Friday, 9 July 2010

2. Feeding Time at the Zoo

I had two playdates this week. Days can whizz by without any excitement in the ‘mother and daughters’ social calendar, then it all happens at once.

Playdate #1 was with an old school friend who met her husband online and who has been living in wrecks for ten years and has now reached the top of the property ladder. She has a boy the same age as my girls and another who is a rather tantrum-prone four year-old. She speaks to him as if he were a surly teenager:

‘Well, if you don’t want to play your game, just do something else!’

This is a refreshing change from some mothers who give their milk-moustached children more options than their developing brains can process. Once the four year-old had crashed on the sofa after his chocolate sundae sugar rush, it was a surprisingly relaxed and fun afternoon. My friend is too nice and has worked too hard for me to feel like a Lilliput in her ginormous kitchen which boasts the biggest marble island I have ever seen.

Playdate #2 was a rather different affair. Gemima, an old work colleague who was always punctual, organised, groomed and had no rough edges (to her personality or her fingernails), re-found me on Facebook when she discovered we both had babies. She was prettier than I was and earned more money. Now she was married, living in Surrey. She took me through her short courtship which was followed by her boyfriend getting down on one knee at dusk on the Orient Express, just as it pulled into Venice.

In contrast, I gave Big Daddy an ultimatum, so he bought me a ring. A very good ring, I must add, but no dusk and no Venice and we still haven’t bothered to tie the knot.

Facebook reunions are paved with broken glass, and different to those made in The Real World. Idle online banter does not have the barbed undertones of face-to-face meetings. If you bumped into each other in Starbucks just seeing the silly cow would make you remember why you never kept in touch in the first place.

On meeting my girls, Gemima said:

‘Oh doesn’t Magpie look lovely, she is sooo dinky! (real observation: does she have growth restriction?)

‘God, your girls’ nails must grow fast! (you don’t cut them enough: you are probably a slummy mummy)

‘Oh, right. The dogs sleep on the sofa, that’s cosy! (you are a slummy mummy!)

Score:      Me: 0       Gemima: 3

We have our playdate in the garden, as the weather is glorious. Gemima’s daughter Bella, 9 months old, is beautifully dressed in Petit Bateau this and Little White Company that. Her pale blue and beige flower-print blouse has tiny buttons all the way down the back. I don’t do buttons, unless they’re the size a dog’s nose.

I have stripped my girls to their nappies after an aborted attempt to give them ‘real fruit’ lollies, which end up everywhere except in their mouths. Bella has her supper in one of my girls’ highchairs, so with one of mine left chairless, I feed both in our large playpen in which babies can crawl and toddlers can walk proper lengths. It’s an Olympic size compared with the average playpen’s paddling pool dimensions. I feel that to some extent, our lack of internal space is thus compensated. At least that was the plan.

Playdate #2 happens to be the occasion on which I make my first attempt at Chairless Dining. Avocado and cheese on toast isn’t the best finger food to pass to one’s offspring in a playpen, as one-year-olds do not have the finesse of seals catching fish.

The Tank ends up with epaulettes of avocado and Magpie has a melted cheese moustache and very greasy fingers. For narrative purposes, I need to add that the toast is made from white bread.

Gemima: ‘I give Bella wholemeal toast every morning for breakfast.’ (Real meaning: you nutritionally neglect your babies by giving them an unwholesome white equivalent).

Me: ‘I was told that brown bread was too fibrous for such young tummies, but what do I know. (Real meaning: Do your homework!)

Score:    Me: 1      Gemima: 3

The dogs playfully patrol the pen. The Tank, my resident blonde tomboy, offers Klefti, our Greek stray, a piece of mushed toast. He accepts. Gemima clocks this but adjust's Bella's bib.  Magpie, my little wide-eyed girly girl, offers Purdey, our stray Labrador, a stringy piece of melted cheese. He takes it delicately, but then ruins things by trotting off and cocking his leg on the pear tree. Tatty, our Westie, who has a fussier palate, noses offerings thrown onto the decking.

I think Gemima puts on a brave face:

‘It’s lovely that you all just muck in together, it’s like a farm in the middle of London!’ (Real meaning: Get some boundaries, Woman!’)

Score:    Me: 1     Gemima:  4

I make excuses (the dogs don’t usually beg) but Gemima isn’t buying them. She isn’t a woman who makes excuses, let alone purchase other people’s. I corral the dogs into the summerhouse at the end of the garden.

I don’t think Gemima and Bella will be coming back, thank God. Surrey can have them. I have to accept things. I am not a mentally neat, tidy and controlled person. I get cross, forget to clean my fridge, need a pedicure and have blurry boundaries between my dogs and my children. Others might say the girls are lucky to grow up with animals and to have a constant source of entertainment. If I posted an advert for a playdate it would say: Must Have Rough Edges.

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