With the Easter holidays in progress and the weather a little sunnier, if not exactly warm yet, day trip season is well and truly upon us. Much as I love a day trip, they can be a terrifying and exhausting experience when solo parenting with multiple children.
This week, me and a very good friend of mine, who is also crazy enough to have gone in for three kids, decided to go to see some animals with our respective broods in tow. Two boisterous school-age boys, two preschoolers and two toddlers. OK, so two adults to six kids isn’t a great ratio but we figured it got the kids out into the fresh air and didn’t involve either of our houses being trashed, as our six-kid play dates usually do. Plus, facing it together is far less daunting than doing it alone.
One inevitable feature of any good day trip is the total wipeout. All three of mine managed to injure themselves, so I had a hat-trick. M is so clumsy she could fall over thin air and T is only 20 months so falling down is the standard for the two of them. But this time even H managed to join the fun: he slammed his knee into a four foot high wooden rabbit. One plaster and much rubbing and kissing-better later and all were soldiering on again, apart from H who adopted a dramatic limp (when he remembered) and maintained a fairly impressive sulk for about 20 minutes.
It’s a rare day trip that doesn’t include a prolonged sulk or two, so H’s mood didn’t bother me too much. Hell, I’ve had ‘fun’ days out involving all three screaming in sync so it takes more than a mild sulk to rattle me these days. H is a persistent sulker so I’ve learned to carry on regardless. He managed to squeeze three sulks into a two and a half hour outing, so he was on good form.
The two toddlers were pretty much continually happy throughout the trip. T is mad-keen on walking everywhere at the moment and, rather than face another staple of a good outing – the screaming tantrum – I decided to push an empty buggy round with us, covered in bags, toys and water bottles, but at no point used to accommodate a child. Leave the buggy in the car and a) you have nowhere to hang all your stuff and b) you have problems if the toddler decides to have a meltdown and needs to be pinned down for you to stand any chance of making it back to the car. Over the years, I’ve perfected the one handed push whilst holding a sticky mitt in the other hand, to prevent too many face-plants. Young T tottered from one enclosure to another, loudly ‘Gah’-ing at various animals, and was happy as Larry. He and his fellow toddler friend were generally delighted and delightful, without a tantrum in sight. Well done boys.
The older four, as usual, got on like a house on fire. In fact, by the end of the morning they had adopted a pack mentality. They spent half an hour running amok around the picnic tables, jumping on each other and being incredibly loud. We cleared the area pretty quickly, I can tell you. When other kids entered their play space, they seemed to cluster together and form a wild and noisy ball of kid that no stranger would dare to try to infiltrate. My usually rather shy girl was at the forefront of the pack and could be seen landing hefty play punches on all of the boys. I sometimes worry about M at our six-kid meet-ups as she is the only girl in a bundle of boys but, after seeing her kick-ass moves today, I don’t think she minds too much. And, lets face it, she is used to it, being sandwiched between her two brothers.
The culmination of every decent day trip is a (usually disasterous) meal. With eight of us to accommodate, sitting inside the cafe was a definite no-go. So we found an outdoor table and attempted to calmly get everyone fed, whilst battling high winds.
We went for the easiest menu option: the kids lunch box. These are a standard at any day trip eatery and are pot luck as they can be OK but, more often than not, they tend to be a load of crap that the kids don’t really like all bunged into a grinning hippo cardboard box. But by this time T was seriously kicking off, as if I’d not fed him for a week, and the prospect of ordering something hot and having to wait half an hour for it wasn’t appealing. So, six crappy grinning boxes it was.
And the hippos didn’t fail to disappoint: the cheese sandwiches had rubberised processed cheese slices in them. But the kids didn’t seem to mind and stuffed their little faces, while my mate and I struggled to hold down wind-blown paper plates and bags of crisps, whilst eating the worst burgers you can imagine. The wind was pretty intense and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were still stray Pom Bears floating over the South Downs.
The amount of food left under the table at any meal with young kids is pretty shocking but we really went for it this time. The wind was bitter and strong enough to blow a lunch box stuffed with rubbish and held down by a large banana clean off the table, so it wasn’t all our fault.
Lunch was followed by chocolate Easter cakes rammed into mouths, smeared on faces and, in T’s case, secreted inside coats to quietly melt until discovery a hour later when we got home.
As we’d expected, it was a day packed full of trials and challenges, with kids running wild and giving us nightmares as they disappeared behind things or tried to throw themselves off heights. We couldn’t take our eyes off them even for a moment, for fear of losing one or having fingers that had been stuck into enclosures bitten or pecked off.
All that said, we had a pretty fantastic day. Yes, both Mums were knackered afterwards and hit the wine a tad earlier than usual but we did it. And we did it together, having a giggle and sharing our woes as we went.
Thank heavens for having friends whose lives are as crazy as mine, with a whole brood of full-on kids, who don’t shudder at the thought of the mayhem of a six kid outing. A rare thing and a blessing indeed.