Ducking school trips

Alec and Kit’s first day out with nursery. Mine too. I’ve never been able to go on trips with my eldest son Harry, six, because I’ve always had Alec and Kit, four,  to look after – a fact he is not slow to pick up on.

As he sizes up their picnics, the injustice of the situation hits him.

“They’ve got chocolate mini-cheddars!” Harry shouts. “That’s not fair.” A pause. “That’s not even allowed!”

I assure him that although there is some brown writing on the packet, this does not mean they are chocolate. It’s too late.

“You’ve never been on a school trip with me,” Harry shrieks. “Why do they get to go with you and I don’t?”

“It’s not fair! I’m never going on another trip unless you come with me.” Somewhere a door slams. As his school trip is next week I am doubly guilty at my impending parental no-show. I can’t fault his argument.

Our emotional hurricane passes.  Alec, Kit and I slope off to nursery, praying we are not boarding the coach as Harry and my husband pass on the way to school.

We needn’t have worried. Half an hour later, we parents are still milling around in the playground awaiting our instructions. The teachers emerge and remind us of the rules: No eating or drinking on the coach, no chocolate, fizzy drinks or sweets and toilet breaks at designated times only (slight concern over that one).

We head for the coaches – I spot a few parents dumping banned items in the bin. I am now slightly panicky about our dodgy looking mini-cheddars.

We are off, only half an hour late. Alec and Kit’s teacher, Mr M, walks down the coach checking all is well. “Who’s driving the bus?” asks one little girl worriedly.

Less than five minutes from school and a parent brazenly hands her son a chocolate bar. We nearby law abiders marvel at the audacity of breaking two rules with one action (see above). Mr M is still prowling the aisles and  notices the child’s tell-tale chocolate dribble. The half eaten bar is removed from his mouth. Mum is given stern look and finger wag. Everyone shifts uneasily in their seats. Obviously I won’t be giving the boys chocolate, but surely I can feed myself obesity-inducing rubbish? I resolve to eat my Penguin bar in the toilets later.

With some relief we arrive at the London Wetlands Centre without further confiscations. We deposit lunch boxes in a container and have our first toilet stop. We discover there are two toilets. Half an hour later we are still standing in a queue outside the toilets. We’ve missed the first otter feeding slot and are 10 minutes late for our stint in the playground. A mother who was at the front of the queue is starting to mutter audibly about the slowness of those at the back. Inevitably,  the last child in the queue has had an accident. We nod sympathetically and let off an inner howl as valuable playground time ticks away.

Finally we make it. Highlight of the playground is a telly tubbies-style tunnel with one entrance and, it transpires, six exits. Remaining 10 minutes of playground time is spent rounding up all those missing in the tunnel.

Next is lunch. We find our spot by following a trail of Ribena to a small patch of muddy floor overlooking a boggy lake. It’s the closest we’ve got to wildlife so far.

Later we are met by a wetlands guide who takes us to his yurt to tell us about ducks. He has pictures of food and asks the children to tell him whether it is eaten by ducks or humans. “Who eats this?” he asks, holding up a picture of a pizza. “Harry!” shout back Alec and Kit.

He tries again by asking what animals live at the Wetlands Centre.

Hands shoot up. A confident little boy is chosen.

“Giraffes”, he answers.

We then troop round to the duck pond and each child grabs a handful of pellets to lob at the ducks.

On our way out we pass the otter enclosure. They only come out at feeding time, we are told. It is not feeding time.

Our itinerary says we now have 45 minutes of “free time” which is spent wandering somewhat aimlessly with parents staring zombie-like at the café and children eyeing the giftshop. We loiter in the middle where you can neither eat nor spend money. At 1.50pm we reconvene and are the first group back on the coach. At 2.10pm everyone else arrives.

“We’ve been watching the otters being fed!” a little girl announces as she clambers on board. The front-of-the-toilet-queue mum utters a series of banned words.

The return journey is spent in virtual silence, with children and carers alike either asleep or semi-comatose with exhaustion.

Safely back at nursery, we stagger off the coach.

“What did you do?” asks Harry nonchalantly.

Alec and Kit jump around, desperate to be the first to tell him.

“We fed the ducks!” they shout in unison.

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Welcome to my world

Breakfast is served. By which I mean three bowls are dumped on the table, sometimes accompanied by spoons. Loud references are made up the stairs to time, school and hurrying up. This is repeated.

Damn, my belt-tightening trip to Aldi has been busted. Harry, six, eyes  his “cheerios” with suspicion. “They look like dog biscuits,”  he says, before shoveling in a large spoonful.

“ Mmm, delicious”.

Kit, three, is working through his breakfast checklist. Critical factors include  colour of bowl, position of banana in relation to Weetabix and volume of milk up the side of said Weetabix. A nervous pause. His lower lip is unjutted. Eating commences.

His twin, Alec, arrives head first down the stairs bellowing “hot milk!”, before clambering up onto his chair and falling off the other side.

The other two roar with laughter sending Alec into a fury. “Harry’s a wee wee poo poo head”, he explodes, unleashing the worst insult from his thankfully limited arsenal.

All three boys

All three boys

“Fart bum!”, replies his brother.

“Poo poo head!”

“That’s enough”, I mouth, inaudible above the exchange of toilet dredging.

Alec leaps down off his chair and aims a punch that  lands on Harry’s knee. Harry swiftly returns one to his ear.

“That’s enough,” I repeat, aware that the volume has exceeded the recommended level for good parenting.

Quiet is temporarily restored. Alec returns to his chair rubbing his ear. Harry belatedly remembers to say ‘ouch’ and looks smug. I pretend I can’t hear the hissed ‘fart bums’ ricocheting across the table.

My husband comes in with his coffee, having abandoned his attempts to listen to the radio in the kitchen.

Alec rubs his ear again hopefully, this time with his Weetabix-coated spoon which  drips a trail of slime down his nursery sweatshirt.

“Daddy’s the lemon!” he shouts, triggering the daily scramble to avoid being the last to finish. Kit begins whimpering at the mere thought of being today’s victim.

Harry is already down from the table and riding round the room on a fire engine designed for an 18-month-old. It is our most popular toy. Inexplicably its batteries are still in full working order. We finish our breakfasts to the sound of sirens wailing, accompanied by the odd ankle shunt. In other words, in relative peace.