Well, if ever i was desperate to meet other mums I have discovered that a trip to the zoo will do the trick. Either that or swear you off children forever. Good lord - never in my life have i seen so many miserable women in one place at any one time. Literally toting children in any which way. In wagons, ergos, bjorns, strollers, prams, umbrella things, on shoulders, in stomachs. There was so much estrogen in the air my ovaries were aching. As we waded through these jaded faces i was thinking two things. Firstly, I shouldn't be so hard on these women. I have only one child and it is tough. Many of these parents are holding one, shooing another and pushing a third - It's August and the summer holidays can be a long time for parents to fill days with activities. Secondly, did i have any wine chilling in the fridge at home?
Now, luckily I went with a mum of two, a pro and I was able to learn the tricks of the trade. I get it - it's all about "fastrack". You get a route, hit a few hot spots. Get in, get out. Stimulation. Stimulation. Chardonnay.
First up, the great northwest - a chance to see some bears. Lovely. What did i see? Nothing. I peered through barbed wire into some forestry and looked for something. Waited. Nothing. All around me are hopping children pressing interactive buttons and i just smell poop. Baby poop, human poop, bear poop, just poop. Finally, high up on Walton Mountain I am told a bear looms. I look up and see what can only be described as a man in a gorilla suit with his back to us. I don't buy it.
Next up, polar bears - brilliant. I've always felt bad for polar bears - I've actually always just wanted to see them have a good wash. I hate that at the bottom of their legs and bottom area it is dirty brown. I'm sure that it can't be like that in the arctic. Don't bother to correct me if I am wrong - i am honestly not remotely interested. Nevertheless, there they are drugged up to the hilt...they are the saddest creatures. They are just on a loop. Front crawl, hit the wall, somersault, back crawl, somersault, repeat. I'm tempted to suggest that they weren't real either. Beginning to think the place is a racket.
Petting zoo? No, thanks. Reptile land? Negatori.
Still waiting for that warm feeling...
To be fair, Olivia slept through much of the jaunt. I dutifully lifted her out in front of the elephant. I had picked out a onesie with an elephant on it so spent a good 3 minutes trying to get her to understand her stylista fashion statement. I tilted the stroller so she could see the ducks (why were they at the zoo?) and quacked like we do at Old McDonald whilst reminding her that she plays with ducks in the bath. I was desperate to show her a real life Sophie, but giraffes did not make the "fastrack" route. For the record, Sophie is back - on probation...but back. Anyway, I'm telling you all these wonderful stimulating things that I did for my dozing 5 month old. Please note, I was smiling too, constantly. Yet, all i really want to confess is throughout the whole walk I was just hankering for a fat glass of something alcoholic - something with umbrellas or flames. Something!
As I perched on a picnic bench drinking a diet coke (of course having packed everything but lunch for myself )-I glanced around and watched children shuffling away from their parents-Parents grimly getting up for the umpteenth time to bring them back to where they should sit and finish their lunch. Child then stands picking holes in apple whilst wetting the ground with juice. Sheer exasperation worn on parents' faces. I am overcome by the smell of baby wipes and apple juice. It was like an out of body experience. Finally...an explosion inside my head! Where the heck was I? Who on earth had i become? What was this land? I hate zoos and nature and wood chippings and petting zoos and chipper camp counsellors and smelly poop caves. Who am I and where was the person that had woken up in my bed this morning? I looked down and I was even dressed practically. I was wearing cargo pants, trainers, a cardigan. I almost sobbed as I became painfully aware that I was wearing big knickers. Good lord, help me!
To avoid a mental breakdown, i kind of let out a guffaw and literally said a little bit too loudly, "Err, is this real?" Just as i braced myself to be kicked out of mummy middle earth, my friend looked at me and smiled. She knew what i felt. That smile said it all. She had once been immune to this ridiculous caging of children and animals. And then like the school bell at the end of the day she said, " I know, you'd think they'd have a bar". Handel's Messiah ripped through my soul - Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
I am not alone. There are more like me. The truth is out there.
It wasn't the wine, or even the dirty martini (and when i say dirty I mean like the gutter) that i had begun to fantasise about - it was some version of a life where i still had full control- an extremity to combat what i was experiencing in the zoo. Now, if we had been in a water park - this would not have happened, give me a log flume any day...but you have to understand I'm just not a zoo girl. I would rather be a flower in the attic than live like Tarzan...and yes, i realize the sibling implication with that reference.
I then realized that these parents were just like me - just further down the line. With three children this was probably the 10th time they had been there - perhaps the third time this summer break - I hope they get reward points or a parking spot near the entrance or something... Something...surely? So, am I so dreadful? A terrible mother? Are there more of us that simply do things to tick the mummy box but really dread them? A fraud? Perhaps. I wish it were otherwise. I wish the thought of seeing ducks and geese and smelling hay and straw filled me with joy...but it doesn't. I grew up skidding in hen poop. My weekends were spent cleaning the geese hut, gathering eggs, lighting bonfires, getting the wood for the fire in a spider, rat and snake infested shack. I've paid my dues, people!
So, I'll tell you when i won't be fraudulent, Olivia. When it comes to games - I'll sit in and play board games and cards all day long. I won't cheat either...at least not so the game ends early. I promise that I will read to you and with you for as long as you like. I'll do all the character voices. I probably won't be one of those mums that makes costumes for the school plays but I'll run your lines with you as often as you like. I doubt I'll bake cookies or donate homemade cakes but I'll practice sports with you. I will go on every fairground ride and every waterslide even though I won't go hiking where there might be snakes. I may not know the call of a wood pigeon or but I will play a mean game of Boggle.
It makes me realize what an incredible mother I have because i cannot think of one of those things that she was incapable of or ever failed to do with me. Yet, i now know that she hated fairground rides, was also nervous of the rat wood shack and she was not a game girl...but she did it and with the same enthusiasm as those things that she did love.
So, i suppose that I can calm my neurosis this week knowing that becoming a mum isn't like installing an application on my iPhone. It's not that simple and we are not all programmed the same. I hadn't short circuited or wasn't a faulty model. Mums are superheroes of sorts and even though sometimes our alter ego would rather be tripping the light fantastic there is nothing like a pair of big knickers to remind us that we are mummies...superhero mummies that can do or at least fake anything. Peter Parker realized that "with great power comes great responsibility". Paula Burton has realized that "with great responsibility comes great worry and great worry deserves great wine".