Yes, alas, it is the final installment in the Traveling with our toddler blog.
London was a great trip and all too short.
It all began after changing out a nappy at Kings Cross train station. Changing nappies in public bathrooms is always a fun experience, especially if it’s a particularly potent one. The stares of the put-out amuse me; eye flickering accusation as though I woke up deciding I wanted to upset their day. What makes it even more exhilarating, is when the child decides it would prefer not to have its bum wiped or a new nappy put on and tries to escape. This doesn’t often come off well for either party. It’s bad enough it likes to pull things out of its head and hand them to me while saying “yuck”, but the naked ass vanishing over the side of a change table is a different matter altogether. The pleading, the coaxing, the grappling, the lucky one-handed swipe to nab a leg and haul the squirming demon back to the table to wipe it (and now me) clean, in order to continue with our day.
With nappy changed, we ventured into the old streets of my youth. I had looked up the address of where we were going to be living for the next five days (at my friends house) and assured my traveling companions (wife and toddler) it was a just an 11 minute walk from the station. My friend Amanda had been extremely helpful in telling me what tube to catch and how much an Uber usually cost from Kings Cross / Saint Pancras to Highbury Islington. I read all of her messages of course and wondered how on earth an Uber could cost ten quid when we could walk it in 11 minutes. So off we trot, with the toddler strapped into the carrier on the wife for added speed. It didn’t like this at all. Usually it loves catching a ride on mum, but when it sniffs that we need to be somewhere or are lacking in time, a chemical is released in its head to sabotage it. I do love how she sees all of nature’s gifts, from the fluffy clouds, leaves, dogs, bunnies, dinosaurs and ants; but sometimes we don’t have 15 minutes to study a dead bee and get a little sad about its demise. So, with the confidence of a man who has no idea what he’s doing, we walked, and walked, and walked — stopping every now and then to check the Google map with the blue line on it.
“Yep, we’re right, straight up this street.”
Stopping some minutes later.
“How the hell did we end up over here? We’re meant to be over there.”
Off we trot again. For a couple of hundred metres.
“Hang on a minute. The frigging street’s missing.”
“What do you mean the street’s missing?” asks the wife.
“Look here,” says I, “the fecking street’s missing.” As I gaze at the map, I have a very strong realization that I am in fact a twat and have been following the path the tube takes. It takes 11 minutes from the station we arrived at, via tube and a short walk to get to my mates place. It takes humans 45 minutes on foot from the station we arrived at, to my mates place.
So we got to see a lot of the area and had worked up a real thirst by the time we hit Amanda’s house.
Within minutes of our arrival, the toddler and Amanda’s daughter were BFF’s. Amanda’s toddler took our little Donkey under her wing and welcomed her with an open heart into her home. Which I thought was very good of her since the toddler kept swiping her toys and refusing to give them back. But the diplomacy and patience our host toddler used to coax the Donkey into handing the toys back, taught me a great deal about patience. I learned a few things about raising a child from a 4 year old. The girls had a blast together and it must have been wonderful for our toddler to have another young person to hang out with and not the old prunes that keep stopping her from walking out of shops with cool loot.
There was a 45 minute negotiation one morning for her to leave a doll at the house. We didn’t own the doll but apparently it was crying because a green cow that lived on the moon had made some kind of egg sauce the meows ate. I think that was the reason. 45 minutes of negotiating. We didn’t get to see a lot that day. But she’s got imagination. Maybe she’ll be an artist and chase that dream so she can work in hospitality and drive an Uber.
“Daniel, stop it!”
I also caught up with my old mate James. James and I have been friends for 20 something years. We met in a pub called the Six Bells at a time my hair hadn’t yet migrated to my back. We’d last had a drink at our wedding, 2 years prior. So on our trip to London, he got to meet Adelaide and we got to meet his meet his partner Sue, and his son Bertie who is 21.
Now, here’s the thing. I used to babysit Bertie when he was the same age as the toddler and I hadn’t seen the kid since he was running around in a nappy and mind-f***king me so he could enact escape plans while I was in charge of him. Come to think of it, my history with toddlers has always been sketchy. So when I walked into the restaurant and the little boy I knew walked toward me as this big, beautiful young man, I nearly burst into tears. He’s now about the age I was when his dad and I became friends. He’s a great bloke too and I know I’m the reason for that. It all comes down to my influence as a babysitter. The toddler loved him and it was an absolute thrill for me to see him now as a grown-up and share a couple of beers.
The first few days were pretty much spent catching-up with people and trying to avoid breast-feeding a demanding child on the underground. “Mummy, boot.”
“No, mummy boot.”
“When we get home.”
Screaming ensues – “mummy, boot!”
Ah yes the memories. Getting out the mammary’s on the old tube.
The toddler met the rest of her immediate family in her grandfather (my father) and his partner who also live in London and my Uncle Brian. She certainly didn’t want for attention, presents, or things to do in those first few days.
I know I’ve talked about the tantrums and the funny mad stuff she does, but I probably should mention how proud I am of her. She takes everything in her stride and her fierceness I love. Even though it frustrates me in public sometimes trying to get her to release another stuffed toy or a crystal vase she’s picked up in a shop and is either about to break of flog. Even though we didn’t get to see nearly half the things we wanted to, even though she’s kicked me in the nuts countless times, and got in the way of the “adult cuddles”; I am so proud of her. I love her defiance, her independence, her assertiveness, her absolute wonderment of the world. When she calls me “da”, asks me to cook her an egg or runs full pelt down the hall squealing in happiness to give me a hug — are the happiest moments of my life. Being a dad is the coolest thing ever. Other than a Ferrari.
Over the last month her conversational skills have grown enormously. Her vocabulary has expanded ten-fold — and yes there are swear words in there now and my wife has to put up her hand for all the bad ones. Yes, the toddler’s mum is responsible for the swear words.
We arrived back in Melbourne yesterday. I tried to finish this then, but I was fried. I must be getting old as jetlag was never a thing for me. Yesterday I would have fallen for anything, pyramid schemes, giving my card details to backpackers on a street corner, even Malcolm Turnbull. Yes, even the words that fell from Malcolm’s thin lips I may have believed.
It is nice to be home, even though I opened so many bills our apartment feels like a duck pond.
Will the toddler remember any of this? Unlikely, but it has shaped her, and the adventures we had I shall remember at least. I’ll remember for her all the people whose hearts she melted on this journey, right down to the last one, an old Indian lady on the plane who smiled and watched her for a straight five hours as she played. Adz was the perfect little kid and gave her a wave and a hello – which only added to the staring that had been freaking me out for most of the journey.
I do have to mention Singapore airport and their free foot massage machines as an absolute highlight. Getting a spot on one these machines is as rare as rocking horse shit. I probably have pelican foot or some toe plague now after using it, but I gotta say it was bloody worth it.
I’m glad I didn’t have to change a nappy on the plane, the thought of having to use an airplane toilet fills me with terror and thankfully I’ve never had to use one. Yes, you read that right, even on long haul flights. Airplane toilets, prison, umbrellas, the LNP and anything with tentacles are my phobias.
We caught a taxi home (as small children can’t be taken in an Uber), and after I dropped the rent on that taxi ride, we tumbled into our street like cast members of the Walking Dead. We looked like shit and smelt like old underpants, but we’d made it.
As we stood in the street, the little punk looked at the apartment block and then to us and said, “we’re home.”
With one final effort hauling bags, duty free, suitcases and a frigging pram we bought that we never frigging used because someone thought it beneath her, (I pushed that bloody pram around Paris empty, for a straight week), we finally walked in the front door.
After nearly a month of every single day being filled with new sights and sounds, the toddler was back home to her toys, her bed, her comfort.
She slept for most of the day which was something that was needed. This made me happy that she was content and asleep after such a long journey.
All that sleep during the day meant that night time was for dancing. I woke up to her kneeling on my face while tapping me on the shoulder and saying “tap, tap, tap.”
“Go to sleep Donkey.”
“Tap, tap, tap.”
I could see the face framed by the moppy blond head.
“Donkey, go to sleep.”
The knee pressed into my cheek a little harder as she tapped on me again.
“Tap, tap, tap.”
I thought of Chucky.
“Tap, tap, tap”, it said again.
Then it laughed.