This week, Emily demonstrates how passing time between playgroup’s can be a trap in more ways than one…
There is a conspiracy among the organisers of toddler groups to cram everything possible into two days, leaving the rest of the week stretching endlessly before you, and forcing you into attempts at home-based messy play in an guilt-induced effort to satisfy your childrenâ€™s creative urges.
On Thursdays, there is absolutely nothing on. Not a play-group, swimming class, craft club or music session in my entire town is open. But today is Friday, and Friday mornings mean Jungle Jimâ€™s soft-play session, where for once I managed to avoid getting my bottom wedged in a tunnel trying to retrieve an abandoned sock.
We return to the house for lunch and naps, before hurtling back up the hill to Monkey Mayhem where the object of the class appears to be (I missed the first session where this was presumably explained) to run around manically to music, pushing over smaller children and hurling balls at each otherâ€™s heads, while weary parents stand in the kitchen drinking tea and turning a blind eye.
Sing with Suzie is our final destination and a much more sedate affair, although a combination of end-of-week fatigue mixed with back-to-back Jungle Jim, Monkey Mayhem and Sing with Suzie, usually results in Drink Vodka with Tonic by 6pm. Suzie herself is a sweetly smiling thing in her twenties, whose only knowledge of children comes from an OU module in child psychology, taken in conjunction with her M.A. in Music. I often wonder which of her lessons Suzie finds more challenging; the hormonal teen pianists defaulting to Chopsticks or this band of twenty toddlers, here not through any love of music, but because without a structure of groups and activities, afternoons would be insufferably long.
Itâ€™s still half an hour till Suzie opens her doors. It really doesnâ€™t do to be late for class, though, unless you get off on public embarrassment. One of the class rules â€“ and there are many â€“ is that all communication during the lesson is in a â€˜musical mannerâ€™. I know. Ritual humiliation comes with the motherhood territory; whether itâ€™s going to the shops in your slippers or talking about yourself in the third person (Mummy thinks youâ€™re so clever!) itâ€™s impossible to avoid. If you arrive late you are forced to warble â€œhel-lo Su-zie, hel-lo ba-baies, hel-lo mum-mies, how are you to-day?â€ on your own at the front of the class. Trust me, once youâ€™ve done it once, youâ€™ll never be late again.
It starts to rain and the Toddler gets fidgety. Weâ€™ve already been in the five shops in town we can access; I eye up the door of the new charity shop and calculate we can just fit in. Iâ€™m always meaning to start shopping in second-hand shops instead of on-line at Boden. Iâ€™m forever reading about the designer bargains to be had; itâ€™s become really quite cool. Perhaps Iâ€™ll start wearing uber-chic vintage dresses over skinny jeans, and be The One People Talk About. Actually, last year I did briefly become The One People Talked About, but that was because the phone had rung while I was putting on my make-up and Iâ€™d gone to Bumps & Babes with only one side of my face done; a sort of suburban parody of A Clockwork Orange. My new rock-chick image firmly in mind, I ram the buggy up the steps and through the door-way. And keep ramming.
â€œExcuse me, madam, I donâ€™t think it will fitâ€. The volunteer is in her seventies and rather nervous looking.
â€œItâ€™s fineâ€ I say, breezily, â€œIâ€™m an expert buggy-handlerâ€. Slightly out of breath, I tug one side of the buggy, which seems to have got caught on the door frame. Iâ€™m going to need to back out and try again. I confidently lean back on the handles â€“ it wonâ€™t budge. We are wedged in the doorway. Two women join the shop assistant peering anxiously over the Toddler, who is thoroughly enjoying proceedings.
â€œEr, we were actually just on our way outâ€ one of them stuttered, as I glanced behind me to find a queue of people trying to get in. I mean, for goodness sake, since when did the British Heart Foundation become a shopping Mecca? Surely they canâ€™t all be after the uber-cool rock chick look? Not that man in the stained cardigan, anyway.
Fifteen minutes later, thanks to the helpful man at the fridge repair shop, the would-be charity shoppers and several people from a nearby bus queue, the door is taken off its hinges and my buggy freed. Despite by now being outrageously late for Sing (on your own in front of) Suzie, I feel obliged to actually buy something, leaving with twenty quidâ€™s worth of second-hand crap that I didnâ€™t want any more than its previous owners.
Emily Carlisle is a freelance writer living in the Cotswolds with her husband and three small children. You can read her take on extreme parenting at More Than Just a Mother.