Part One of this story can be found here
‘It’s closed’ my husband says as he tries the door. My brain immediately goes into panic mode; no, no, no, no, I have been waiting too long for this. I was about to descend into my own emotional meltdown and stamp my little feet when my husband broke the silence ‘It opens in half an hour’. I looked around the shopping park thinking of how we can kill half an hour and keep two children entertained in the process. I see what appears to be a slide and some children hanging from the top, I was saved.‘We could take them to that park over there.’ I say in over enthusiastic manner. I look at my husband who does not look convinced that this park will keep them occupied for half an hour, it only had a slide, a tunnel and a wooden hut. As we amble over we discover that this was more than enough to keep both of them occupied until we could get food. My daughter learnt how to climb a net up to the top of the slide, a task that had only just been mastered by her older brother, she was like a spider money; fearless and agile. My son did what he always does, makes friends with some random kids and go on a mission, this time it was a game of tag.
As I watch my son run around, playing tag, I notice his hesitancy to actually tag the people or catch the child they decide they are chasing. It is like seeing a far younger, male version of yourself; I have always been too cautious and hesitant. My Nana used to call me a ‘big girl’s blouse’ and I suspect that she would have said the same about Ewan, she was tenacious and tough and nobody in the family would get on her bad side. I wish my son was more tenacious and resilient, I feel it would serve him so much better and avoid any incidents of bullying like I had to endure.
I looked at the clock on my phone, it was five minutes to opening and time to take the children out of the park. This task appeared easy but it carried an underlying risk of triggering a meltdown from one of my kids, which one would it be? I soon realised that it was my daughter as I ushered her towards the gate. ‘Noooooooooo!’ she screams as I try to grab her hand which she quickly withdrew to meet the other one in the ‘I’m folding my arms because I am not happy’ position. ‘Come on Clara, it is time to get some food,’ I proclaim in a forced, overenthusiastic tone. ‘Don’t want no food,’ Clara shouts as she sticks out her bottom lip and turns away.
I have to take drastic action, I have no choice in this situation. Speed is of the essence because as soon as she realises that I am going to pick her up and carry her away from the park, all sorts of hell will break loose. I quickly put both hands under her armpits to scoop her up but somehow she senses the trick and quickly makes her shoulders limp so I cannot grip her. Why do children have the ability to almost dislocate their shoulders to avoid being carried away? As she slips from my hands she gives out a deafening scream that makes me think she is auditioning for a horror movie and she has just encountered the evil killer. This monster is disguised as a almost middle-aged, overweight, clumsy mother fully kitted out in jeggings, stripy T Shirt and oversized cardigan.As she started kicking her feet and violently thrashing her body around to break free from my grip; help arrived in the form of my husband. Nobody messes with Daddy. He quickly scooped her up, swung her around and marched in massive strides towards the restraunt.‘Table for four please,’ I ask in a meek voice as the waitress gives us a disgruntled look. We were practically breaking down the door; it was two minutes after opening time and I think our eagerness to get some food disrupted the gossip she was having with another waitress. She grabs some menus and points us in the direction of our both, I look over in annoyance; she has given us the worst both in the whole of the restaurant. The foam cushioning of the seats is clearly displayed underneath the massive rips in the sides of the chairs.As I sit down, I realise both the booth seats and the table are sticky and have probably not been cleaned properly. I slide myself into the booth next to my daughter as I try not to freak out; it was me who pushed for a Nandos and I cannot complain now we are here. If it is one thing I hate more than a grubby, run down restaurant; its having a confrontation with anyone, so asking to move is not an option.
I look at the children’s menu with envy, they always appear to provide a much better deal than the standard adult prices. For the small sum of five pounds you get a main meal, two sides and a drink; the last time I paid five pounds for a full meal was probably in the 1990’s. I am a penny pincher at heart and hate to spend money, even if it is for lovely food.After much debate, we decide to buy the kids the exact same meal each to avoid any wars starting. Whenever my children have different things, they want what the other one wants and this always ends with someone crying, usually myself. Why can’t eating a meal with children just be simple and straightforward? Instead of enjoyment, it is similar to playing chess with a world champion; has you scratching your head so much and feeling like an out and out failure.
‘What are you having, chicken and rice?’ pipes up my husband with a twinkle in his eye and a huge smirk on his face. Once, when we were away in London, I had complained that Nandos was not worth going to as it is merely ‘just chicken and rice’. These were the words of a foolish woman who had no idea of the piece of heaven that awaited her.
‘Of course not, I’m having the steak burger, chips and macho peas!’ I announce proudly. I always get the same thing, I am a creature of habit and hate the idea of change. I once ordered the wrong food from the Chinese takeaway and had a meltdown that rivalled one of my two year olds temper tantrums. I always get crispy beef in chilli sauce, but I had not checked and got just plain old chilli beef; I resisted the urge to cry but my feet would not stop moving, like a seagull stamping for worms, it felt like my who night had been ruined.
‘Why do you never get the chicken? It’s Nandos!’ My husband shakes his head in disbelief and chuckles. The answer to that is I am a stubborn rebel who always swims against the tide of popular opinion.
‘That is one of the reasons you love me, I am a weirdo.’ I announce proudly. There is a tender moment between us as we grab each others hand across the table and look into each others eyes for a moment. The next thing we know, our kids have sneaked out of the booth and decided to create chaos on the restaurant floor. Bugger, why are they running around, shrieking like escaped chimps around the biggest table in the whole place?
My kids were officially showing me up. When I was younger I used to see other peoples children running around the shops like Tasmanian devils on some sort of sugar trip and swear that my children would listen to me and not show me up in such a fashion. My naivety could be smelt a mile off and now I am in the shoes of a harassed parent, I feel guilty for being so judgemental then. My children’s mission in life is to do the exact opposite to what I say and defy logic of any fashion, especially in public places.
An older woman at another table takes a look at my kids and then at me. She is judging me, I can tell; her sour face looks like she is chewing several wasps, smelling rotten eggs and hearing the sound of nails running down a chalk board all simultaneously. Does she not remember the times when her children were young and her daughter acted like Satan’s spawn out in public, or was she always a smartly dressed twenty-something with a perfect smile? Had age worn away her ability to see the joy in two children frolicking around having the best day of their life? The chimp jumps and elephant stamps had worn away my patience.
‘Ewan, Clara, get over here, you are going to get us kicked out!’ I say sternly and shoot them a look that my mother used to give to me which clearly indicated ‘do not sass me, you will pay for it heavily and for an eternity.’ As my two little chimps realised I was serious, they made their way over to the table just as the waitress started to walk over with our food. The waitress smiled kindly over the shouts of my two kids, her eyes almost looking at us both in sympathy.
Just as she places the identical kids meals down, I see something black launch across the floor. I instantly panic and look around to discover my daughter had kicked one of her Chelsea boots off in excitement, possibly hitting the waitress in question. My cheeks instantly flush with shame and I scramble quickly to get her shoe off the floor before the Waitress trips over it.
As I reach down I realise that firstly, I am rather too large of a mum to be bending over in food booths and secondly, the Waitress will not stop moving her foot; my hand trying to reach the offending shoe before she caught on. I grasped the shoe in a triumphant swipe and appeared above the table, looking dishevelled, just in time for my food to be placed in front of me. It was spice time.
I quickly start shaking the spicy sauce onto my plate, I need something with a kick to drown out the tears from my daughter, Carla.
‘Don’t like it!’ she screams as she pushes the sweet potato mash that she has not even tried away from her mouth. I would not mind, but she has eaten sweet potato mash before, liking it on several occasions. She has complained for over an hour that she is hungry and now she has food she is refusing to eat, typical. Meanwhile, my son is doing the exact opposite, tucking into his chicken burger like a squirrel sorting nuts for the winter. Had I entered an alternative reality, had hell really frozen over, was there a great disturbance in the force?
From the moment he was born my dearest son has been a fussy eater, getting him to eat is a regular battle. However, my daughter usually inhales what is put in from of her within minutes and asks for more, she is just like her mother, greedy. My daughter never passed up the opportunity for food so this new found attitude shocked me, as did my son’s sudden love of spicy chicken and macho peas. As I loaded his plate begrudgingly with ‘my’ macho peas, he looked at me and grimaced in his seat.
‘I need a wee,’ groaning as if to communicate the sudden pain he is in and with it a sense of urgency. He shouts this just as I am in the middle of eating a chip covered in what can only be described as Satan’s sauce, there was a whole fire inside my mouth and it was difficult to focus on my son while my eyes were watering and my nose burned. I must be masochistic to actually enjoy this sensation of pure fire.
I take the opportunity to take my son to the toilet as a much needed break from the intense burning that has been caused by overindulging in African hot sauce. I hate finding the toilets in places I have not been before, finding things has never been my strong point and I usually spend my time wondering around with a look of fear and uncertainty.
After some uncertain meandering around the restaurant holding tightly onto my sons hand, I spot what looks like the toilets. Before I could realise that it was the disabled/baby changing facilities and it was indeed locked, a rather tall, large and jolly waiter told me he would be right back with the key. I instantly feel like I am causing a nuisance that I had not intended. I could have quite happily useda the Ladies, which I see further down the corridor, mocking my stupidity and inconveniencing the jolly waiter. I comforted myself with the illusion that he was using getting the key as a distraction from whatever work he was avoiding, after all that’s what I would do.
The corridor is too narrow for me and Ewan to randomly stand around waiting for Nandos man to come back with the key. As a waitress approaches, I panic and we spend several seconds trying to move out of each others way only to realise that we are mirroring each other and therefore blocking our own path, this is the perfect analogy of how I feel as a parent; constantly trying my best but moving in the wrong direction.
‘I have the key for you,’ Nandos man declared in an over-enthusiastic tone as if he had won an award. ‘Thank you so much’ I say in a sheepish voice as I usher my son into the toilet and close the door behind me, only to be greeted with an unpleasant odour that almost made me retch.
‘They have music in the toilet and a mirror on the door, this toilet is awesome.’ my son shouts in excitement as he throws down his trousers and scuttles towards the toilet. Awesome would not be the word I would use to describe the cesspit that I had found us in. I had been is some horrid toilets before but this one had to rank in the top five of the worst. Apart from the putrid smell, it looked like it had not been cleaned in many weeks and the toilet basin had a strange purple stain around the back of it that looked suspiciously like red wine vomit, at least my son was standing up and did not have to sit on the offending toilet. I weighed up my own bladder options and decided I would rather risk wetting myself on the journey home than sitting on the toilet of utter destruction. I made sure Ewan washed his hands.
Leading my son into the booth to finish his food, I notice Clara has had a change of heart on the food front; shoving large amounts of chicken into her mouth while she picks up the sweet potato mash up with her fork. I exhale a sigh of relief as I go back to eating my prize for enduring the whirlwind of toy shopping with the children.
‘Mummy’ my son looks at me as he puts his fork down onto his plate. ‘Yes sweetie’ I say as I worry about what ‘mum challenge’ he is going to throw at me now.
‘Mummy, I love you’ he says with a smile as he moves his head over to give me a cuddle. ‘I love you too my darling.’ A smile radiates from my face as I enjoy the precious moment with my oldest child.
‘Thank you’ he adds as he goes back to his burger. ‘What for?’ I say confused. He looks at me with a knowing smile, ‘for taking me to the best place ever with the best toilet ever!’ He exclaims with an innocence that I never wanted him to lose. In the laughter that followed that comment, I almost regret the decision not to relieve myself in the toilet of putridness. I was grateful in that moment for spicy food and the innocence of youth.