The Umbrella Stand

One of S’s conditions in agreeing to baby number four was that I learned to drive. Fair enough, I could see how, from his point of view, playing taxi driver to three small people and me, plus always being the dessie driver by default because he was the only driver could get quite tedious. To add insult to injury, I rarely drank when we went out, normally for one of two reasons- namely pregnancy or breastfeeding. I think we calculated that I’ve spent 37 months of my life pregnant, and 44 months of my life breastfeeding the products of those pregnancies. (If you’re wondering about the extra month of pregnancy- all of my kids were hugely inconsiderate and rocked up late. Big dislike)

Before I learned to drive my main mode of transport was, in the words of S, the dreaded ‘peasant wagon.’ This amused me in the extreme, having happily used buses my entire life since my mum never drove a car, but to S the mere thought of sharing a vehicle with strangers (and possibly unwashed, germ-ridden strangers at that) filled him with terror. I had the unique pleasure of using the bus back in the day where ‘wheelchair accessible’ and ‘buggy friendly’ were not phrases commonly associated with this mode of transport. Unless of course you happened to live on the Swansea tourist route 101, where bright shiny new buses were all the rage. We lived 4 miles out of Swansea City Centre on a route which, had a tourist inadvertently stumbled upon, they’d have been readily forgiven for thinking it was some kind of Jeremy Kyle/Eastenders/reality TV filming location. The local shop was a corner store which thrived mainly on selling out of date products at ridiculous prices. When D started at the local school nursery, I was literally the only parent in the playground who wasn’t themselves a former pupil at said school. On moving there people would ask S who his father was as a means of identification. S would then open his mouth and with a sugar coated Hampshire accent drop the bombshell that we were in fact English. S and I loved living there and, more importantly, we loved the young people there. One of the main pulls for moving was the opportunity to set up a youth club, and we quickly got stuck in at the local community centre, trying in our small way to make a ripple of difference in the pond of complacency and despair. We built community as best we could, demonstrating to the young people that there was more to life than sex, drugs and the place they lived, calling the youth club, wait for it, Underground X. (No particular reason, it just sounded immense and made for a great logo!) This was home and we loved it.

One particular day I was heading into town for one of the many toddler groups I attended (with all the religious fervour of a monk in Lent). I didn’t much enjoy the insane mother competition and comparison, but thrived on the company; it was a preferable alternative to going gradually insane as a stay-at-home-mum who actually stayed at home. I saw the bus approaching in the distance and, surveying my kids and taking into account the ever fluctuating variables (compliance rating of toddler, crying factor of baby, number of bags etc) planned my boarding strategy accordingly. At this point I’m sure you’re wondering why I didn’t simply push the fully laden buggy onto the bus; well, may I remind you, this was NOT a buggy friendly bus. This, my friend, was one of those janky old single deckers- rusty, noisy and about as comfortable to ride as an intoxicated camel. It was impossible to even alight the bus without totally collapsing the buggy. Folding a buggy one handed, holding a six month old, coaxing a toddler and carrying the necessary paraphernalia was no mean feat. Anyway, I cracked on with my tried-and-tested method, unstrapping baby O and decisively handing her to the unsuspecting bus driver. She, as yet unperturbed, remained her happy gurgly self. Result. I deposited D on ahead with strict instruction not to move and folded the buggy up, re-boarding the bus and collecting O from the bus driver en route with my free un-buggied arm. Usually at this point I’d heave the buggy into the luggage compartment on the right hand side of the bus, but as I approached I discovered my fatal error on this particular occasion. I’d mixed up buggy and baby. It was imperative that my buggy was in my right hand to enable easy one-handed heaving, but now I found myself with baby on the right and buggy on the left. I have to admit I was feeling the pressure; all eyes were on me as I contemplated my next move. Knowing I was solely responsible for the tardiness interrupting everyone’s earth shatteringly important schedules, I thought quickly and attempted to heave the left hand side buggy across my body and into the right hand luggage compartment. This would have been a sterling plan, except that today it happened to be freezing and I had dutifully wrapped up baby O in a Maggie Simpson style snowsuit. I heaved, and the world descended into slow motion as O slipped out of my right arm and fell headfirst into the bus umbrella stand. Damn that slippy snowsuit. The overriding thought running through my head was how exactly I’d explain to S that I’d killed his precious second-born in a ridiculous death-by-umbrella-stand stunt. A micro-second later I’d pulled myself together enough to retrieve my daughter; screaming, red-faced, indignant and with a lump the size of Snowdon rapidly forming on her head, from said umbrella stand. People’s eyes burned into me, aghast at the scene they had just witnessed. I turned to them, gave a forced smile and proceeded to politely offer my opinion on the previous few moments.

‘Next time you see a lady struggling onto the bus with a toddler and a baby in tow, it may pay to choose one of the following options. One- you could offer your help and take toddler and/or baby and/or bag because, although it may look like fun, aforementioned combination is actually a pretty tricky one to manage when embarking upon such high tech public transport as the Swansea buses. Two- if you choose to refrain from helping, please also refrain from staring. Staring, as entertaining as it is for you, does not in fact qualify as helpful in any way. Thank you.’
Holding my head high, complete with a freshly bruised baby on my lap (thereby proving my exceptional parenting skill), I felt vindicated for all of 8 seconds until the realisation dawned. I now had to endure a bumpy four mile bus ride with most of the people I had just publicly berated. Awkward.
On arrival at our destination, the bus clumsily ground to a halt and I feared the worst, wondering whether anyone would choose to offer their help after the preceding 20 minutes. Thankfully, a lovely old lady offered to help D down the death stairs and off the bus, waiting with her while I collated baby O, buggy and bag. The lady congratulated me on my courage and determination, leaving me with the closing line that ‘if more people spoke up for the right thing the world would be a better place.’ This encouraged me greatly, and as I headed towards the hall of hollers (aka toddler group) my mind wandered to all the other ways I could set the world to rights. I was on fire with ideas and ready to take on anything when I was rudely interrupted by D. ‘Mummy, I weed in my pants.’ Fantastic. The world changing could wait. For now, toilet training my two year old would have to suffice.

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