Monthly Archives: April 2013

Perfect day?

Lou Reed


Lou Reed had a pretty clear idea of what a perfect day should contain.  According to that great singer, it goes something like this: “Just a perfect day, feed animals in the zoo.  Then later, a movie, too – and then home.”  In the Jackson family, today was meant to be one of those days.  It was even set to include our very own version of feeding the animals in the zoo: a trip to an Italian restaurant with our three kids plus my gran in tow.  But whereas Lou’s perfect day had a decidedly happy ending, ours was altogether more fraught and ridiculous, proving it’s impossible to predict how life with a young family is going to turn out on a day-to-day basis.

For the second day running, the fun and games started at 6am, with arguments about who really needed a wee the most.  On this occasion, the two-year-old won the much-coveted race to the toilet, sending the four-year-old into a fit of entirely disproportionate despair.  After six hours of on-the-edge behaviour from all three children, we finally managed to bundle them all into the car and head off for lunch with my gran.  And that’s where it all started to go badly wrong.

Already running slightly late, we turned up at the restaurant to be immediately greeted by a friendly waiter, who smiled and rather perceptively commented: “you must be Sam.”  I confirmed his suspicions.  “Your gran’s not here,” he continued.  “Her car won’t start.  So she’s phoned to ask if you could go and pick her up.”  Right, back in the car, to drive the two miles to her retirement village, leaving my wife to order anything on the menu that would keep our children’s feral behaviour at bay.  Ten minutes later, after battling the Sunday afternoon traffic, I’m there.  But crucially, she’s not.  Gran’s gone for a wander, it seems…

After walking around the retirement village for a bit and being given more than a few suspicious looks, I jump in the car to retrace my steps.  Patience is not something my gran is blessed with in abundance; could she have given up waiting for me and decided to walk to the restaurant, despite her dodgy hip and much-needed stick?

A mile and a half later, there’s still no sign of her.  I call my wife.  Her mobile rings.  I can hear it on the seat next to me.  This is not good.

Back to the retirement village I go, by this point convinced that Gran is either stuck on her stairlift or has jumped in a car with someone who looks a little bit like me.  The banging on her door and shouting through her letterbox wakes the gentleman in Flat 3, but she remains missing.  I’m just about to go and ask the warden for a key (by this point, I’ve convinced myself that I’ll have to start organising Gran’s funeral in a matter of hours) when the restaurant phones.  Gran has arrived – but my wife apparently has no idea how she got there.

By the time I return, this formidable octogenarian is necking a large glass of wine and recovering from what she’s since revealed was a two-mile trek on foot.  After berating me for not noticing her waving her umbrella from the cycle path she’d decided to walk down, we eventually tuck into lunch.  All is going very well until the two-year-old vomits her entire meal over herself, her mum, and the floor.  At this point, all I want to do is nick Gran’s wine and down the remainder of what’s in the glass.

After the inevitable clean-up operation, our day continued to get ever more bizarre and unpredictable.  I provided a shuttle service at the end of the meal to get everyone back to Gran’s flat – a place I genuinely believe may be hotter than the sun – where my wife and I were then encouraged to go through a pile of belongings she no longer wanted (but which she thought would be perfect for us).  My highlight was a VHS of my school jazz band in 1998; my wife’s was a used washing-up brush with food in the bristles.

On the way home, we had to call in on 91-year-old Auntie Jane (why did we agree to do this on the same day?  WHY?).  On arrival, she appeared to be watching some kind of soft porn video: a man and a woman, both topless, were lying in bed kissing, whilst some rather inoffensive piano music played underneath.  We were assured it was just a home video (well, quite) from the 1970s, which featured all sorts of family members performing in a play Auntie Jane had written herself, so we didn’t protest any further.

Once home, teatime involved the usual kids-based carnage, and we eventually got our little monkeys into bed a couple of hours ago.  What.  A.  Day.

This morning, someone mentioned to me how lovely it was that Sunday can still be a day of rest.  Next Sunday, they’re having my kids for 24 hours – and I might see if they’d like to hang out with a few of my elderly relatives for the afternoon, too…

Happy families?


Sometimes, as a parent, it’s easy to think you’ve got everything under control.  “Well, this isn’t as tricky as people make out,” you smugly say to yourself, as your kids play happily together and you can, for once, actually see your living room carpet underneath the mass of naked (and therefore slightly demonic) dolls and little pieces of feet-destroying Lego.  Those rare moments of domestic bliss are what you cling to for the majority of the time – because unfortunately, any parent who tries to convince themselves that their life is anything other than hideously chaotic is lying through their teeth.

Since becoming a dad, one of my observations has been how quickly the definition of what’s normal changes.  Before having kids, I wouldn’t have taken kindly to someone walking into the bathroom while I was sitting on the toilet.  Now, it’s become entirely commonplace for a toddler to be attempting to make a den with the loo roll while I’m trying to use it for entirely different purposes.  Similarly, there was once a time, not all that long ago, when I’d think it more than a little strange to wake up with more than one person lying next to me in my bed.  Nowadays, I’m lucky if there’s any space for me at all by the time it gets to 4am.  So it was with a slight sense of trepidation that we booked a holiday away with friends earlier this month.  Has our definition of normality changed so dramatically that our family habits are now not fit for consumption outside our own household?

Thankfully, our Easter trip was a resounding success – even though the idea of two families going away together is one of those things that’s meant to permanently ruin a friendship.  When I was little, it’s not something we ever did, and there are plenty of nightmare stories which suggest my mum and dad were wise to avoid trying to play happy families with other people.  I remember them tentatively trying it once with a family who lived over the road, just for an evening.  We played the board game Scattergories; they expressed amazement that we might win a round against them, given that they went to private school and we didn’t.  They weren’t invited back.  Another horror story I once heard involved two families with young kids going on a summer holiday together.  The parents clearly had different ideas about how to spend their evenings: one pair wanted to relax and leave the washing up until the morning; the other basically wanted to deep-clean the apartment each night and lay the table for breakfast the following day, with no speck of dust left visible to the naked eye.  Not only did they not return for a holiday en masse the following year, it seriously threatened the health of their friendship in the long-term (and for the avoidance of doubt, can we please agree right now that the family who couldn’t be arsed to do the washing up were 100% in the right?).

So, what are the must-haves for any holiday with another family?  Firstly, it’s no use booking a break purely on the basis that the adults get on marvellously well.  If the kids can’t stand each other, you’ll all be miserable.  Secondly, you have to be genuinely willing to let your friends tell your kids off if they’re being irritating.  Holidays are too short to worry about whether it’s your own child you’re disciplining, or if the little monster in question actually belongs to someone else.  Next, it’s crucial to embrace the idea that you don’t have to DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER ALL THE TIME AND KEEP SMILING BECAUSE ISN’T IT JUST SO LOVELY AND FUN TO BE ON HOLIDAY TOGETHER!  Sometimes, it’s not.  We all need our own space.  Spending every single waking moment with my own family fills me with enough trepidation sometimes, without having to factor in someone else’s wife and children – and I’m sure the feeling’s mutual.  And finally, if you have high expectations about the amount of quality time you’ll all get as adults in the evenings, think again.  Chances are, there’ll always be at least one child who’s either being a nightmare or having a nightmare, and you’re more likely to find yourself pouring the Calpol than pouring the wine.

Anyway, our holiday was great fun, full of laughs and happy children and an awful lot of swimming.  We all fed our kids far too much chocolate, rejoiced in being up ridiculously early most mornings, and went to bed very tired but very content.  Our next challenge will be half-term with the grandparents in May.  Wish us luck…