My husband is the sort of person who will leave the house with our toddler on his shoulders and a single fresh nappy in his pocket, happy to wing it if anything goes awry. Recently, while on a walk in the woods, he dealt with an errant poo by simply “popping” it out of our son’s nappy and into a nearby bush.
“It’s OK,” he reassured me later, as I clasped my overstuffed changing bag to my bosom in horror. “The poo was very hard.”
Whereas I tend to pack five days’ worth of supplies and employ a team of Sherpas even when I nip out to buy milk. Some might say I overprepare, but I’ve read enough Carl Sagan to reason that, in a cosmos full of infinite universes, it would be wise to carry extra wet wipes and some emergency Calpol.
You can’t prepare for everything, though. A week ago, my sister-in-law invited my sons and me round to meet her NCT group. I’m not sure what she was expecting – perhaps that, because I didn’t do NCT and our babies are only a few months apart, I’d make some valuable new connections. Or that my older son might amuse everyone with his adorable little songs.
What I’m certain she wasn’t expecting was a wet, wild-haired witch to blast her front door off its hinges with a breastfeeding baby hoiked under one arm and a tantrumming toddler clinging to the other. Nevertheless, that’s what she got. On the stormy walk over, my three-year-old (who had been singing a made-up song about how sleepy he wasn’t) fell asleep while standing on his buggy board, then fell off the buggy board and was now uncharacteristically feral.
He screamed. He shouted. He demanded cake. He then crumbled the cake between his fingers, while maintaining eye contact. He thundered around the house. He giggled maniacally. He very nearly used the heads of the assembled NCT babies as stepping stones. Then he soiled himself – through his nappy and all down the inside of his trousers. And, finally, he let go of my hand and took a running tumble all the way down the stairs.
Some might say I overprepare, but I’ve read enough Carl Sagan to reason that, in a cosmos full of infinite universes, it would be wise to carry extra wet wipes and some emergency Calpol
He was fine; shaken, but uninjured, so I plopped him on the sofa. Meanwhile, the NCT group looked on in horror as he sat with his nose in the iPad and one hand in his nappy, while his trousers rumbled around the washing machine and the smell of human shit permeated the air. Watching my sister-in-law’s friends palpably trying not to judge me was so stressful that I had to go to the loo and have a quiet cry.
When I came back, I was internally debating whether I could feasibly take my son home in a pair of my sister-in-law’s old tights, so it took a while to notice that said son was slumped over, asleep, on the sofa. One hour before dinnertime. With no car seats available and a long, wet walk in the dark ahead of us.
Now that the worst had happened, everything became a lot clearer. I stopped being hard on myself -- after all, I couldn’t have anticipated the fact that my kid might coat his trousers in something that would stop me eating chocolate buttercream icing for the foreseeable future. I gave up trying to fix everything and just had a cup of tea. Then I woke my son up, wrestled his tantrumming frame into his wet jeans and walked the two miles home in the dark, singing Old MacDonald at the top of my voice to distract him.
And, honestly, that was the best bit of my day. My son is three and facing all sorts of transitions. New moods and abilities. Toilet training. Parenting is a moving target – once you think you have everything sorted, the goal posts change. But it's also a movable feast and, at the end of the day, my kid was eventually returned to his funny and inventive self, and we were making each other laugh so much we barely noticed the wind and rain.
You can’t prepare for everything. Sometimes the only thing you can do is make sure your sister-in-law has a washing machine and that you have a sense of humour.
Still, pretty sure I won’t be invited back to see her NCT friends.