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.

Advertisements

Bye Bye Buggy

A few minutes after my husband and I emerged from the sonographer’s room holding the twins’ first scan picture in our shaking hands, the full implications of what lay before us hit me.

“Oh my god!” I said as we waited for the lift. “We’ll have to get a double buggy.”

It was a sobering moment. Or at least it seemed like one – we hadn’t yet twigged that we’d also need a new car and a new house.

Until this point, my attitude to parents wielding double buggies had been an unattractive mix of smug revulsion. I admit it, I pitied them. Running over peoples’ feet, jamming themselves in supermarket aisles; frankly, taking up too much space. The possibility that I would one day join their harassed ranks had never crossed my mind.

For about four minutes we toyed with a single buggy plus sling scenario, but even in our shocked state we were forced to face up to the fact that with a toddler to contain as well as the twins, this was simply not an option. Worse, we realized that once we’d secured our whopper we’d have to add a buggy board for said toddler. A traveling circus would get around less conspicuously.

That was October. In February we were standing in a hangar containing our pushchair of choice – the Mountain Buggy Double Urban. We gingerly pushed it around, sending display items crashing in all directions, although pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to manoeuvre, albeit into other things.

The sales lady “collapsed” it and stood back triumphantly. The buggy was approximately two centimetres lower, but apparently no smaller. Compact it was not.

Half an hour later, pockets lighter, boot considerably lower, the buggy was ours. Life with twins had begun.

twins in buggy

Babies in the buggy

It is fair to say that over the intervening four years, the buggy has attracted almost as much attention as the twins.

“Stand back!” people yell, flattening themselves against walls or stepping into the path of buses to let us through – even though the buggy is narrow enough to fit through pretty much any normal door and certainly along a pavement. “Blimey – have you got a license for that?” has been heard. More than once.  “Bet that keeps you fit!”, people comment. (It doesn’t by the way – my upper arms still resemble blancmange despite propelling the damn thing up a 1: 2 hill for years.)

I have, of course, come to love our buggy and bridle on its behalf when people carp on about its size or shove their feet under its wheels. It is loads easier to push than the Maclaren I used for our first son, and having surrendered our house to a mountain of toys, highchairs and plastic feeding bowls some years ago, what difference did a buggy blocking the front hall for three years really make?

The last six months have seen the buggy and I gradually separate. Nervously, I left it at home for the school run. My twins, Alec and Kit, are not known for their co-operation on this hellish journey. Prizing a stubborn Alec off the pavement while Kit sprints into the distance is not an uncommon occurrence. Without the buggy to threaten them with, how would I manhandle two three-year-olds to the school gate? In short, slowly and with much whining and cajoling from all sides.

However, as much as the double buggy enhanced our lives when Alec and Kit were smaller, I cannot describe the joy at finally being liberated from it. Suddenly, interest in us was reduced by about 90 per cent. Nobody noticed us, or felt the need to comment on us, to us or about us. At last, Alec and Kit were just like any other little boys.

So, with Alec and Kit’s fourth birthday over, it was time to make our separation permanent. The buggy was brought out from the garage one last time. It emerged gleaming and pretty much unrecognizable from the only deep clean it has ever had  – my children had been happily nestling in filth for years, I discovered.

double buggy farewell

Farewell to double buggies

The boys and I looked at all the old photos of them as babies in the buggy before they clambered, giggling,  into it again for a final picture.

They stood waving as I drove it off to my local twins club sale. The end of an era.

Four hours later I was home. With the unsold buggy.

Double buggy anyone?

Birthday Cake

Rainbow cake

Rainbow cake

As Alec and Kit’s fourth birthday party approached, two issues loomed. Could I get away with a single birthday cake between them for another year and could I pull off a successful celebration with – deep breath – no party bags?
The answers, thankfully, were yes and yes. As ever, there was the complication of themes: Peter Pan v Ben 10 one day, Ice Age v Cars 2 the next. The ideas changed so frequently that they were eventually abandoned in the certain knowledge that they would have veered off course before the ink was dry on the invitations.
Most importantly, the cake. Last year I attempted Spiderman. It took me almost five hours to transform a perfectly good sponge cake into a mangled blue and red monstrosity. My cake appeared to depict the nightmare scenario of Spiderman’s headfirst plunge from tall building to pavement. Even our group of three-year-old party goers gasped when it was wheeled out.
This year I vowed there would be no midnight sobbing over another birthday cake.
The boys were non-committal in their demands which made it easier to not only impose my own ideas but to postpone for another year having to make a separate cake for each of them. Until it is explicitly demanded, I am ignoring one of the cornerstone suggestions for maintaining a twin’s identity. I’m already saving for the cost of righting the psychological repercussions. Obviously we have separate renditions of Happy Birthday and each boy blows out his own set of candles, which at the moment seems to make them both happy.

Meanwhile, Alec liked every cake I showed him and Kit only wanted a Halloween-style orange pumpkin cake which I ruled out ostensibly because it is March not October but in reality because it looked downright difficult.
On the quiet, I searched for something eye catching, yet relatively simple and finally stumbled upon a rainbow cake. The picture looked amazing. A deceptively simple white-iced exterior which, once cut, revealed a cake of six brilliantly colored layers, held together with plain white frosting. Genius.
I showed the picture to the boys. “Pretty!” said Alec. “Ugh!”, said Kit.
Following the lead of generations of politicians, I completely ignored the dissenting opinion and pressed on regardless, assuring myself that he didn’t fully grasp the concept.Balloons
My recipe, from Edd Kimber’s “Say It With Cake” (http://www.waterstones.com/wat/images/special/pdf/SayItWithCake_recipe_card.pdf), was slightly fiddly and required buying a third 20cm baking tin and considerable quantities of gel food colourings, but following it to the letter, my six garish cakes looked not only edible, but quite professional. I abandoned the white chocolate icing suggested in the recipe on the grounds that it required a sugar thermometer so was guaranteed to exceed my technical capabilities and opted instead for Hummingbird Bakery’s failsafe Vanilla Frosting (http://captivatingcupcakes.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/hummingbird-bakerys-vanilla-frosting.html). A mere hour later, my cake was iced. I wasn’t crying. In short, a miracle had occurred.
For some time before the big day, I had been gradually easing in the idea that there would be no party bags, but I admit I was not brave enough to go completely cold turkey. Instead of the usual bag full of plastic rubbish, I opted for a single bit of rubbish. Let’s face it, you’ve got to give the children some incentive to leave. I bought gifts priced between £2-£3 for each child and put them in a box which acted as a lucky dip – accessed only once each child had their coat on and was ready to go. The only condition was that they had to open it when they got home – to avoid comparisons with what anyone else had got. (Inevitably someone flouted the rules and was apprehended trying to shove a half-wrapped parcel back into the lucky dip in the hope of getting something better the next time).
For the most part, each child got one reasonable toy to leave with and, while still expensive for the 17 kids we had at the party, was on balance a better and easier alternative to the annual tedium of compiling party bags.
But back to the rainbow cake. Once the double Happy Birthdays were out of the way, my husband dramatically sliced open the cake. This year, instead of the odd stifled sob and embarrassed intake of breath, there were cries of delight and a clamor of small hands for a piece of their own. Parents asked in disbelief whether I had made it myself (come to think of it, that did happen last year), and were genuinely impressed by the results.
Triumphant, I looked over at Alec and Kit, proudly heading the birthday table.
“Ugh!” said Kit, helping himself to his third slice.

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.