In another column from our new contributor Emily Carlisle, we journey through an inane trip to her garden centre.
My children and I spend an inordinate amount of time at garden centres. If you were to follow our weekly round-up of nurseries you would be forgiven for labelling me an aficionado of horticulture, when in fact I don’t know my dahlias from my dandelions. The simple truth of the matter is that garden centres present the perfect location for mothers with a tribe of children to entertain. They are free to enter (although some of the more upmarket ones become rather expensive to exit for the weak-willed, requiring as they do at least an armful of bags stuffed full with edible treats, scented candles… and even the odd plant) and they are universally buggy-friendly, accommodating my triple monstrosity with ease and grace.
They almost always have cafes, so I can get my latte fix whilst bribing the Toddler into submission with a milk-shake, and giving the babies a hunk of organic spelt bread to gum on. My children are fascinated by the colours of the flowers, the rustle of the grasses in the breeze, and the texture of plants both spiky and soft.
The winning attributes of garden centres, however, for me and my boisterous rabble, are the excellent acoustics inherent in their warehouse-like premises. Unwelcome noises seem somehow to be absorbed into space, in the exact opposite to at the doctor’s surgery, for example, where every infant moan, grunt and “Mummy, why is that lady so fat?” is magnified ten-fold and bounced around the waiting room.
So last weekend saw us once again at the garden centre, parading grandly up and down the homeware aisles with the Toddler perched high on his jockey seat above his sisters. In this fashion we are unavoidably noticeable, and it is a regular game in our household to predict the comments made by curious passers-by;
“you’ve got your hands full”, “buy one, get one free, was it?” and “do twins run in your family?” are understandable and relatively inoffensive, but I do find myself hissing answers under my breath to some of the following regular observations;
“Did you know they were twins?” What, when they arrived? When I was pregnant? I was the size of a small African country by twelve weeks; I had a funny feeling there was something up…
“Is it one of each?” They’re both in pink. I mean seriously.
“Are they twins?” No, I just had them mega close together.
“Are they natural?” No, they’re supernatural. And just what chapter of Debretts suggests that it’s ok to ask about my sex life?
Just as I was having a lovely conversation with my two-year old about bird seed, a large woman in boots and a fur hat bore down on us, an inane twin-question taking shape in her expression. Understandably terrified by the lipsticked Beefeater pushing her face towards his, my son let out an almighty roar and attempted a free-fall descent out of the buggy, causing it to wobble alarmingly against a stack of flower pots; “no mummy no mummy no mummy no mummy no mummy!”
I lunged in slow motion towards the toppling terracotta, a flailing toddler by my side, but was reminded of gruesome schooldays as goal defence, when I was as much use to the home team as a chocolate stair-gate. In an inevitable crash of despair and utter embarrassment, the Toddler and I slumped to the floor, pottery raining around us like an archaeological explosion.
Much later, when all the crockery had been cleared up, the on-lookers moved on and the wags in the cafe had grown bored with their ironic applause, I queued at the till to pay for the breakages. The checkout girl peered into the buggy;
Girl: “Are they identical?”
Girl: “Yes they are!”
Me: “No really, they’re not. I should know”
Girl: “Oh, I suppose a mother can always tell them apart”
Me: “Well, yes, because they’re not identical”
Girl: “Oh” pause… “do you think they’ll be identical when they’re older?”
Emily Carlisle is a freelance writer living in the Cotswolds with her husband and three small children.Â You can read her take on extreme parenting at More Than Just a Mother.
We are introducing more columns and features over the next few weeks. If you missed Emily’s first tear (of laughter) inducing column, do check it out.