We’re driving to Scotland.
Snowflakes in the windscreen resemble the Star Wars titles. The kids (thank goodness) have fallen asleep. Radio 3 is featuring a jazz soloist ‘on electronics,’ which is the sort of soundscape a manatee might swim around to on a nature programme.
‘Do people listen to this stuff for pleasure?’ I ask hubby, ‘Or just so they can call themselves open-minded?’
‘Shhhh!’ says hubby.
The music wells.
‘Listen! The manatee has seen a fish!’
‘Stop it,’ says hubby.
‘Oh shit,’ I say.
‘I forgot to pack any shoes.’
Last year we got a wedding invitation.
And two more.
I won’t make bus-waiting analogies, but suddenly my family and friends were so busy nuping-up in different corners of the country that my car-tyres and my dress started to look worn. In fact, I bought a second dress.
You’d think that having been a bride would make me critical of other couples’ weddings, but I’ve soppily adored them all. I’m not one of those wedding-describers-and-comparers. I’ve brought kids; I’m more worried about other people judging me.
Just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean nobody’s judging. Plenty of loved-up thirty-somethings are transparently conscious that society expects them to sprog. Such couples try to use your example to confirm to themselves that parenting would be amazing (or managable, or terrifying, or the end of their social lives as they know them – all of which are true). And eveyone comments on your kids’ behaviour.
At weddings you want to make your children and your parenting look idyllic. Like Facebook in real life.
Damnit! – I wasn’t even a perfectionist in the days when all I had to remember were a dress, some shoes and a present.
Nowadays it’s a military operation remembering:
- my insulin and sweets
- to disappear my moutache (it’s thick and curly thanks to sprogging hormones)
- to wash the kids
- ..and brush their hair
- a ribbon matching my daughter’s dress (and keep her still enough to apply it)
- my son’s trousers, shirt and matching socks
- a spare set for after he vomits
- food to bribe them with if the photographs take ages
- wet-wipes for their fingers
- and of course – when he joins us – cuff-links to put on hubby.
The cuff-links aren’t important; hubby can improvise them from things found around the hotel-room. Some people would cringe if their partner rocked lime-green pipe cleaners, but it’s a fabulous ice-breaker at wedding-breakfast.
Another good ice-breaker: “it was my fault the bride was so late”. One time the rain was pouring down, the motorways were slow and the map on my phone kept flipping upside-down and loosing its signal most unhelpfully. The stupid roads had plenty of decision points but nowhere to pull in. The kids kept asking ‘Are you lost, Mummy?’ and giggling like hyenas.
I found the hotel. The staff directed me through the rain to my room without offering to help with my two giant suitcases or two small, trailing children, but I chilled out when I saw my huge, golf-course-view suite. Said suite was quickly strewn with clothes, disguarded sandwiches, crumbs and dirty nappies while I sorted us all out and packed us back into the car in record time. We drew up outside the church just as the bride’s father came out to see if the coast was clear for their arrival. He kindly held things up to let me get the family into position.
Sitting in the service is the most risky part of the day and I’ve learned (the hard way) to sit near an exit. It’s amazing how much blushing you can do between your pew and the church door.
Years ago, a priest stopped a wedding service I was attending: ‘everybody. Listen to that. A crying baby. What a beautiful sound. Now then, who’s going to jiggle him while we say a prayer for crying babies parents….’
At the time I was one of the afore-mentioned thirty-somethings. Now I look back and wonder how those parents managed to restrain themselves from hugging the guy.
Wedding-breakfasts are great. Children hate sitting still once they’ve finished throwing food everywhere, so a little club of parents meets in the corridor outside. They pretend to drink responsibly, selectively listen to the speeches and coo privately over the gorgeous sight of their little ones toddling around.
The fewer Toddlers there are the less sociable the corridor, but also the more you stand out. Walk anywhere and someone will say: ‘He went that way. And isn’t he gorgeous!’
Toddlers are like dogs for getting you into conversations with admiring stangers. But should the conversation become interesting, it’s hard to stay in one place to see it through.
Who cares? I’ve had a super time chasing my kids round weddings. We’ve visited hotels and beaches. Danced to jazz-bands, discos and ceilidhs. My daughter had one whole dance-floor doing ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ to Abba. Couples and guests alike have been wonderfully welcoming of our offspring.
Of course, not every invitation has extended to our kids and I’m pleased about that too, especially since these weddings have been in Scotland where I have willling in-laws. I’d forgotten what it was like to sit still for dinner, and be able to dance and drink too much and to introduce myself to a stanger who doesn’t instantly label me ‘mother’.
The night with the Star-Wars snowflakes, we were due to arrive at the in-laws’ around two am and set off early next day. I thought I’d save time by waxing my moutache and eyebrows in the car.
The following morning, replacing the forgotten shoes in Edinburgh was easy. What I couldn’t replace, sadly, were my eyebrows: they’d completely disappeared. And there was a big, ugly flesh-crater waxed out of my upper lip, too.
The point is that one can’t always blame one’s kids for one’s social inadequacies.
Perhaps I ‘ll blame the manatee-Jazz.
Clipart from: http://www.clipartsheep.com/manatee-clipart-1812056.html. Also: http://www.cutecliparts.com and Nate Krien (title picture) @ twitter.com