Yesterday I packed up an entire car to travel to the North West of England for a five day trip to the grandparents’ house. My parent’s house should really be renamed the Land of the Duplicate Baby Item, except that’s a crap name, as I’m fairly sure that most branches of Mothercare are not as well stocked with baby shit as they are. Despite this I still manage to bring everything and the kitchen sink when we visit – it’s not that I haven’t heard of packing light, it’s just that I have a car boot so, you know, I might as well fill it. This is the main reason why I don’t catch the train – I lack the basic mental discipline required to have a word with myself and say “Step away from the megapack of 98 nappies. They sell nappies everywhere, yes, even in Stoke.” When faced with packing I find myself completely incapable of rationalising that there are things that we need, there are things that I think we need but we don’t, and there are things that I don’t even think we need but nevertheless find myself scooping into the “just in case” bag at the last minute. I have heard of travelling light but no, not to be found here. Never knowingly overpacked – that’s me.
So I awoke yesterday morning to glorious sunshine and a foul mood. The prospect of packing and travelling solo up to my parents’ house is enough to leave me feeling displeased at the best of times, but the feeling was magnified by the fact that the BSCB had had me awake from 4am. Let it be said that this boy has an uncanny knack of sensing any kind of “occasion” and will generally do his damnedest to make me as tired as humanly possible without actually killing me. So I’m tired, I’m grumpy, and the sun is shining – what better way to start the day than with a flippant post to my IG feed saying that the journey would take me 3.5 hours? It didn’t. More of that to come in another post. Suffice to say that the journey gave me plenty of time to come up with the following thoughts on how become a fully-qualified member of an entirely fictional organisation known as the “Packing With Children Club” or PWCC.
The first rule of PWCC, is that when packing with children around, try not to pack with children around. With this in mind I shipped The Eldest off to nursery from where I would collect her after lunch. The BSCB would have a nap at some point that morning therefore leaving me time to get all our worldly belongings into bags and into the car. Rule number 1: pass.
The second rule of PWCC is make sure your snack game is strong. Obviously, being a shit-hot adequate parent I had a bag packed with snacks such as raisons, those disgusting oat bars totally devoid of anything that makes them palatable to actual people, rice cakes, and other such relatively healthy food for the children. A shop run was, however, needed for me. I had a 3.5 hour driving journey ahead of me, I reasoned, I deserved to eat some shit that would make me feel like crap an hour after consuming it. And here entered my first conundrum. Up until October last year, The Eldest never really gave four fingers of fudge about food. Admittedly this was stressful at times (like every day, three times a day) but it did mean that wolfing down a giant bag of Wotsits, followed by a Wispa bar and half a bag of Haribo in front of her has never given much cause for concern. Then Halloween went and ruined it all. These days if I ever want to eat something that is bad for me, I either have to share it, or snaffle it in secret behind the fridge door (tbh, even this isn’t fool proof as she sometimes sniffs my breath…) So, when looking at the sweets and crisps aisle in the local supermarket, I was faced with the following choices (1) Buy what I actually wanted and then have to share with The Eldest, which would then make the BSCB scream as he is basically a dustbin, or (2) Make do with a packet of mint imperials and a bottle of water. Reluctantly I opted for the bag of mints as the thought of listening to the BSCB perform as a Chewbacca tribute act for several junctions of the M25 was horrible enough to quench my thirst for the sweet stuff. Rule number 2: fail.
Now before I continue, my personal integrity insists that at this point I reassess my level of success for rule 1. Upon returning home after the nursery run the BSCB refused to fall asleep. He went quiet for around 10 minutes so I started to gather our belongings together having patted myself on the back for my excellent planning. Then a crow squawking in the garden set off a chain reaction that meant that after 20 minutes of ignoring him, I had to accept that he was not asleep and get him out of bed…Resit rule number 1: partial fail.
The third rule of PWCC is to choose the right bags. Contrary to general packing consensus, the right bag is one with no zip. Zips are only necessary if you are travelling in a manner which brings your belongings into close contact with other people i.e bus, train, aeroplane. The beauty of travelling by car is that the best kind of bag is one of those massive blue IKEA bags as they allow generous access for the grab-everything-clean-off-the-clothes-airer-and-fling-it-into-a-bag style of packing that I prefer. I used to pack properly – I would fold clothes, and put shoes into those little cotton bags. Now I have children. So, to recap, zip = bad; no zip = good. Now, I couldn’t find an IKEA bag so instead I was using one of those big plastic laundry bags that you see Dot Cotton lugging around the laundrette in Eastenders. It does have a zip, but in strict adherence to rule three of PWCC I was not using it. This was a mistake.
Having admitted defeat on the nap front I had deposited the BSCB in the living room in front of the TV. During the 20 minutes that I had ignored him I had managed to pile all of the children’s clothes into the laundry bag which I had placed next to the front door. This was approximately a 15 second crawl from the TV but I felt confident that Mr Tumble would hold the BSCB’s attention for long enough for me to run and grab his “sleep sheep” and The Eldest’s star show. My confidence was rewarded when I returned to the living room clutching the world’s most expensive humming cuddly toy and the BSCB was still zoned out in front of the supernaturally smooth-featured entertainer. Realising I had forgotten the monitor however, I quickly thrust the sheep into the corner of the laundry bag, ignoring the protests of the BSCB who had seen me carrying it. I dashed back to their room, unplugged the monitor and taking a moment to reflect on how sweaty I was getting, I rushed back to the laundry bag. I was greeted by the sight of the BSCB clutching his sheep like some demented shepherd who had been plonked in the middle of a jumble sale. In his heart break and desperation to be reunited with that sodding sheep, he had half-emptied the bag. No zip = bad; zip = good (imagining you actually fasten it, of course). Rule number 3: fail. It turns out that you can’t fail rule 1, even partially, and pass rule 3.
The fourth rule of PWCC is to switch battery powered items off before you pack them. Having repacked the bag I heard the unmistakable (and slightly creepy) tweets and chirps of the sound setting on The Eldest’s star show. I performed a rapid cost/ benefit calculation and decided that the risk of leaving it turned on and the batteries running flat was too great. I was fairly confident that my parents would have spares but I imagined a scenario where sod’s law intervened. In my mind’s eye, I arrived later than expected at my parents following a horrible journey, only to find them without the correct size of battery. Gritting my teeth, I unpacked the bag, turned off the star show, then packed the bag for a third time. If any doubts as to the existence of a higher being linger, believe me that in that moment someone much higher was looking out for me. Rule number 4: fail.
The fifth rule of PWCC is to make a pile of everything you want to take with you (own) next to the front door. Effectively blocking your own exit will force you to take the time to recap what you have, and what you have forgotten – like your own clothes. To be fair to myself, I had packed a small (unzipped) bag but I had misguidedly left it in my bedroom which at this point had not been visited for 7 hours. Thankfully, adherence to the fifth rule of PWCC saved me from spending the week in my mum’s knickers and a dressing gown, while my only clothes were repeatedly washed and dried. Rule number 5: pass.
The sixth and final rule of PWCC is to park within easy reach of your front door, preferably on a driveway, especially if you have already failed at obeying rule 1. The problem is that I live in London, and even properties that cost millions of pounds don’t come with a driveway (mind-blowing, says my Northern suburban self). More often than not the car is parked down the street or round the corner resulting in an interesting daily skip of the heart while I try to figure out whether the car has been stolen or not. Thanks to this particular quirk of London living, London mums can often be seem doing the shit-yourself-shuttle-run in between their front door and the car, which they have double-parked outside their house to reduce the distance that they have to carry the world. A number of factors increase the riskiness of this maneuver: (1) Is the traffic warden going to “get you”? Lots of us leave the engine running and hazard lights on in an effort to make it clear that we won’t be there long; (2) Is the baby on the move? If the answer is yes, and he/she can’t be trusted to stay in front of the TV, the safest place for them is strapped into the car ready to go. This, however, results in risk (3) Is someone going to steal the car (engine running, see no 1 of this list) with the baby in it? And of course there is the ever present (4) Is someone going to steal the TV while I’m out here sweating and squashing the world into the boot of my car? Rule number 6: (a clammy) pass.
So, luckily(?) no one stole the baby, or the car, and nearly 9 hours since I had woken up that morning we were ready to set off. Having reviewed the above, I’m pretty certain that I don’t qualify as a fully-fledged member of the fictional PWCC – there is definitely work still to be done. Members do exist, however, and I continue to aspire to the packing-discipline levels of people such as mamalina over at http://www.mamalina.co or @mamalinauk. She might just be my (packing) hero. This pregnant mum of one (do I need to repeat that?) has recently returned from a backpacking sojourn to Costa Rica, on which she took her young son. W.T.F? I’m in awe. I have no idea how she fit Ewan the Dream sheep and a battery-powered star show in her backpack but seriously that lady deserves some Mary-Poppins-style-props. The cynical among you may be suspicious of my motives for this plug, but I promise have no connection to mamalina (I don’t even know her real name – this internet thing is weird) other than her son wears some natty threads made by the wonderful @littleprintskidsclothing – now that’s a plug;-)