle and seatbelts.

My car is gross. I don’t want to be in it. Lifts are offered with a tetanus shot and a written apology on what the passenger may catch.

My Supergrass CD has long been replaced with the Moana soundtrack, and even when Harriet is safely in school I can be seen driving with the window down blasting out ‘You’re welcome’ singing merrily along. I feel super cool, onlookers seem to disagree.

I’m about ready for a new car. I’m sure mine will sell really quickly with all its dents from doors being flung open in reckless abandon and funky stale banana smell. I keep checking auto trader drooling over shiny red roadsters and speedy super minis. At what age is it appropriate to have children scramble into the back and whine about limited leg room?