Public Enemy: Tales of Parenting with an Audience

Tom and I recently took our little family for a Sunday morning walk and found ourselves at our local markets. Since kids came on the scene, every trip to these markets has been a dismal failure. Last Sunday was no different. I can’t explain specifically why the Bassendean markets are so unkind to us, or why we are so bloody useless, but even the trip there was torturous. Thanks to a cumbersome pram and an uncooperative toddler, Tom was exclaiming, “The juice just ain’t worth the squeeze!” before we even reached the end of the street. After just ten minutes at the markets, Little Guy’s rambunctiousness and Little Gal’s grizzling got the better of us, and we hightailed it home, wondering why so many other parents and their beatific kids seemed to be able to make the most of the cheery atmosphere and good food while we couldn’t cope for even as long as it takes to buy a coffee and a plate of paella.

 I would like to think that Tom and I are generally pretty competent parents. We’re not stupid. We have pretty solid routines. Our kids are alive at the end of every day. They are fed, clothed, loved to bits, they have fun… at home. It seems once we leave the confines of our little love shack, we fall to pieces. Tom and I can’t parent in public.

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In public and holding it together. What could possibly go wrong?

My English teacher’s understanding of foreshadowing and pathetic fallacy should have warned me that our very first proper outing as a family, Father’s Day 2014, was doomed. The sky was overcast, the wind was brisk, the birds were silent, and yet we still decided to venture to Cottesloe Beach for Father’s Day fish and chips. (Remember birds, because they feature later too).

Little Guy wailed the whole way there, which is a good forty minute drive. He must have hated his car seat, because this was the soundtrack for most of our drives, near or far. (Incidentally, Little Gal is now using this same car seat and likes to get her squawk on from time to time – we didn’t learn…) Getting our fish and chips was painless enough, but only because there were two of us. Tom could order, pay and wait, while I stood outside vigorously pushing the pram over any cracks I could find in the pavement. Once we had our food, we found a completely unsheltered bench seat and Tom started scoffing while I breastfed the baby. Now keep in mind that he was only three months old at the time, and I had only recently regained the full use of both my arms (a whole other story), so any public feeding was a bit of challenge. And now this is where the tragedy really begins.  

As I was about to start eating, a huge gust of wind caught the bottom of the paper box my food was in and blew it over the baby and me, tartare sauce and all. Tom didn’t do much to help, but the seagulls did. Within seconds they had honed in on my precious, fatty pleasures and were devouring them with gusto. I could only drop my jaw in disbelief and despair – there is nothing more desperate than a mum who wants chips and can’t have them. For a minute I thought “drop baby, save chips?” but that would probably have been frowned upon, both by Tom, Little Guy himself, and the group of tourists who watched the whole scene unfurl from just a few metres away, iPhones out capturing the carnage for posterity. I.Shit.You.Not.  

And thus the first page of our history of failed outings was written.

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We continued our run of public parenting failure during a trip to the Mundaring Weir. Very few photos exist of this particular day out, because I think we were just too depressed to take any. Again, our dear son cried the whole way there (ever just thought of going somewhere a little bit closer to home guys?) and continued to howl even after exiting the vehicle. As we pushed our pram across the bridge that spans the top of the weir, his cries could be heard echoing across the dam. We couldn’t turn around and head back because there were too many other successful parents behind us and if you’ve been to the Mundaring Weir, or any weir for that matter, you will know it’s a bit of a one way deal; not a lot of room to manoeuvre. Wide prams not appreciated. All I could do once we got to the other side was find a seat so I could feed him (the best defence against grumpiness in the early days) and then head back to the car, tummies empty because we couldn’t be bothered with trying to go to a pub for a predictably unenjoyable meal. 

But then, all of a sudden we seemed to get the hang of it. A trip to a wildlife farm proved an extremely enjoyable experience for all – Little Guy was enthralled by the colourful birds, Little Gal slept, Tom and I were able to chat, and a group of tourists that in the past may have wanted to take photos of our rookie parenting mistakes, instead insisted on posing for a photo with our sublime, blonde haired, little charmer. (Again, this actually happened. You couldn’t make this stuff up). It seemed we were making some headway with this whole public parenting thing… 

Until I found myself at a family wedding, breastfeeding Little Gal behind a door in the foyer of a country hall because she’s decided she doesn’t like feeding where there is too much noise – precious little poppet. And where is Little Guy? At home with Tom. After spirited shenanigans at the ceremony, we decided the reception might be too much for him (and us), but as it turns out, three-month olds aren’t that much fun to party with either!

Sigh.  

What are we doing wrong? In hindsight, of course there were amateur parenting mistakes made that may have contributed to our public parenting failures; the choice of unsheltered bench, the wide pram on a narrow bridge, forgetting to bring blueberries or cheese or Lightning McQueen or whatever it may have been that day. But in the end, none of it really matters if your precious child is just not ready to enjoy themselves in the great wide world. Kids are, after all, fresh humans – just as first time mums and dads are fresh parents – and kids not really getting the rules of how to function in polite society can be just as surprising and delightful as it is embarrassing. If we didn’t leave the house, who would our Little Guy be able to ask his adorable version of small talk, “So what ya doing next week?” So much of parenting, at home or away, is out of our control; and with this in mind, all this embryonic parent and her husband can do is decide to go with the flow. 

Our next big public outing is a trip to Rottnest with a few friends in February. This could possibly be an extended public parenting failure because we are there for two days, but we have just decided to make the best of it and see what chaos our pretty pair can cause. Watch this space…

 

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If all else fails, only leave the house to go to Target. Safe space.

 

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