Stranger Things

My husband has spent the day at a snowboarding show, collecting key rings and drinking schnapps, while entering multiple competitions in the hope he will win a dream drop-off for backcountry boarding in the Japanese Alps.

“Can you pick me up from the station?” 

My husband has spent the day at a snowboarding show, collecting key rings and drinking schnapps, while entering multiple competitions in the hope he will win a dream drop-off for backcountry boarding in the Japanese Alps.

I stuff the children into the car with the promise of some “stuff” from daddy and we park up, watching train passengers spill out into the car park and disperse into the night. 

I don’t see my husband at first but when I do I find my mouth dropping open.

He is walking down the ramp from the platform like a Zombie, his head tilted on one side, his arms outstretched. 

“Look it’s Daddy” squeals Midnight kicking the back of my seat in excitement.

Milk and Mayhem lean forwards to watch their father. 

I look at my husband limping like an extra in Night of the Living Dead. Maybe he’s had too many peach schnapps or perhaps his head got trapped in the train doors as they opened and closed – either way it is definitely my husband limping towards a car which is not ours.

To be fair the car he is approaching is exactly the same model and strange gold colour as ours – but it does not contain his family. It contains someone else’s. 

“Where is daddy going?” Milk asks.

“Has he turned into a real Zombie? Mayhem says, looking worried.

I still have my mouth open and although I want to speak I also just want to see what happens next.

My husband is a few steps from the wrong gold car when the doors open and a whole family jumps out, the parents nervously eyeing my husband and guiding their children around him to catch their train. 

My husband drops his outstretched Zombie arms and looks a little flustered. I flash my lights to show him where we are parked.

“I totally thought that was our car,” he chuckles as he passes his exhibition paraphernalia to the children. They dive into the bags and giggle with glee at all the stickers, pens, postcards and other “stuff”, which will soon be sprawled across the house and forgotten about.

“I think I freaked that family out.”

“I think so too”, I say, wondering if he is having a delayed midlife crisis. The other day we had an argument about how ill he was when he took the day off work, but then decided he wanted to come with me to pick up Milk and Mayhem from their Halloween Disco.

“I’m going to hide in the boot and scare the kids when they get in,” he declared.

“But I thought you were too ill to do anything?” 

“All I’m doing is lying down in a car instead of a bed,” he replied gruffly.

I drag Midnight up the road to pick up the other two from the school disco.

My artist friend asks me how my husband is. “Is he “ill ill?”  she says. “Tucked up in bed?”

“Errr…”  I look at her and then at Midnight. If I say anything about how actually my husband is outside a school hiding in the boot of a car, Midnight will remember and spoil the surprise, but also my husband may be arrested. I weigh it all up not wanting to deceive my good friend.

“Errr.. he’s definitely not very well,” I say diplomatically.

I am greeted by a dripping wet Werewolf and a Swamp Zombie clutching sweets and buzzing with songs and halloween dance off stories. Midnight gets given a lolly and we head back to the car. I realise it’s been 40 minutes. 

I let the kids into the car and walk around to the driving seat. Before I can open the door the whole vehicle starts rocking with high pitched screams. People walking past with their children are staring at our car. 

There is a man hiding in the boot scaring my children and I am standing outside on the road paralysed with the realisation I am married to this strange human being. And the rain begins to fall.

We’re gonna need a bigger bucket

Camp
Calm before the storm

“Can we fit this bucket in?” my husband asks as we squeeze the last child into the car.

‘Only if we remove the wine and beer’, I say. ‘Or one of the kids’.

We set off a little reluctantly with all the kids, heading towards a weekend of camping with friends. It’s the sort of place where you have to say goodbye to your car and transfer your tent and all your belongings in wheelbarrows. We like it because it eradicates anyone who would not want to do that. 

Two minutes from the campsite Midnight groans. ‘My tummy feels wonky, mummy.” 

I turn around and he vomits across the back of my seat.

We pull over. 

“I don’t like camping,” Midnight wails as we strip him and flick sick onto someone’s driveway. 

Midnight sits in his pants until we get to the campsite. Our friends arrive moments later and seem remarkably relaxed about the fact there has been vomit.

‘I’m sure it’s just his driving,” says my friend, nodding towards my husband.

“You’re probably right. He’s never sick when I drive.” I reply, pleased with the logic.

We spend the next two hours wheeling all our belongings across a meadow and sit down to eat at 10 pm. We manage to drink a bottle of wine next to the fire and see the international space station – or possibly a very slow aeroplane. Or an alien spaceship. 

My husband and I creep into our tent. Midnight is snoring softly next to me and I drift into a wine soaked sleep. 

Later, in the darkness, there is a noise. It sounds like water gushing onto the floor. I’m afraid we are being flooded but I realise it is actually something more terrifying. 

A child being sick in the dark. In a tent. With no bowl.

My husband finds the torch and we discover Milk throwing up into the hood of his sleeping bag. The rest of the sick is flowing, like a yellow river, at an alarming pace towards our piles of clean clothes.

“Shouldn’t have pitched on a slope.” My husband sighs.

The scene repeats three times and then, before we can close our eyes, Midnight announces it is morning and he and Mayhem wriggle out of their sleeping bags to find a chocolate croissant.

Milk stays curled up inside while we eat bacon sandwiches and drink coffee. 

“Did you sleep well?” I ask my friends as they stretch on the damp grass.

“I have never been so cold in my life, where is the nearest hotel?” my friend grumbles shivering in his shorts and shirt.

‘He didn’t bring anything else to wear.” His wife adds with a smile.

“No coat? Or hat? Or thermals?” I say.

“It was sunny!”

We all stare at him not knowing what to say. He seems to thaw out as he huddles over his coffee so we tell him about Milk being sick.

“Maybe we can just keep him in the tent?” I suggest. 

“For the whole weekend?” My friend’s wife raises an eyebrow.

“Yes. Away from everyone. Like they do in E.T.”

“He’s not an alien.” My husband shakes his head at me and sighs. 

“I meant the kid. Not E.T”

“Oh well we’re not doing that. I will have to take him home.”  

I see a golden opportunity. “If he goes, can you take that one too?” I point at Midnight.

Midnight has been particularly gnarly. He has already kicked Milk in the head in an effort to rouse him from his vomiting stupor, and after telling him off, I found him swinging a mallet around his head behind the tent. 

“Please don’t let go of that Midnight. It’s a really important thing.” 

Milk calls to me, he feels sick again. I rush back to the tent and when I return I find Midnight chuckling to himself. 

“Did you let go of the mallet?”

“Yes I did mummy! It’s in there. You won’t find it!” and he laughs like a mad scientist as I poke about in the nettles.

Milk emerges from the tent like a white jelly baby and throws up in a thicket. 

My husband is in agreement. Number one and number three have to go. He promises to return to help me pack up the next day.

The rest of us are a little relieved that the sickly ones have disappeared, and we go for a walk across the fields and feast at a cafe in the sunshine. The children play with chickens and gallop through the woods and are exhausted. By the time we get back to camp Mayhem is wilting.

‘Maybe he’s had too much sun. He’s been up since 5am, they’ve been playing all day…” My friend’s wife kindly suggests.

Mayhem and I spend the next 12 hours taking it in turns to throw up over as much of the bedding as we can. At one point I have to fight to get out of my sleeping bag, while retching, cheeks bulging with puke, I reach the tent door, unzip it and projectile vomit across the grass in front of me. As I hang from the zip, I notice there seems to be a party going on with a thumping base. This is unusual as it’s a no music campsite. Later I find myself throwing up to several 90s songs, which I’m sure I have thrown up to before. 

Half way through the night  I make it out of the tent, forget about my own sick just outside the door, slip on it and puke over the cool box. I lie there as Come on Eileen screeches through the night air. It’s a happy song I think as I clutch the plastic lid. I just need I will Survive to come on but it doesn’t and I fall asleep next to Mayhem with the last sick free blanket draped over us.

The next morning I tread wearily over to my friend’s camping spot and I know from their faces their kids have it too. I need to run away but I can’t run so I call my husband.

“Save me from this hell. We are all infected, we are killing each other.”

“I think you’re a bit tired.” He says, sounding bright and cheery after a night at home.

But he does come to the rescue, and he does take down the sick tent and load the entire car and wheelbarrow everything across the meadow twenty times, while Mayhem and I groan on the grass. 

We say goodbye to our friends who will probably never go camping again or at least never tell us they are going camping again. 

We climb gingerly into the car. It doesn’t start. The battery is flat. Mayhem says he feels sick.

“We should have packed that bucket” I say, and close my eyes.

The Waking Hours

Credit: Boodle Mcdougall Photography

There is another pandemic happening alongside Corona. Insomnia. This dreaded affliction is also being called ‘Coronasomnia’ by someone who obviously hasn’t had enough sleep to think of a better name. I would have gone for ‘Coronawake’, but I haven’t had much sleep either.

According to a 2020 study by Southampton University, the UK used to have 1 in 6 people experiencing insomnia, but now a quarter of all people experience this wretched thing. That’s a big leap, which I find particularly concerning as our house seems to have 80 per cent of us awake at any one time, (that was a complicated calculation on so little sleep). Percentages aside, four of us are usually wandering the corridors, climbing in and out of beds, or weeing on the floor next to the toilet, between the hours of 10pm-5am.

I feel as if we don’t need the worries of a global pandemic to add to the reasons we don’t sleep, but Mayhem and I had a most alarming conversation on the way back from football one Saturday.

‘Mummy I really want to be nocturnal.’

‘Yes I’ve noticed’ I say through a deep yawn.

‘So I’m practising sleeping at school so I can stay awake at night.’

‘What?!’ I am jolted from my misty thoughts.

Spurred on by the realisation he has my rare, undivided attention Mayhem nods excitedly. ‘Yes, so what I do is, I go to sleep in break times so I can stay awake all night.’

I feel a strange feeling in my throat, as if an invisible hand is squeezing it. ‘Where do you sleep at break times?’ I croak.

‘Well in the bike shed where they keep the tricycles. I just lie down and it’s all quiet and no one goes in there.’

I relay this information to my husband.

‘Well that explains why Mayhem is up. But what about the rest of us. We know Milk is scared of killer robots and Midnight has to be within 1m of you at all times, and I wake every day at 4.30am wondering if I will ever go snowboarding again. What are you worried about?’

I think of the list of things I am worried about. ‘I’ll put the kettle on’ I say.

‘I don’t think caffeine is going to help this particular situation.’ says my husband.

‘Then we all need to get outside,’ I say jumping up. ‘To the beach!’

‘But Midnight will fall asleep in the car and then be in a really bad mood when we get there and then not go to sleep tonight.’

‘He doesn’t sleep at night anyway’ I say.

We drive to the beach. Midnight falls asleep on the way. When we arrive he screams for the first half an hour as the wind rushes across his sleep-crumpled face.

My husband looks miserable, holding Midnight, as I throw stones with Milk.

‘Mummy I can hit that wave’, Milk stretches his arm and flings the stone but instead of going forwards it hurtles sideways towards someone’s dog.

‘Throw underarm,’ I suggest as we hear a yelp.

Eventually Midnight wants to join in and runs in and out of the February sea until he has sucked up all of the water into his clothes and his nappy hangs like a saddlebag between his legs.

Milk has made a dam out of pebbles and Mayhem is throwing a shell into the sea and then squealing with amazement when it returns to him.

My husband and I manage to have a hug and a moment standing still buffeted by the wind, until I nod towards Midnight.

‘I’m doing a poo mummy’ he announces, his face turning a bright red as he concentrates.

I realise the weight of the sea water combined with a large poo is unlikely to end well. My husband has the same thought.

‘Did you bring the nappies?’ He says casually.

‘Did you?’ I reply.

Everyone sleeps through that night. Except for me, wondering how I can buy a house by the sea, or fill our garden with pebbles, sea shells and a wave machine.

Toddler Wars

I have been demoted from Chief Comforter to Head of Eggshell Walking for Toddler Negotiations.

It is a testing role which starts with a spooky voice in the middle of the night.
 “Mummy. Mummy where are you?”

If I pretend to be asleep this question will be repeated increasing in volume until Milk and Mayhem awake in a panic.

If I reply then I’m thrown into the inevitable night time ritual which ends with me dodging the lego on the landing and carrying Midnight to our room,  booting my husband into the darkness, so we all get some sleep. I bed share with a rotating rib jabber.

This job continues for 15 hours without a loo break – or any break – except possibly to put the bins out or feed Barry White (our never-ending rabbit).

“I don’t like this spoon!” Midnight screeches at 6am as my husband presents him with porridge.

My husband gets another spoon.
“I don’t like that spoon. That spoon is babyish! I’m a big boy and I want a big boy spoon.”

“I don’t even know why we still have these baby spoons”, huffs my husband chucking it into the sink and slinking back to the table with another one.

“Maybe sorting the cutlery drawer has slipped down my list of priorities since I took on the role of Everything Other Than Fun” I say to his back while burning holes in his head with my tired red eyes .

We sip our coffees in silence hoping Midnight is eating his porridge and not emptying the fruit bowl into our shoes.

Midnight is of course right. He is no longer a baby.

This only really occurred to me the other day when I was carrying him up a dog poo-smattered hill while my lower back creaked and cracked.
“You’re not a baby any more” I say into his hair.
“I’m a big boy.”
“Well big boys walk” I say gingerly, lowering him towards the ground.
“NO THEY DO NOT! BIG BOYS DO NOT WALK,” Midnight throws himself from my arms before I can stop him, and lands in a ball on the path.

I’m relieved to see he has avoided landing in dog poo, but he will only walk if he can carry half a tree back to the car.

He pokes his branch around on the ground all the way up the hill.
“Please dont poke dog poo,” I say.
“I won’t mummy – is this dog poo here ?”
He pokes his stick into dog poo.
“Yes it is,” I say trying to remove the branch from his clenched fists.
“I need to take it off you”
“Noooooooooo” He screams.
“I need to take it away, it has poo on it”.

As we battle the stick gets waved around like a conductor’s baton. The threat of poo being flung in different directions is possibly the biggest adrenalin rush I’ve had since I jumped out of a plane 20 years ago.

I wrestle the stick off him and throw it frantically over a fence, which I quickly realise is someone’s garden.

We do a runner with Midnight screaming as I drag him the last few metres to the car. An hour and seven custard creams later Midnight has forgotten about the poo stick.

My husband calls. “Do you want anything from the shop?”

“Ear defenders ? Or masking tape” I suggest.

I hear the fridge door open.
“I’m going to be annoying Mummy!” declares Midnight from the kitchen.

I find him trying to open the wrapping on  a chicken with a pizza cutter.
“Can I eat it mummy?”
I sigh. “We need to cook it first.”
“Now Mummy?”
“No, not now” I say.

My husband is thrilled at dinner. “You must have had a nice quiet day cooking a roast on a Tuesday.”

I roll my eyes “Absolutely,” and I smile because that is all I have left.

The Day Trip

Photo by Brianna Martinez on Pexels.com

‘I’ve booked for us to go to Wisley’ says my husband.

This is our first day trip in nearly a year. I am so excited I immediately jump in the car to buy supplies. In my haste I forget my mask. 

I scrabble around in the boot and find every conceivable combination of clothing. I could even dress up as a birdwatching snowboarder with plastic spiders attached to my knees. 

But there is no face mask.

I consider attaching a nappy to my face, but decide it will look odd and I’m not convinced it’s clean. Instead I find one of Midnight’s wooly hats with little strings at the side. Perfect. I pull the hat over my mouth and tie the string round the back of my head. 

I check myself in the car window. The pom pom is hanging down from my chin but I am pleased with my creativity, and head inside. A member of staff approaches me. 

‘Would you like a mask?’ she asks.

‘Oh.’ I feel myself going red and nod enthusiastically. The bobble nods with me.

‘We have spare masks for people who’…  she regards my hat face ‘…For people who forget…’

I accept the socially normal mask. But I have tied my hat too tightly to my head and I can’t undo the knot so I weave through the aisles with a face mask over my mouth and the bobble hat around my throat. It is a sweaty trip.

At home my husband sighs as he removes the hat from my neck with a snip of the scissors. ‘I just don’t know how you will ever manage to return to the adult world.’

I agree with him.

We tell the children where we are going. ‘It’s like a magical adventure park with a big glass house,’ my husband waves his arms around enthusiastically.

‘Do you mean a garden with a greenhouse?’ asks Milk not even looking up from his complicated lego assembly.

‘Kind of…’ we concede ‘ but it has a shop at the end’.

The children roll their eyes. ‘That sounds boring,’ says Mayhem.

Midnight copies. ‘That’s borin’!’, he shouts. ‘That’s borin’ Mummy.’

I’m surprised at my two-year-old’s attitude, considering the most exciting thing he has done is buy some underpants in a supermarket. 

And then we hit the motorway. 

‘Lorry!! Midnight screeches. ‘Transporter! Lorry again, Mummy! Lorry again, car, car, car, car. ‘Ment Mixer!, Lorry!’

We get an hour long inventory of the vehicles using the M25. 

Unfortunately my husband took the wrong week off work and the great glass house with the man-eating plants and giant lily pads is still closed. We press our noses against the glass, allow the children to terrorise other garden-users for an hour and then buy expensive organic yoghurt lollies from the shop, which the boys quickly realise have no sugar in them.

‘Tastes weird’, says Milk. Mayhem nods and hands his to my husband.

Midnight is inhaling the lolly through the sleeves of his jumper. ‘Cold hands.’ He starts to cry.

At home my husband eases his day-trip disappointment by watching football. 

There is a mixed reaction to this event. Milk slinks off to play Lego. Midnight squeals every time my husband yells at the TV, and Mayhem seeks me out in the kitchen.

‘I hopped all the way from the television to here,’ he says a little out of breath. ‘It was 38 hops.’

‘See if you can hop back,’ I say sipping from a glass of wine while online shopping.

‘Blow your whistle! Blow your whistle! Blow your whistle!’ My husband is incensed. 

‘Blow your whistle Ref!’

‘He can’t hear you, darling,’ I call from the kitchen and buy ten face-masks and a tub of ice-cream.

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