Being a parent is an odd mix of being crippling lonely but also never being alone. It’s a time when your relationships shift and readjust and, sometimes, fall through the cracks. These are the places I found toughest- be sure to offer a smile at anyone clutching a baby here:
The Doctors’ Waiting Room
Going to the docs’ is bad at the best of times. No one likes the hushed tones, the oppressive heat, the panic when you didn’t hear if it was your name being called (‘Could bzzzz come to room bzzz for doctor bzzzz please?’). It’s stressful enough to navigate the fierce receptionists and disease-riddled copies of Saga Life magazine. When you add a screaming newborn and a bitching dose of mastitis then you are guaranteed to never have felt more alone. You wish your mum was there.
The Library Play Group
You feel duty-bound to take your child to the Read and Rhyme session at the library. A stash of library books signals you’re doing ok, right? Your kid will def have a head start if it can sing Frere Jacques, right? So you spend the morning prepping for the trip. You’ve remembered the buggy, the rain cover, the expressed milk, and the baby. You forget the library card and that makes you late. You have to squeeze on the edge of the circle and you slump down, just on the outskirts of the group, in a tiz of sweat and nappy bags. Everyone seems to know each other. You’re too self-conscious to sing so you mime the words. You cry in the car on the way home.
Now, a kid-free trip up the ‘big Tescos’ can feel akin to a mooch in Milan. With a kid, not so much. Some childless prat would’ve taken the last Parent and Child spot so you’ll have to schlep your child across the car park and the baby’s squawking in it’s car seat which is the heaviest thing you’ll ever carry and it’s banging against your hip and you’re already feeling like a failure because you’ve forgotten to bring any bags. Some old person will always tut and helpfully mutter ‘someone’s tired’ and you’ll shout ‘NO SHIT’ really loudly in your head. You might even torture yourself by morosely shunting the trolley through the clothes aisle hoping to find something that would fit, hide the puffiness and make you feel good. You realise you’ll have more luck with the latter in the bakery aisle. You’ll have a really lovely chat with the person on the checkout: they’re usually women, they’ve almost always had children and they always just seem to get it. As you walk back to the car from the trolley park, you think how that’ll be the last conversation you have today until your partner gets back from work.
You feel like a teenager when you realise social media makes you feel inferior. You should be above all that, should’ve out-grown it. But when you see all the vloggers, bloggers and buggers meeting up, winning awards and wearing cool slogan tshirts, you feel a key stage three sense of envy . You want to pose against a wall and drink cocktails and have a fringe. Social media manages to make you feel like everyone’s in the cool gang and you’re not invited. You buy a new red lipstick and practise your selfies with a sense of self-loathing.
You’ve arranged to meet someone you met at a baby group in the early days. You’ve stayed in touch sporadically since you first met in a musty village hall. Maybe she’s gone back to work and you haven’t. You feel like she’s got a million interesting things to talk about. You desperately think of things to ask her while you pick food off the floor and try to stop the baby from banging its Lamaze toy against the table. You look at your watch and think about making your excuses but only 40 minutes has passed. Will she think you’re being rude? You just want to go home and put your joggers on. You smile and ask her about her commute.
Feeling blue? Pop me a message and we can meet for a walk or a cuppa. We don’t even have to chat- we can just eat our feelings and have a little cry.
I am rank. I don’t shower every day. The best thing anyone’s every taught me is how to wash with just one Wet Wipe. I never change my bed sheets. I squeeze my spots. I’ve had the same mascara since year 9. I am rank.
These truths have ever been thus. Even before children. And now I’ve two little scuzzbags to add to the mix things have deteriorated further.
So, to celebrate just over 33 years of being rank, I have ranked the top three rank parts of my home. Enjoy
Bronze Award…the top of the buggy
This useful fold in the buggy hood houses a full range of rankness: old nappies, half-chewed snacks, wet wipes saturated in spilt yoghurt. Any number of foul things get tucked in to this fold until I pass a bin. Felt some full on shame on the school run when it started to rain and I had to unpeel this hood with a wafty crackle. Lowest moment was def finding a cheesy bottle of milk festering in there for a bout of the summer. Gag.
Silver Award…Car Seat
I always marvelled at how much my food-refusing toddler would eat in the car. I’d sling handful of snacks at him and he’d beg for more. When the warmth of summer cooked up a foul stench from my Citroen I snapped on a bio hazard suit and revved up the Dyson and unearthed layers of snacks like sediment rock. Wotsits, oat bars, Pom Bears, Smarties, apple slices*, Chipstix and cake were carefully wedged in to the buckle gap and slipped between car seats and squiged in to the door. It was foul.
*not really- just put that in there so you’d think he got healthy snacks from time to time.
Gold Award…bottom of bags
I reckon I have lost WELL over £15 worth of loose change because I haven’t been able to bring myself to dip my hand in to the foulness that is the bottom of a well-used day out bag. I have never been one of those nappy bag users so always relied on slinging snacks and nappies in to a cotton shopper. Sometimes I forget to unpack the last one and just dig out another for the next outing. What happens is that the crumbs and crud left in the previous one start to rot and congeal. What’s left at the bottom is the Eau de Parfum-the essential oils- of parenting: sand, old satsuma, piss-soaked nappy, crumbled fruit bar, and a car caked in cake. Mmmm mmm. Early on, I was scraping formula power off a £2 coin when I had an epiphany: I would pay £2.50 not to be doing this. Since then, I’ve not looked back l and now just let those loose coins jingle until my five year old wants a Ninjago magazine and then I tell him he can have any cash he finds in the bottom of the bag. I may be rank, but I’m clearly a genius.
So there you have it- my full rankness laid bare. Leave in the comments the rankest thing you’ve ever done or how much you’d pay someone to defumigate your car or if you’ve ever licked someone’s blister for a dare and so on.
Having children boasts a far-reaching number of benefits-stretch marks, Raa Raa and Wotsits in car seats- but it will also help you see your home in a new light. Areas you used to take for granted and nooks you’ve never noticed before will have new light shed on them.
You used to bound up them for a cheeky afternoon romp. You used to balance your work shoes on the bottom step. Not now. Now you have learnt to have a poo in under a minute all that spare sitting time is now spent on the stairs whilst you SuperNanny your child’s bedtime. Or sit and read the internet whilst you keep an ear out for your convulsive fevered child. Or sit and have a little cry because you’ve just finished reading Danny the Champion of the World and you remember your dad reading it to you and it’s made you feel sad. Or you just sit and gather strength before going in to Stage Two of an evening: meal prep and lesson planning.
It used to just host well-intentioned books you’ll never read and an alarm clock set to 7.30. Now it’s got Calpol, a half drunk beaker of milk, breast pump, teething gel, Olbas oil and a half-eaten Organix bar. I do still have an alarm clock set to 7.30 though and this is how I know I’m an optimist.
New mothers everywhere: try this test. The next time you’re feeding the baby at 3am, compare your bedside table to your partners’. If, like mine, they have nothing but a radio alarm clock and an untouched copy of a Booker Prize winner then you have my full permission to slip teething gel in their pyjama bottoms.
You probably haven’t given this a second’s thought since you picked out laminate in the heady days of new home owning. Here’s hoping you chose something that wipes clean and is easy on the knees because you’ll be spending some time down there. Perching next to the bath whilst you admire the sinewy body of your bubble-covered five year old. Crouching whilst you whoop and encourage a poo from your potty training young ‘un. Mopping vomit when you’ve not been able to move fast enough to get them to a bowl. Get comfy-you’re going to see a lot of that floor.
Anywhere a child could hide a house phone or lose a Lego piece or slip a bank card in to. You’ll know all the regular hidey holes.
Pre-kids, your most unhealthy relationship was probably with food or a nobby ex. Now it’ll be with time. The joy it brings when you realise you’ve had three straight hours of sleep. The despair when you realise it’s two more hours until bedtime. The exact tick that marks the last possible second you can leave before being last through the school gates. The clock will be your mistress, master and best frenemy.
Other places of sudden and profound interest include: coffee jar and granule levels, snack drawer for 5am sugar hits, front door where you’ll linger for up to 30m a day, microwave where you’ll hover watching milk spin for up to a year of your life and the underside of the kitchen table where you’ll be scrabbling around sweeping up rejected meals.
Thanks to Ideal Home magazine and Kirsty Allsop for sponsoring this post. If you’re reading this and are interested in an interiors collab, please get in touch at email@example.com
I’m not one for mushy shite. Our wedding vows consisted of phrases like ‘foreseeable future’, ‘extremely fond’ and ‘pension planning’. We don’t need to fuss each other too much.
But recently I have began to have a new and fresh appreciation of all the crap this mighty man has to put up with.
A ride on a Ferris Wheel in Stratford Upon Avon. Eating afternoon tea in the caravan in our garden. A ride in the back of a pickup truck. A complicated game of cafes in a tiddly Wendy house. You name it, he indulges it.
Being sat on
Our boys’ reason for being is to clamber on top of Andrew and sit on his head. They like to perch on him like deranged parrots. Then clamber down and sucker punch him in the stomach. William even cracked one AO’s ribs when he slam dunked in to him at top speed. Fecking lunatics.
All the questions
This man is the most patient answerer of dumb questions. He will never get cross or just show them the answer on YouTube. He will actually answer it properly. With patience. And a million synonyms.
All the love
We love him with a force that must be cloyingly oppressive. This is a man who went to boarding school. He’s a classic case of stiff upper lip and on with the job. And we pester him with affection and adoration and our constant need for his love in return.
Today also mined a new level of awesomeness in the man whose only weakness is a severe nut allergy.
This man was so tired from three consecutive nights of no sleep that he accidentally ate a bowlful of my healthy high-protein nut-riddled muesli.
I left him thick-tongued, puffy eyed and on the verge of vomiting whilst I sloped off to work. I then phoned him every ten minutes whilst he was trying to do the drop off in between bouts of puking. This man did the school run in the midst of semi-anaphylactic shock. Whilst simultaneously reassuring his wife that he was ‘fine’. Then went in to work and did two plea hearings, a cracked trial and a sentence.
They’ll have been nagging and begging all week. You’re reluctant because it’s a monster faff and you’re pretty sure your cozzie is see through on the arse.
You will say: ‘Maybe next weekend…’
You put them straight from PJs to swimmers because doing so reduces the time spent in those hellish pube pits that are changing rooms. You also have to remember 19 towels, snacks, shower gel, four armbands and a dino watering can. You’re sweating in your threadbare one piece.
You will say: ‘Just get in the bloody car!’
3) Actual swimming
If you’re lucky, like me, you’ll have one over-confident two year old and one over-anxious five year old. That way, you can be reigning one back by the ankle whilst the other is clambering on your head and you’re drowning in elbows and armbands.
You will say: ‘Two more minutes…’
4) The changing
Showers. Wrestle off swim nappies and trunks. Towels. Snack. Shiver. Peel on trousers. Unpeel someone else’s plaster from your heel. Stop children from peering under the cubicles. Negotiate second round of snacks. All while you try and get a sports bra on while you’re still damp.
You will say: ‘Do NOT eat off the floor’ #verrucajuice
Everyone’s tired. It’s all too much. You may think you’ve got time to stop on the way home for a quick food shop. Think again. The younger has puked pool water in to his dino watering can and fallen asleep evoking the ‘secondary drowning’ fear. The older has a blood sugar drop resulting in a shit fit.
You will say: ‘Grab a towel- he’s gonna blow!’
6) Done in
It’s not even lunch time and you’re all exhausted. Once you’ve put the wash on you have the perfect excuse to set up a home cinema for the kids whilst you doze to Paddington but still feel like you’ve done something wholesome.
You will say: ‘We should take them again next weekend’
The whack of the work for a kid-free weekend goes in to the prep: make sure you consciously dither about buying tickets until they are at least 300% more expensive than when you first checked. Bicker about this. Sets the mood.
Spend lots of time on trip advisor and iamsterdam.com. Everyone loves a neurotically over-planned schedule.
Other ground work includes finding like-minded, kid-free friends. We met our chosen ones on a bike tour of Berlin and if that’s not a sign from the friendship gods, what is?
The WigWearer and I were flying from Norwich airport which is like Heathrow but completely different.
As you’ll most likely be flying from here too-either directly or on a stop over from any number of the eleven destinations Norwich AP flies from- here are my tips because it can be overwhelming.
It’s a little intimidating but, with a map and a compass, you should be able to find the right terminal. If you’re lost, keep the bike shed to your left and go straight.
When you first burst through the doors (automatic-new for Norfolk so watch your step), you may be confused and think you’ve stepped back in to the stationery cupboard you once cried in on a temp job. Rest assured, you haven’t.
You’ll be searching the screens to find which desk you should go to. It’ll just be a picture of a gurning Norwich FM presenter. You’ll stare at it for a full three minutes before you realise it’s an advert. And there’s only one desk.
Sit back, relax and enjoy.
We were flying KLM and all 23 of us were shuffled out on to the tarmac (I had time to reach over the fence and get my book out of the car) and on to our flight but the best thing was we got a free biscuit on the flight! It’s a 30 minute flight! I’ve flown to Australia on nothing but a Jacobs cracker somewhere over Hong Kong! God love the Dutch hospitality.
Anyway, I’m going to be here forever if I carry on like this so let’s skip to the bit where we hop off the airport bus and stumble in to the centre of Amsterdam.
Because I’m a tightarse and a misery, I don’t like paying for checked luggage so AO and I had a spare pair of pants and a rain coat in our backpacks meaning we could head straight out to explore. Look how happy I am!
I had bought a map beforehand and expertly navigated us to a museum I wanted to go to which we couldn’t find because it had moved/fallen in to the canal. Not to worry! On to De Pijp.
De Pijp, pronounced dee pipe, is an area full of cafes and bars and boutique shops (Finger.Pulse), and it’s quite hard to find when you’re lugging a bag about and eaten nothing but a KLM stroopwaffle since 6am. I recommend buying and scoffing Dutch crisps. Why are foreign crisps so much nicer?
De Pijp was nice. The bars were plentiful and full of face hair and tight jeans. And there was beer. I think the first drink of beer on a holiday is my favourite drink of them all.
Suitably refuelled we trudged on to our hotel via the De Pijp market which is worth a mooch if you like tshirts, tat and magnets with hash leaves on.
A bag of Lay’s, 38471 checks of the map and four miles of beautiful canals and suburbia later, we gave up trying to find our hotel. We stocked up on beer, rose and fried snacks at Jack Dish and soaked up the sun shooting the breeze together.
Hold on, what’s that? No, not the hirsuit Dutchman but that thing in the back ground? It’s only our bloody hotel according to the waitress!
And look! Our friends have arrived too! And we are all called Oliver!
Does anyone else get mad excited when they’re about to check in to a hotel? I love the moment when you’ve finally got the pissing swipecardlockthing to work and the door clicks open and it’s all white towels and free soap. Heaven.
The hotel our friend Oli had found us was Hotel Twenty Eight opposite the Olympic Stadium. It’d been open for two weeks and it was like heaven on earth. The staff were beautiful and made Andrew swoon in lust and me wish I looked that good in a jumpsuit. And they gave us wine. Free wine. Before we had even seen our room. My kinda place.
And check out our room.
Right nice, innit? And there wasn’t a Hot Wheels or Cheerio in sight. Score!
To supper! I have always wanted to be one of those people who stumble upon a steamy restaurant hidden in an unknown corner of the city where the food is hot and buttery and the wine is cheap and tasty and it’s full of locals and they lock the door behind a thick velvet curtain at midnight and you can stay until the small hours laughing and chatting.
I don’t think I’ve ever posted photos of my food online before but, my word, look at this:
After a good night’s sleep and a lie in (glorious lie ins!), we were up and out and hiring bikes. Seeing as the average bike hire shop assistant is about 16 and clearly recovering from a heavy night of tits and tattooing, the whole process took about half a day. Annoying when there’s a schedule to keep.
Onwards to find Foodhallen -the only market open on a Sunday. This also seemed to have fallen in to a canal but we did find Winkel43 and Dutch food of the gods, appeltaart and slagroom.
We spent most of the morning wending about the Jordaan and nine straat area until Laura honed in on this little beauty where there was strong beer and more deep fried cheese.
Feeling gassy and happy, we toddled back on to our bikes to shop up the Rokin. AO and I soon realised we didn’t have room in our hand luggage for any purchases so we went mooching and found this gorgeous little square of beauty hidden down a small staircase in amongst the H&Ms and JD Sports:
And back to our bikes and on to Vondelpark where I had the oddly enjoyable feeling of cycling through that park in Mary Poppins. What an incredible place. And I didn’t have to sit on a crusty bench watching my sons kamikaze off seesaws. I just glided along perched atop my prim bicycle thinking about house prices in Amsterdam.
After a nap and some more wine back at the hotel we were ready to tram in to the centre for the obligatory beer in the red light district. We all remembered it from previous visits and thought of it fondly as quaint and faintly risqué but actually it was seedy and embarrassing and stank of piss and I saw more than one sign that said ‘Please don’t piss, shit or puke in this doorway. We live here’ and it made me feel sad and grubby. I had to go and eat a very large schnitzel to recover. (‘Eating a schnitzel’ isn’t a euphemism, btw. I know the Dutch are filthy, but I’m not).
So to bed only to rise and bike early.
We cycled from our hotel to Waterlooplein flea market on the Monday morning. Our friends were tramming but the WigWearer and I zipped up our rain macs and joined the slip stream of the day’s commuters.
The rain had just stopped and it smelt of wet blossom and early mornings. Our tyres hissed and spat and bells rang out politely as we shushed our way through the outskirts of the city.
We beat our friends to the market (#TeamOliver) and settled in for a coffee and a brownie (normal kind thankyouverymuch). The cafe we had found was full of people plugged in to laptops humourlessly tapping away at their screenplays. Everyone knows great writers type on their phones while in bed with a towel on their head *cough*.
I think, while we are on reality vs fantasy, it’s time for a photo. You have to remember I had spent 36 hours around tall, healthy Dutch women all of whom look excellent on bicycles. I felt at one with them. I had convinced myself that I was a 20 something, media something with an apartment in De Pijp and a wholesome attitude to sex and work/life balance.
Here’s a picture of me actually.
I’m wearing a cagoule over my fake Mulberry, my hair is beyond beyond and I’m wearing 17 pints of beer on my arse. And I’m as happy as tulip.
We waved goodbye to our friends who had an early flight home and hopped back on our bikes to track down a museum. Now you know I love a museum but I wasn’t blown away by Amsterdam Museum. It was ok but about a third of it centred around Schiphol airport and I don’t really care about that. (When you’ve flown from Norwich, all else pales).
The last moments of a holiday are always sad: AO and I had ‘one last beer’ and ‘just one more slab of apple pie’ and meandered our way up to the train station stopping only for meatballs on white bread and a final last beer at a beautifully dingy and atmospheric bar near Dam Square.
And home. Home to our two boys who’d barely blinked us goodbye and certainly didn’t look up to welcome us home. Home to lesson planning and trial prep. Home to play the best/worst post-holiday game ‘This Time Yesterday’-this time yesterday I was cycling along a canal and now I’m on bus duty.
I think I prefer my new game ‘Next Time’. Next time we could go to Copenhagen…
Planning a kid-free weekend break? Here is one about Prague and here is one about Berlin.
Other outs and abouts are Olivers in the Cotswolds and Olivers in London and this Oliver would like a book deal and a job writing about holidays so share these posts far and wide please, you lovely lot of readers.