Category Archives: perfectly safe driving

How to do a wedding with a toddler

Last weekend we attended the wedding of my other half’s stepbrother. Having attended a wedding-like event (a party for a certain big birthday of my mum and her best friend) with Lara back in June, we already had a few ideas on what not to do. The main one being the futile attempt to get Lara to sleep by walking her up and down in the buggy while infinitely more exciting things occurred in the party of which we all then, inevitably, missed the majority. I’m pleased to report the family wedding went without MUCH of a hitch, aside from the getting of which for the lovely James and Emma, and the unfortunate decision to let me supervise our five-year-old niece with a video camera (she only dropped it once. And proceeded to shoot the rest of the vow-taking upside down. Which I noticed REALLY QUICKLY. 45 seconds, tops.) So I thought I’d compile a (hopefully) useful list of tips for any other toddler-shackled party goers.

PREPARATION STAGE

  1. Probably best to get all mobile offspring ready before you. Otherwise you run the risk of tripping over the hem of your maxi dress (currently bagging around your waist due to the swift abandonment of the search for your most non-painful-yet-asset-boosting bra) as you chase your giggling, bare-bottomed child around the house. Although remember not to get them ready TOO soon, otherwise you run the risk of the cute outfit you’ve spent weeks imagining them looking SO gorgeous in getting covered in Weetabix. Or worse. Which brings us on to number 2:
  2. Make sure you take a photo of them in said cute outfit WITHIN TEN SECONDS OF PUTTING IT ON THEM. Especially if you have a little girl with an aversion to any kind of hair style and all un-rubberized footwear.

    She has honest-to-god ribbons in her hair. Ribbons.

    She has honest-to-god ribbons in her hair. Ribbons.

RIBBONS, though

RIBBONS, though.

THE CEREMONY

  1. Right, so you’ve made it to the venue, bra is doing what it’s supposed to, obligatory excruciating shoes are firmly on feet, adorable pigtails have long since been disgustedly pulled from child’s hair but their dress is still mercifully ungrubby. Now comes the most testing time of the child attendee’s patience. All I can say is make sure you bring plenty of un-noisy toys that won’t ruin the derriere of your outfit if you accidentally sit on them – books, stickers, magnets, teddies, poky-limbed dolls… Pretty much anything, but NOT play-doh. WOE BETIDE YOUR DAYGLO-COLOURED BOTTOM IF YOU BRING PLAY-DOH. We also loaded a tablet with Peppa Pig and Pixar and let her watch it on silent, which she did, not entirely silently. If all else fails, make sure you sit next to an outer aisle which will make you feel all Mi5 if you have to do the duck, scoop and bail.
  1. If the venue has a bar, make use of this before the ceremony. Children pick up on stress. Children pick up on calm. Particularly the calm of the parent who has just demolished their entire designated driver alcohol limit in one fell glug.

    Peppa PIg. Truly you earned the hours I've spent slaving over your cakey effigy.

    Peppa Pig. Truly you earned the hours I spent slaving over your cakey effigy.

FOOD

  1. Often, if they have invited a few young children, the bride and groom will bear this in mind when planning the meal. Ours provided fantastic little activity packs for each child and, as a result, what could have been a fiesta of whines, food-throwing, dress-staining and general misery of the type to send any designated driver straight into the arms of an open bar, was avoided. Yes, the corner of our table looked like a small bomb had hit a toy shop via the food court by the end of the meal. Yes, there were a few pouts and arguments between cousins about whose toy was whose. Yes, at one point I did have bubble mixture poured over my arm and spent the rest of the evening watching people wrinkle their nose in confusion at my vaguely chemical scent. But, all things considered, everything went extremely smoothly during dinner and the speeches.

    Our bride and groom provided this amazing activity pack for each child. Along with the occasional help of Mr Tablet, Lara was occupied throughout the whole meal!

    Our bride and groom provided an amazing activity pack for each child. Along with the occasional help of Mr Tablet, Lara was occupied throughout the whole meal!

AFTER FOOD

  1. For me, this was the most challenging time. Not just because it was now a good hour after Lara’s bedtime and my control pants were navigating ever further north, it was also around this time we suffered an unfortunate nappy incident, the likes of which we haven’t seen for a good ten months or so. Which brings me to emphasize: BRING SPARE CLOTHES. Kids sample all sorts of food they might not be used to at a wedding. Some handle it fine. Some have explosive diarrhoea.
  1. Find a place for your child to run around. After said incident of indigestion, I felt like we might be heading for a swift departure. Lara also happened to be in the snotty, unreasonable stage of getting a cold and I was by no means unconvinced that another incident of bowel excitement was on the cards. Fortunately, once we went outside and she discovered a little boy of her age to chase, all misery was soon forgotten and a good amount of energy was burned.

DISCO

  1. Having thought at around 8pm that we might have to call it a night by 9, I’m pleased to say we actually didn’t leave until well after 10.30pm. This is because, in no small part, to Lara’s discovery of the dance floor and the gaining of her third wind. As previously mentioned, we’d already experienced the option of trying to get her to sleep at this stage of an event and failed, so this time we decided to let her go for it, have a dance and pass out as and when she herself saw fit. And she had a riot. Actually, we all did. After all, it’s not every night you get to do the macarena in all your finery while your two-year-old clings to your hip and occasionally bats at you, uttering: “Mummy!” in a fairly appalled tone of voice.
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My little pensioner

Do you ever get the needling suspicion that your toddler is hiding a dark well of wisdom behind those big, shiningly innocent eyes? I do. Frequently. For example, here is my 22-month-old eating hummus. Hummus, which I didn’t get my head around until at least my mid-twenties.

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That’s not all. As well as a surprising taste for chickpeas, my elderly little offspring also has a real thing for benches. If we come across one on a walk, she has to sit on it, and woe betide any accompanying adult who tries to persuade her otherwise. Most parents may allow extra time for things like petting dogs, feeding ducks, jumping in puddles, right? I have to allow extra time for bench sitting. But maybe I’m over-reacting. I mean, when your legs are only so big and you’ve only been using them for so long, maybe sitting on a bench offers a justifiable repose every once in a while. Ok. But, see, the thing is, it isn’t just benches on walks. It’s every bench. Everywhere. Even at the playground when we’ve just spent 45 minutes in the car and her friends are all running around sliding, swinging, exploring… Not my austere little pensioner.

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And, when someone tries to suggest she might like to have a nice little play?

No.

No.

Bugger off.

Bugger off.

It's BENCH TIME.

It’s BENCH TIME.

It’s not just about the benches though. If you’ve ever had or been around a child approaching their 2nd birthday, you’ll know about the whole language boom thing. Lara’s no exception – every day it seems she surprises me with new words and sentences. Like last Tuesday, when, during the aforementioned 45 minute road trip, I told her there were no more snacks to be had just now. “Shit!” she replied. “Erm… what did you say?” “SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!” I can’t imagine where she learnt it. Especially in the car.

It’s not all glares and profanities, though. The other day we went to visit a friend’s new baby and, as we peered over the edge of the crib, Lara smiled, looked at me and said, “Baby!” and then, sternly: “Mummy SHUSH!”

Despite all this, I haven’t resigned myself to shopping for orthopedic shoes and miniature tartan shopping carts just yet (though how much would she love the latter? Hello, 2nd birthday present!) That is because for every mature act which grounds me in my tracks, there are 40 still very much stapled to the age of 22 and-a-bit months. Like her penchant for putting silly things on her head. And her love of uncooked baked goods. Come to think about it, I can’t imagine where she learnt those, either…


The end of a [cramped, often sweaty but cool, though, right?] era

“Fun to be seen driving” are the words used by TopGear to describe the VW Beetle. Having driven one for the best part of two and a half years, I would add that indeed, it is possibly more fun to be seen driving a Beetle than it is in fact driving a Beetle. Not that I didn’t love every minute of being said driver of my particularly iridescent sapphire specimen.

I bought my Beetle in the summer of 2012 as my ultimate, single girl-about-town classy set of wheels, despite being a) not actually single and b) far too terrified to actually drive it anywhere about my town – being London at the time – except out, via the south circular, to work. But man, did I love being the girl driving the Beetle. Pedestrians would stare enviously (or so I choose to interpret) as they hastily retracted their toes from the zebra crossing, other Beetle owners waved, and car washers would chuckle and mock the little fake flower in the test tube vase next to the steering wheel.

Around six months after I bought my Beetle, I got pregnant. Approximately seven and a half months later, upon receiving ownership of a fairly standard-sized travel system pushchair, I discovered just how incompatible this car is with family life. Even without a seat, the frame simply did not fit in the bloody boot. I had to take the two back wheels off. Every. Single. Time. If that wasn’t enough, I of course had gone for the three door, four seat version in a pique of I’m-only-25-I’m-not-even-thinking-of-having-kids-yet logic. This made getting baby + car seat in and out PARTICULARLY FUN. I’m not even going to talk about the beige interior. Suffice to say it doesn’t meld well with babies, or any of the items said creatures ingest and… yeah.

It was also around this time – being the summer of 2013 – that I realised my most heinous oversight at the time of purchase. The car did not have air conditioning. Yes, it had heated seats and a standard heating system which made it a particularly cosy drive in the winter, and I hadn’t really noticed the lack of AC too much the summer before, when I’d been a svelte size 8-10 with thighs that didn’t rub together and was still in Beetle honeymoon period. But, two stones bigger and with a new, 120mile round commute to and from work, the novelty of my Beetle ownership wore off around the time I heaved myself into the driver’s seat ahead of a two hour jaunt on the m25 and saw the car’s thermometer merrily reading 40 degrees.

The sweat just went everywhere.

Still, I muddled through and continued to enjoy the odd moments of pretending I was still that young, single girl-about-town as I motored down the A322, singing along to Rihanna on the iPod dock as the baby snoozed out of eye-line. Then, this Christmas, I picked my sister and her two kids up from the airport. They had one suitcase and a pushchair. Something most cars, even neat little hatchbacks, can handle without so much as a tailgate dip of protest. Not my bloody car. The suitcase would only go flat in the boot if I sat on it. The pushchair would not go anywhere except wedged in front of my sister in the front, with her passenger seat as far back as it would go (fortunately my second niece is tiny for her age. And I’m fairly sure her hip dysplasia was diagnosed before the subsequent 200 mile journey from airport to Devon.)

It was then I had my Roy Scheider moment. I was going to need a bigger car. Sure, I wasn’t going to get eaten by a shark if I didn’t, but having any more babies invoked images of driving along with the boot duck-taped half open over one buggy while I towed the other along behind me. Besides, I was sick of having to climb into the back seat – even with the time-perfected twist, stoop and pivot – every time I needed to get my increasingly large Lara in and out. The mileage was still decent, paintwork fairly spotless, age not bad and I had six months on the MOT.

car fb

You will be pleased to know that though I am silly enough to sacrifice any serious offers of purchase for cheap Facebook LOLs by posting a light-hearted advert including the word sh!t in the description, I’m not quite so stupid that I would make this blog post live before keys changed hands. Therefore, I am happy to announce that the Beetle has gone *pang* and I am now the proud owner of its much more sensible, much more bigger brother, the VW Tiguan. The drive is noisier, the diesel more expensive and I am now one of those SUV mums, but the other day I managed to get BOTH buggies and a suitcase into the boot without obstructing any vision out the back window. I guess that girl about town grew up. And got really boring.

 


Testing the Bladder of the Lone Parent Traveller

As an original Devonian now living in Berkshire, I am well-versed in the twists, turns, incongruous chevrons and traffic blackspots *COUGHBristolCOUGH* of the M4 and M5. My daughter, now one, has also become familiar with the route to and from Nana’s house – as well as its menagerie of service stations. As my partner rarely has holiday allowance to spare, my daughter and I often make the four to five hour drive alone. I don’t mind the journey. I don’t even particularly mind the screaming fits from the overly bored child around hour 2.5 when both socks have been sucked dry of any flavour and all wriggling has rendered her STILL in the bloody car seat. What I do mind is not being able to empty my bladder without fear of child abduction. What I do mind is the prospect of changing a tampon with the toilet cubicle door wedged open.

 

Many of the services available on this particular route boast beautiful baby changing facilities. Leigh Delamere even has the very latest, safest straps on their changing tables so your baby is as safe as can be while you change their nappy – and for this I am certainly not ungrateful, as many mothers of wriggly rollers will agree. The baby change room is spacious, airy, nicely decorated, and there’s even a separate room for breastfeeders and a little toilet cubicle for older siblings. This type of facility is one I’ve come across many times, I believe Gordano has a similar one. However, what bothers me is that there is no room in the toilet cubicle for a pushchair. If the lone parent traveller wants to use the toilet, they must either leave their child locked outside the cubicle, leave the cubicle door open, leave the buggy outside and bring the child in (and sit them on the floor. Of the public toilet. Next to the sanitary bin which they will inevitably then attempt to upend) or try and hold the child out of germs’ way whilst they perform some sort of impossible circus act of toiletry.

Lovely changing facilities at Leigh Delamere Eastbound  services... unless you happen to possess a bladder, that is...

Lovely changing facilities at Leigh Delamere Eastbound services… unless you happen to possess a bladder, that is…

 

Why? Why spend so many hundreds of pounds on these wonderful, state of the art facilities with state of the art straps and harnesses and change tables and fail to provide the most basic thing – the thing all bladder-sloshing mothers and fathers’ eyes will desperately comb the surroundings for the minute they enter the room – a toilet cubicle big enough to fit a pushchair inside?

 

On the way down to Devon a few weeks ago I stopped off at Sedgemoor. There weren’t quite the baby changing facilities of Leigh Delamere, but there was a change table in a private room which did us nicely. No toilet for me though. I traipsed through the rest of the Ladies’, finding a whole new wing of toilet cubicles all clean and gleaming, but not a single larger cubicle fit for the accommodation of Mama + Pram. Incredibly frustrated, I ended up ignoring the sign on the disabled toilet expressly forbidding use by ANYONE able-bodied, with particular emphasis on baby change facilities being elsewhere. I’m just glad, for their sake, no one told me off because they would have received an earful in response. What else could I do? Wedge the buggy in the door of a cubicle at the end of the row and get down to business only to hear, on the point of no return, the inevitable doom-filled sound of a coach-load of teenagers flooding into the room?

Although I am more familiar with the services along this particular route, I know this problem is by no means limited to the South – when my partner and I took our baby up to Cumbria in March, I faced the same problem. My partner was most bemused to see me almost limping as I emerged from changing the baby, practically throwing her at him as I ducked back into the Ladies’ without a word.

I think one of the reasons it bothers me so much is because other businesses have managed to get it right, seamlessly. John Lewis in Reading, for example, has changing mats out and a ‘family toilet’ room. People don’t stop at John Lewis to go to the toilet, and yet they’ve made these facilities everything a lone parent shopper would want. Service stations are places people stop, often for the SPECIFIC PURPOSE of using the toilets and yet they are failing to provide this basic service for a huge proportion of their customers. Do they think lone parent travellers do not possess bladders and bowels? Do they think we are so dedicated to our children that we will simply hold it in until we reach our destination? Or maybe they just assume that people travelling with children never do so without another person who can watch the child while the parent uses the toilet.

Whatever the reason, it just staggers me that it remains an issue. Somehow these people have thought of straps that are 100% impossible for babies to wriggle out of while having their nappy changed, hand dryers that kill 99.9% of germs, wall-mounted toys to keep older siblings amused, even bloody bottle warmers in some places – and yet the simple extra square feet so desperately sought after by the fidgeting, bladder-heavy mummy travelling alone with her child is just too much to ask.


When Bad Things Happen to Good* Drivers

*Good, here, meaning stays on the road more often than not, inoffensive unless provoked (or singing) and certainly never ever guilty of taking funny photos at inappropriate and unsafe moments.

Some of the things which befall me (and, it is my eternal hope, others too) when I take my bimblings to the highways of Britain:

  1. Every Spring, without fail, you celebrate the first warm day of the year by rolling your window down – which you then promptly forget about around the time you roll to a stop at the traffic lights in a crowded town centre and wile away the time singing loudly along to the radio/ commenting on how badly dressed/ fat the pedestrians are.
  2. You’re driving along, a car approaches in the opposite direction, but between you there is a vehicle parked half-on, half-off the pavement. No matter how much you try to brake or accelerate you both end up reaching the parked vehicle at exactly the same moment and have to do an awkward, three car squeeze-by while driving to avoid one another’s gaze.
  3. When driving with a small child/baby in the car it is unacceptable for any other drivers to beep at you for any hesitations or accidental gear changes/sudden brakings. However, if they do, it is perfectly reasonable for you to reply “I’VE GOT A GODDAMN BABY IN THE CAR, SHOW SOME F*CKING RESPECT!” with the appropriate accompanying hand gestures.
  4. When in Devon, motorists must leave extra early due to the increased risk that at some stage of the journey the road will be rendered impassable due to livestock/ geese/ pillocks from the city.
  5. There are days when you simply forget that green means go.
  6. No driving scenario is more awkward than a three-way mini roundabout. Who goes first? Is he going to go? Shall I go? Oh god now we’ve all started forward and braked sharply. F*ck it, I’m just going to go – maybe if I go REALLY FAST it will be like I was never here and this never happened.
  7. On that note, when did it become ok for drivers to stop F*CKING INDICATING at roundabouts?
  8. If you make a mistake, ie, misjudge the exit someone is going for at a roundabout (probably because they didn’t F*CKING INDICATE) and cut them up, it becomes absolutely necessary to speed as fast away from the scene of the misdemeanour as possible.
  9. If, when driving alone, you think of a brilliantly witty comeback/joke/saying, it is perfectly acceptable to then say whatever it is out loud, just in case someone has hidden a microphone somewhere in your car and is listening to everything you say.
  10. The rear-view baby mirror probably makes me a worse driver, but it’s worth it to watch some of the appalled faces she pulls when I sing.driving 2
  11. I have it on good authority that until your child is old enough to ask what a Rude Boy is, it’s perfectly acceptable to sing along to Rihanna while they’re in the car.
  12. You try to be nice and let the person at the junction turn into the road in front of you, but they JUST AREN’T GETTING IT so you end up speeding away in frustration, while they just gaze at you in bewilderment.
  13. Alternatively, that nice person who has right of way flashes at you to go in front of them, but you find yourself in the wrong gear/ surging forward too eagerly and rolling to an embarrassing stall halfway across the carriageway.
  14. Set your Sat Nav voice to American and then approach a roundabout.
  15. Woe betide the London driver who hesitates for a nanosecond after the traffic lights go green.

 

 

 


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