Parenting. Reality vs. Expectation


I planned to take my girls apple picking with a few friends and, as the day drew closer, I was getting quite excited. It was one of those wholesome activities every parent longs to do with their family. While sipping on my tea, I paused with a smile and a faraway look to indulge in a brief fantasy. I imagined us all skipping through the orchard with our wicker baskets collecting rosy apples. Oh, how we’d all be smiling, throwing our heads back with laughter. There would be talk about coming home to make a delicious apple pie for dessert that night and the children would be thanking me profusely for the incredible experience of learning where apples really come from….

Fast-forward one week to apple picking day

We had a minor morning mishap with a Weet-Bix spillage causing us to run slightly late, and even though the Labrador had chewed my new bushwalking shoes, nothing could dampen my enthusiasm. I was basking in the glow of freshly picked apples, the sun shining, the birds singing. This was freaking Mother-of-the-year-award-winning stuff. The Weet-Bix incident was promptly dealt with. I put on my slightly chewed shoes, while simultaneously breaking up a squabble about who’s Zhu Zhu pet belonged to whom (and mentioned they could only come if their batteries were removed). I told Clairey my 4-year-old to put on her old sneakers, and NOT her new sparkly sandals. I checked off the list:Toilet anyone? Nope (are you sure?? Yes we’re sure, lots of nodding).

Drink bottles? Yes.

Jumpers? Yes.

Need the toilet?? – You asked that already Mummy, NO!

oookay then, off we go!!

Ten minutes into the trip my youngest needed to go to the toilet. I repressed the urge to say, “And you couldn’t have mentioned this BEFORE WE LEFT????!!” but I refrained, as I knew the answer to that was always an incredulous, “Well I didn’t need to go back then”. No, of course you didn’t.

“How bad do you need to go Claire?” I asked, desperately trying to factor in a Maccas coffee to our already tardy start.

“Rooool BAD Mummy.”

“Really Claire?? REALLY???” (Bye-Bye coffee) Silence.

I pulled over at the nearest servo and we collected the key, only to find the bathroom had been previously used by someone who appeared to have had both food poisoning and epilepsy. We exited immediately and found a secluded spot by the side of the road. My cheerful demeanour was rapidly dissolving. As I strapped Claire into her car seat I noticed the forbidden sparkly sandals and I bit my tongue. Furthermore, I distinctly heard the sound of a Zhu Zhu pet coming from the region of Hannah’s buttocks; I bit down harder. I took a deep breath, narrowed my eyes and I returned to my fantasy we were so close now nothing was going to ruin this, BY GOD!, NOTHING!!

Mother-of-the-Year-Award growing ever more distant

We pulled up at the Orchard a half-hour late. The girls, wildly excited, flung themselves from the car to catch up with our friends. Hannah who has always had a fascination with water slipped from my grasp and went racing off towards the dam, while Claire charged towards the orchard. I left Claire with a friend to pursue Hannah – the child who moves slower than a sloth on Valium if it’s a school morning but who travels at the speed of light when there’s a body of unsafe water nearby. As Hannah excitedly hurled herself into the reedy shallow water, I caught her and dragged her out, and to my horror, she started to scream. Screaming turned into turned into hysteria as her hands started to puff up and go red and itchy from the reeds. “My hands!! My hands!!,” she squawked loudly.

I consoled her as we squelched our way back to the group to find a tap to rinse off her hands and arms. Once she settled down, we retrieved our plastic (NOT wicker) baskets to collect the apples. This was not going according to the fantasyNOTHING was going according to the fantasy. We had been there no more than ten minutes and I was exhausted, I now had wet socks, chewed shoes, and was feeling decidedly grouchy. What about me? What about my needs?? I fancied a nice takeaway coffee on the drive but Claire’s bladder got in the way of that. I fancied catching up with my friends, but nooooo here I was hooning it across a field to rescue a recalcitrant, water obsessed six-year-old with allergies while my friends and their perfectly behaved children lived out MY fantasy. I calmed myself down. Stubbornly the optimist, (despite years of ongoing evidence voting against this outlook), I felt the day could still be salvaged. We got our plastic baskets and I announced rather sharply that it was time for our mandatory fun to begin. I bribed my children with sugar to smile for the camera and off we went. Squelching rather than skipping.

Trouble in Paradise

Problem 1: Most of the apples were too high for my children to reach. Problem 2: It must have been late in the season because the ground was strewn with rotting fruit. Of course, my fastidious, OCD, youngest child Claire immediately trod in a big pile of putrid, fly-infested apple-slop in her new sparkly sandals. There she stood, frozen, as though her feet were nailed to the ground, lodged in a sticky pile of decomposing goop and then, once the shock had passed, she started to howl. The howling turned into that jerky kind of crying as she looked in horror at her new sandals and then accusingly at me. I extracted her from the rancid purée and for the second time in ten minutes went off in pursuit of a tap. As I hauled Claire along under my arm sobbing and kicking she managed to spray us both with festering fruit from her sparkly sandals, which also happened to attract every local fruit fly within a 1K-radius.

IMG_1729By the end of an hour, I was ready to go home. The girls’ apple-picking attention span was about 10-minutes and we were approximately 50-minutes over that limit: mutiny was imminent. I made sure to get some pictures that would completely misrepresent the actual experience for future photo nights. Much like the way real history is created, I was going to weave a fabulous fictitious memory complete with compelling photographic evidence to prove we had a lovely time DAMN IT! Burn the sandals, drug the six-year-old with Phenergan and print, frame and hang the happy-apple-picking photos on lounge room wall. I would then repeat the story of the fab day we had at the orchard until it was a legendary truth – bona fide family history.

As I purchased our handpicked apples at the apple shed I glazed over for a moment fantasizing about what it was like to buy apples from Coles: the readily available freezer bags; the lack of rotting puree on the floor; imprisoning my children in a trolley and bribing good behaviour with Chupa Chups …. My fantasy also included the purchase of a frozen Sarah Lee apple pie…

Against all odds, a happy ending

We finally arrived home exhausted, with a totally impromptu dinner of takeaway chips which I casually tossed onto the rug in the middle of the lounge room floor. With a flick of my wrist, I muttered “Dinners ready, go for it”, to which both of my children responded by looking up at me adoringly and announcing in stereo, “THIS is the MOST fun thing we’ve EVER done!!!” I paused briefly trying to reconcile how a takeaway meal bereft of plates, cutlery and effort of any kind made me Mother-of-the-year as opposed to the arduous, meticulously planned, healthful activity of picking one’s own apples.

I am a slow learner, but this I know – expectation and reality cannot exist in the same universe, although they may randomly collide from time to time, which is more of a freakish occurrence than the universal law people hope it to be.

But guess what?? You’ll never guess what I’m planning next!! An amazing trip for the summer school holidays next year with the girls, doing all the theme parks in Queensland. We’re going to drive up and camp overnight. I can see us on all the rides now. I just know it’s going to be magical…

True story!! You can’t make this stuff up.

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