It was a comedy of errors/ terrors: I contracted a gastro bug while on-watch (parenting) and had to navigate my way home from central London with a feral toddler, an abandoned scooter, a mouth brimming with saliva and a nappy bag bulging with irrelevant life tat.
The journey usually takes 21 minutes, this onslaught took two hours 14 minutes.
It was how I’d imagine the urbanite’s Duke of Edinburgh Award. You’ve ransacked your 4G, you’ve got a raging 3-year-old mainlining Cheetos, a vomming bug that requires access to a receptacle (or wee-infused park bush) every 15 minutes and a veritable O2 stadium’s-worth of people to quietly judge along your merry way.
Well, I cashed in the gold accolade; Hand over that emoji trophy.
The 55 Bus to Leyton was our chosen vehicle. Fearing being contained on the Tube with a veritable gastro tsunami brewing, I thought the bus was the safest route for all parties concerned – I couldn’t face being the person who ignites the ‘we’ve got a code 23 on platform 3, a code 23 people’.
By this point I’d lost the will to not only live – no different to anyone else at 6.01pm in London, really – but had decided to succumb to the post-Cheeto comedown toddler beating. I’d essentially handed over the reins to the rest of that poor commuter-rammed bus and relinquished any hope that I’d come out of this with a Richard and Judy parenting rosette (if there was ever one; feels like there should be). It was survival of the shittest.
It started with some light planking. You know the sort: the kid arches away from the seat in protest. A protest about sitting down is, as always, a tricky one to empathise with. I did nothing. Just sat there, staring ahead trying not to explode; My focus mainly sphincter-related.
Things escalated quickly for both of us – she decided to empty a Tupperware of grapes onto the bus floor. I didn’t flinch, I couldn’t – any sudden movement and the maternal volcano could blow. I saw a fleet of those little vine fruits pinballing from foot-to-foot until one pinged off the immaculate LK Bennet heel of a body-conned-up-to-the-eyeballs city girl.
The air of united disgust was palpable. Another grape gently nudged her Michael Kors tote as we took a bend with a little too much gusto.
There was a collective sigh of relief as Mae and I stampeded off the bus at the next stop so I could decorate a nearby alley that was usually reserved for 3am ‘ladz’ pissing and abandoned Chicken Cottage debris.
We alighted our 55 autobus once more – a fresh sea of commuting comrades/victims.
“I don’t love you mama, I love papa”. The final feral nail in the coffin. She absolutely does love me but when I’m a weakened parental vessel, she knows that’s the one quip that will get a rise – that’s the one that will kick some life into the old girl.
A lovely middle-aged lady wearing a silk paisley scarf (and a delicate scent of Cussons talc) looked at me with the ‘it’s tough isn’t it?’ face. My thoughts edged once more to the wildly uncontrollable rectal arena as my gag reflex started to spark up – please can it not be the double; not the double.
I didn’t respond to the lady’s kind eyes with even a flicker of eyebrow recognition. She must have thought I was lacking soul.
Then for the shame crescendo – and as parents we are not shame averse when you consider how the lil’ scamps come into this world. I had to press the emergency button. The yellow one. The one that I’m constantly telling Mae not to touch because it’s for world-altering police and fireman SOS Armageddon emergencies.
I pressed it. Her faith in me was restored. There was the maternal pioneer, the mothership returned from the brink going full ‘code yellow’.
The bus came to a shuddering halt just in time for me to explode from both ends in the privacy of some Coke can-embellished bush that had definitely seen it all before. I had no phone battery, no food for Mae (we’d aimed to get back for 6.30pm dinner) and I’d shat my undercrackers in some stabby part of East London. This was parenting on the front line.
By this point The People Of London had abandoned me entirely; I was one rung down from bag lady as I was staggering around in an area that’s neither up or coming. And, of course, the rain came down; it seemed wetter than any rain I’d encountered previously – the sort of rain that has the relentlessness of Simon Cowell’s belief in the X Factor.
“Mama why do you smell of poo?”
But while tears were an obvious option (I couldn’t trust myself in a pristine Uber) at this juncture, I did what any parent does – offered up my last shred of dignity to get us over the final hurdle. “Squidge, you are the mummy and I am the baby. You need to help get the baby home.”
The world as I’d known it for the past two hours 6 minutes transformed into a navigable arena. Buoyed up by her new parental status, she took that abandoned scooter from my numb hand and gently edged me out of the park towards the bus stop.
We got onto that all-too familiar 55 once more – I placed a Sainsbury’s bag on the seat to save soiling – and we got home. We made it, we bagged that golden accolade, we staggered triumphantly through that domestic finish line.
And that’s what ultimately counts with The Parenting; it’s never the meadowy white cotton dress-swathed, skipping scene from off Little House On The Prairie and you sometimes feel like a sardine out of a tin (fish out of water sounds too perky). But how you get from A-B is where it’s at.
As long as you come through that door at the end of the day with everyone vaguely alive, you’ve won – even if you’ve defecated in public.
Then the patronising back pat from my new madre: “Well done baby, you did very well.”
Yes, yes I did.