Monday, 4 June 2012

Tempus Fugit

One of the things you notice when you have a child is that the things about which you never gave a moment’s thought in your previous life suddenly become tasks which require the utmost concentration, dedication and Olympian levels of determination.  There are countless tales that all parents can tell of how their lives slowed down to a snail’s pace at the moment that they became parents.  Here is just one of mine.

Time is not the most static of things.  It jumps forward in fits and bursts, struggling to get out of first gear some days and yet leaping ahead at other times, surging to drag you with it and leaving you gasping and wondering what just happened as the morning evaporates around you.  This was one of those days.  Mummy had gone to work and N and I were just finishing off our breakfast.  Let me paint the picture for you because that is rather more innocuous and innocent sounding than it actually was. 
Our table is perpetually covered in stuff.  Papers, crayons, a tissue box, all these things make up part of the daily meal experience in our house.  So first put that in your mind.  Then imagine a small niche that has been created to place the child’s bowl in front of her, and my bowl in front of me.  Now imagine that the child is simultaneously trying to wrestle the spoon from me, whilst reaching for whatever I haven’t managed to put out of her reach.  Now know that the spoon had rice crispies on it until just a few seconds ago, but with the wrestling of the child they have been deposited onto something which may well have been important, and almost certainly should have been posted back sometime in the last week.   Couple with this the fact that I am also trying to eat my breakfast, and at the same instant N is trying to reach my bowl, because Fruit and Fibre, whilst unsuitable for her, due to the nuts, is far more appetising than anything that I might be trying to force into her mouth. 

This cereal warfare can extend over half an hour or more, interspersed with brief forays by the child into the no-man’s-land of forms, tax notices, utility bills and the odd passport surrounding our oases.  And that’s just breakfast.  We still had the rest of the morning to face yet.  And that morning promised to be a delight.  We had to run a few errands, which involved getting ready to go out, walking roughly 30 minutes, going to the post office, bank and market and then walking home.  In the life before children this would have taken little more than an hour and half all together and would have required hardly any planning at all.  In this other life post child, it took over three hours and to get right would have taken the military prowess and strategic ability of both Eisenhower and Montgomery at their best.  Needless to say I do not possess such prowess and so things could have gone better.

First of all, when taking a child anywhere, there is an inevitable internal discussion, although it can sometimes bubble over and become a full on discussion, about exactly what you need to take.  This requires an intimate knowledge of your child’s eating habits, their toilet patterns, if they have them, how much they have drunk today, a precise hierarchical plan of your child’s favourite toys, in ascending order, which has to correlate with which of those toys it is possible to wash, which it would be too devastating to lose and which would need to be ready for bed that night.  All the items that you have narrowed down in your mind now need to be found.  This is a process which causes you to doubt your sanity, as you can find socks in cutlery drawers and some form of small toy man happily residing in the warm confines of a lady’s shoe. 

Once the items are located, the bag needs to be packed.  This is an event which is fun for all the family.  The bag is some sort of magical device into which things are put, which then disappear only to be found strewn around the house in strange places.  This is a game which can extend over days if played right and which your child will never ever lose interest in.  N is particularly adept at removing things from the bag stealthily with the aim of you not discovering until you are already out.  This game can only be countered by placing the bag precariously out of reach, or investing in some form of deadlock which even a sonic screwdriver couldn’t open.

The bag having been packed, all that was left was to prepare the child, put her in the pushchair and depart.  Preparing the child consists of getting her to sit down for long enough to put her shoes on, which she enjoys so that is not too much of a chore, and putting her coat on.  It looks laughably simple when written down, but can result in trauma and, based upon the reaction of the child, the end of the world.  Once this is done the pushchair has to be tackled.  N hates the pushchair.  When she was the age that this story takes place she was really in no position to be walking the distance required, so the pushchair was a necessity, it was difficult to explain this to the child though, who has now realised that instead of the nice walk she thought she was getting when the shoes went on she is going to be subjected to the humiliation of being pushed.  This does not sit well with her and so a full blown tantrum ensues.   Which does not change the fact that she still needs to go in the pushchair and we still need to go.  There is just one small problem.

We finished breakfast at ten to nine.  It is now half past twelve and there is no time at all to be going out because N needs lunch and her sleep.  A simple enough task, going to town, has somehow managed to take all morning without actually being completed.  Three hours have passed, and all you have managed to do is get ready to go out.  The question really is, how do I explain all this to my wife?


  1. I remember doing the internal dialogue and obsessing about what to bring along, too. I'm not sure my husband ever did, though. Kudos to you for being so involved with your children. I also understand completely how it can take hours to plan an outing and then you don't actually have time to go. It gets easier, I promise.

  2. Thanks Karen. I look forward to the getting easier bit!