It started with a wish. A wish to celebrate my precious first born finishing nursery and getting ready for big school. I’ll take him out for the day, I thought, and make some magical memories to show how proud I am of the kind, funny child he has become. I spotted a half price online ticket deal to Groombridge Place, and when I realised that under-3s go free I factored Baby Bones into the equation too. It will be wonderful, I thought. Even though thunderstorms are forecast, we will have an amazing time. We’ll marvel at nature and turn over leaves and dash through rain showers and I’ll even get someone to take a picture of the three of us so that I am in a bloody family photo for once.
Today was that day. Here is what actually happened: PFB son started moaning halfway through the hour long drive to get there, and carried on for most of the trip (are we there yet? It’s taking aaaaaages. I’m just hot and thirsty and I want to get there. Why are you telling me off? I was just…ufff. I want to go home!) PMS me defaulted instantly to pissed off. The peacocks on the lawn, the hawks flying to command and the beautiful ornate gardens were mere backdrops to our hissed disagreements and the occasional ringing sound of a cast iron bollocking. No thunderstorm, but a sticky heat that bore down on us all like a fat man in a bad suit. Toddler daughter was cheerful, but her adamant refusal to rest little legs in the pushchair grew a bit tiresome after the fourth or fifth mile of walking. The high point of excitement for PFB was getting to use his new lunchbox. Which was, admittedly, gratifying, but we could have done that at home and saved eight quid.
Is it me? I wondered, head in hands, as I tried to explain for the sixth time that no, I couldn’t play Swashbuckle while trailing a snail’s-pace toddler around a two storey wooden climbing frame. Am I doing it all wrong? Where is the magic I so hoped to create? As someone whose own lovely, magic-making mum carked it long ago, my first worry is always ‘how do I know if I’m getting it right?’ How do you know if the memories they’re making are the kind you want to hang onto?
I welled up a little hearing my son make friends with another small boy and tell him all about our family, my sentimental heart clutching at how quickly he is growing up. But then I passed a couple of stony-faced South African mums barking ‘all you’ve done from the minute we got here is complain’ in the direction of their sullen offspring and was reminded that actually, kids of all ages are a pain in arse quite a lot of the time, and that’s ok. Hell, it’s normal. Being bollocked for arselike behaviour is also normal. How else does one learn not to be an arse?
And then we caught the boat back to the cafe and I received a lovely compliment from the boatman about my tattoo (‘it looks like someone’s taken a watercolour brush to you!’ Thanks, lovely and peerless Hannah Aitchison). I drove us home in a kind of cold beer tractor beam, propelled only by the throbbing image of refrigerated ale. I shooed two hot, dirty children into the knackered arms of Mr Bones, who had only just finished cleaning the paint off himself after a long day’s decorating. And PFB son, the moaning wonder, ran straight in to say ‘hey dad, I had a GREAT time today! I saw lots of animals, I climbed on a pirate ship, and we went on a boat! And I used my lunchbox and had my own lunch!’
I guess they make their own memories.