Does anyone remember the film Sliding Doors where Gwyneth Paltrow runs to catch a train and we follow two 'futures' that are determined on whether she managed to board the train or not? I loved the film back in my teens, and often think of my own “sliding doors” moments. We experienced one of these a week ago.
A bit of background first (think of this as the voice over at the beginning of a film, while on screen you see some beautiful scenes of my family growing and new babies coming along – obviously my character is played by someone really beautiful with no lanky unwashed hair or dark circles under her eyes!)
Chris had two weeks' paternity leave in January (delayed from December) and we really wanted to do some fun things as a family. We planned our Fridays as family days, doing things that the boys like to do (well Elliot mainly, since Alexander is too small to have an opinion and let's face it asleep most of the time!)
For the first Family Friday I thought it would be nice to go to our local wildlife park. Elliot has been there many times before and really likes it. There's a little train to ride on, and a lovely adventure play area. I envisaged a happy family day, followed by snuggles on the sofa, maybe watching a film, with my three boys.
After a restful night with only minimal wake ups from the baby, we all got up, dressed without complaint, and had a lovely breakfast. So far so good. Elliot got excited about our trip and even helped to make his lunch, before we all bundled into the car. We were on our way.
We pulled in to waitrose to pick up extra picnic supplies, and Chris hopped out as both boys were a bit sleepy, so I stayed in the car with them.
Now, in the film, you may recall that Gwyneth gets a very handy hair cut quite early on so that the audience know exactly which 'future' they are watching at any point. For the purposes of today in this next bit, my ideal day is shown in normal font and what actually took place is in italics. Ok?
After picking up everything we needed and a couple of treats, Chris comes back to the car having bought delicious picnic food, and pulls out of the car park.
On pulling out of the car park, a random post appears as if from nowhere – even the man collecting trolleys seems surprised – and before anything can be done a lovely big dent has appeared in the side of our car. We decide to carry on regardless. Elliot wakes up and informs us he now doesn't want to see any animals –
Lunchtime! We arrive at the wildlife park, all very excited. We're given a discount on entry because they're feeling generous! How kind!
After a stressful drive, trying not to panic about the damaged car (and what this means for our current finances!), we arrive at the wildlife park still listening to Elliot saying he doesn't want to see animals, and he doesn't want the picnic he was so excited about only hours earlier. We pull up to buy tickets and learn that as Elliot is now 3 we have to pay an additional £9.50 for him on top of the £15 per adult. Ignoring the imaginary bank manager with rolling eyes in our heads, we hand over the money and find a space to park.
Happily bundled up in coats and scarves, we proceed to find the swings and slides which Elliot loves. This is followed by a lovely picnic lunch, which we are permitted to eat in a quiet corner of the cafe, as it's so cold outside.
Despite moans, Elliot seems excited about going on the swings and slides. “Horray!” we think, before we all realise just how cold it actually is. (It's at this point I start to think this was all a bad idea, yes I'm a bit slow!) A quick look at the swings and slides, we think we can rescue the day with food and start to think about the picnic. Upon investigation however there is nowhere inside to eat – the cafe has a sign forbidding people from eating anything but the chips they serve on the premises – so we perch on a picnic bench and eat as fast as we can to avoid getting frostbite. Alexander wakes up, clearly bemused as to why his family are so peculiar that they think it's appropriate to picnic in such cold conditions, so Chris ends up eating his picnic standing up and rocking the buggy back and forth. Peaceful and relaxing it is not. After eating so fast we all have indigestion we rush to the cafe to warm up.
Despite the cold, we have a fun time checking out the monkeys and the penguins before going on the train to see the bigger animals. Particular favourites are the giraffes and the wolves!
With the exception of the wolves (which despite all being asleep, make Elliot hide behind Chris as he's “scared” – cute!) the remaining hour we spend at the park is a complete nightmare. Elliot doesn't want to walk, and Alexander is occupying the only buggy we have with us, meaning Chris has to carry him, and his muddy shoes, which casually brush against the clean jeans he out on that morning, the rest of the way around the park. Exhausted and drained of all patience, we head back to the car after only a couple of hours, and missing out half the park. Within minutes of leaving, both boys are yet again asleep in the back of the car and our nerves are torn to shreds
Thankfully both my ideal day and the actual day ends well. No italics needed from here on.
We get home and, refreshed after a sleep, Elliot is happy and excited again. We make biscuits and curl up on the sofa to watch Tangled. He goes to bed without issue and we flop onto the sofa with wine, plotting to ignore the car that needs fixing and what little remains of our belief in our ability to parent this child.
Having a three year old is exhausting. I'm trying to ignore the fact that in three years time we'll have another one!