Are we there yet?!

Sat lazily on the sofa having imbibed too much wine and port, gluttened over the cheeses, crackers and celery (am I the only one who always finds this an issue – I always end up with either too much cheese on my plate so have to reach for another cracker or have too much cracker left, meaning another piece of the cheese is necessary…ad infinitum..anyway I digress!) the hubby and I contemplated the following day and it’s lazy unfurling; what should we do, 4 days post-Christmas with kids on school hols?

The hubby uttered the dubious phrase: “Ive been thinking” and immediately the alarm bells should have started ringing and the invisible sirens shrieking but no, in such a postprandial phase of blissful contentment I merely arched an eyebrow and mumbled Yes….? “What about going to the sales and spending some of your birthday money (I hit the big one last month but haven’t quite faced up to that one yet and I am sure there’s a blog in there somewhere for another time) and the kids have spends so we could make a day of it and enjoy ourselves?”

I know, I know, reading back on it now, I concur it does sound like we had been candidates for lobotomy – I mean what could possibly go wrong???? 4 Kids…..post Christmas sales….shopping centre……I may not finish this blog if I think about it too much…may have to go and lie down in a dark room to recover….

All I can say is at the time, it SEEMED like a really good idea. Full of enthusiasm and in boy scout mode (always prepared!) we googled shopping centres in the UK and found that the Trafford Centre was in fact the largest and only an hour and a half away – bonus! Enthused by the prospect of a day out, plans were made to set the alarm for 8am and rise bright and shiny to be out of the house promptly for a full day of fun.

Now like all the best laid plans, I probably should have suspected things wouldn’t quite turn well when the alarm duly went off and the hubby and I each squinted at each other and suggested just another half an hour of kip was a good idea. At 8:33am I prodded him ” nnmppohhhh up?” was roughly what I mumbled. Equally intelligibly he muttered something back along the lines of “halblughhttt”….

At 8:39, I threatened to steal all the covers but was no further into my role of the getting up process. At 8:42am foul play was invoked as we threatened to set the children on each other. 8:45 – one of us made the hissing noise that sounds like a tap running to entice the other out of bed for a wee wee….not sure which of us it was but it set us off both running to the loo and fighting to get there first.

Having finally stumbled our way downstairs, been nudged greedily by the cat for breakfast and hurricane flattened by the littlies, we discovered the 2 elder off-spring could not be roused without much tweaking of covers, whacking with pillows and threats to open the windows to allow in the -3 degree weather.

It has to be said that spending any length of times in the older boys bedrooms is not for the faint hearted and is likely noxious to health. I think it’s a combination of farting, feet and Lynx. Even though they go to bed clean, they often smell like something is rotting from the inside out or has died in the night!  Nonetheless, battle lines were drawn and the day was afoot.

Having a large family means that eating out, even for a snack, can easily run up the debt of a smallish 3rd world country so the tribe were eventually loaded up with a frankly enormous breakfast and I then packed a bag of treats for the day that would have re-stocked the local convenience store shelves….or so I thought

Living “oop north” we are acclimatising to the cooler temperatures but trying to persuade several members of the family that just because it was sunny, did not mean it was warm outside. The boys seem to have a total aversion to wearing coats and had to be repeatedly returned to the house with threats to gadgetry if they didn’t appear appropriately attired. Having already done battle with the Princess that wearing a floaty Monsoon style party dress with clip-clop sounding plastic dressing up shoes wasn’t the best order of the day, we eventually compromised on tu-tu, leggings, boots and her new Frozen Anna Dress over the top. Banging head and the day hadn’t even really started.

We eventually made it into the car about an hour and a half after we had anticipated setting off. Blissful silence from the back was shortly broken by disagreements over who would watch which film and who had their head phones turned up too loud. Disagreements resolved, sat nav directing us, Trafford Centre bound we headed.

Approximately 10 minutes into the journey, the usual chorus of “I’m starving/he/she’s leaning in my space” started and in desperation I broke out (what I hoped was) an endless supply of snacks. The weather turned nasty and foggy and the kids started on the “Are we there yet?!” speech before we were even an hour into the journey. Ed Sheeran on Spotify being interrupted by the Sat Nav telling us to keep left every few miles was also not appreciated. And I don’t want any comments about that being an improvement on his musical talents thank you. I already have a 14 year old who rolls his eyes and makes disturbing comments on my musical tastes.

By the time we arrived, somewhat fraught, my hubby was clinging on to the steering while gasping for coffee but we hadn’t reckoned on the difficulty of trying to find somewhere to park. Hubby had been drawn to the car park in which he could see the Costa sign but who knew that the world and his wife had decided to also pay homage to all things retail and would also be trying to find a space in Mickey 3 or whatever the stoopid car park was called.  I’ve seen circling sharks less blood thirsty and patient than some of the driving we witnessed that day.

Nerves in tatters, children at fever pitch with all snacks having run out about an hour previously and the hubby having started to develop the shakes from caffeine withdrawal symptoms, we eventually disembarked the car and made it INSIDE the marble  emporium.

To say the place was busy is like saying that rain is a bit damp. Amelia having new wheels (very cool bubble gum pink framed wheelchair with Daisy wheel guards and flashing front casters no less) was determined to self propel herself round the centre. Now this is no mean feat at the best of times and she is very petite with extensive muscle weakness in her upper limbs so whilst it is a very good skill for her to develop and indeed very important, practicing it in a shopping centre packed to the gunnels with a host of demented, weary shoppers is probably not the best time to work on this skill set. She is getting very good at it but it didn’t stop my heart wanting to leap out my chest cavity when she over-corrected and very nearly took the ankles out of anyone in a metre radius. It also made for stop-start, slow progress.

By the time we actually sat down for coffee, I really felt I would have benefited from something stronger and no I don’t mean a double espresso. Nonetheless, kids re-fulled, husband re-caffeinated, we set about trying to work out who wanted to do what and where. The older ones are far too cool to want to be seen with us parents and their younger sibs and they had Christmas money burning a hole in their pockets. After making them tell me what an emergency exit looked like, where we were parked, who to speak to in the event of an emergency, checking their mobile phones were switched on with signal, vibrate mode and full volume, they were dispatched with promises to check in every hour.

The Minx has been asking to visit the Build-A-Bear workshop (also known as a licence to print money shop!) ever since goodness know when. We duly turned up at the hallowed doors to find the anticipated wait time was an hour. Should we stay or should we go now? Working with the philosophy that a happy child makes a happy Mummy, I elected to wait and hubby went off with the G Man to explore a few boys shops (largely for him it has to be said, I think he’s making it a personal ambition to visit every Apple shop in the land!).

Bears of every hue and persuasion were deliberated and agonized over. Of course the more colours they included the heftier the price tag. Having decided that the bear had to have an outfit as well and accessories naturally, Minx settled on a less flamboyant bear than the stripy, flourescent thing she originally set out for (& I was secretly relieved..it was like a technicolor vomit) and then waited for the bear to be stuffed with something emitted from a machine that I felt needed environmental assessment for noise pollution.

Did we want a noise put in the bear? A heart that vibrated and made heart beat noises? A thing to make the bear smell nice and Lord have mercy on us all, a bear that could sing •that song• from Frozen? Politely declined all the options and made our way from the stuffing process (there’s something quite alarming seeing the lifeless, limp teddy bear shaped shell suddenly being filled up with the stuff that looks like hamster bedding actually) and moved on to the next stage of the process.

Choosing the clothing was a minefield of negotiation and price tag maths. Yes the Frozen style outfits were exceedingly lovely but that meant no shoes, hair bands or sun glasses – all for the bear you understand. Eventually having compromised and found something that ticked Madam’s exacting standards we crept closer towards the holy grail, also known as the tills. I managed to persuade the Minx that we could register the bears name, address and vital statistics (did you know that each bear has it’s own unique bar code inside so that if it gets lost, you can scan it and then return it to sender apparently?!) because the queues round each computer station were 3 people deep. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel – well at least the lighting near the doorway at any rate.

By the time I had handed over enough cash to feed a family of 4 for a week and we made it out of the shop, hubby and G man had re-joined us. The Minx was ecstatic with her purchase that came in it’s own uniquely awkward to carry shaped box and we continued on our journey round the shops.

It has to be said at this point, I think we adults both felt a little battle-worn and less than in the mood to continue. However, having made the epic journey/car park negotiation situation, us Beaton’s are made of tough stuff and we were not giving up. No sirree.

It’s quite hard to think what you might want to spend your birthday cash on with kids in tow, post Crimbo and also being like most typical parents, not having generally much cash to spend on myself, I become very miserly. Yes that red dress may indeed be stunning but do I REALLY WANT it? WHERE would I wear it and can I factor in the CPW – cost per wear for the uninitiated. Is is really a bargain if I can only wear it once in a blue moon, possibly on a strictly come dancing style evening/ cruise ship event in the not so near future??? For all that I wish to be glamorous and dressed up and out of my usual uniform of jeans and jumpers, the likelihood of me being able to swan off to some gorgeous red carpet style event is slim so any purchase has to be scrutinised and evaluated with military precision.

I have also reached a time in my life where I now know I am officially OLD. There are certain shops that I veto simply because the music playing therein is just TOO LOUD. I can’t hear myself think and the dresses that say size 10 seem to only fit 10 year olds not actual size 10 people. (Well post Crimbo, I’m more a 12 but I’ll work on that!)

Hubby was adamant that we were not leaving the retail hell hall of fame until I had found at least something to take home with me. By this point I was seriously contemplating making a panic buy or blowing a fortune in Lush (I love that place but find it hard to justify £4 on a bath bomb!) when I found THE Jumper.   It was in my size, it was reduced. I liked it on, the hubby liked it on and the Minx who it has to be said is very fashion savvy and quite hard to please (she makes the main bitch character in the Devil Wears Prada seem positively gushing) also liked it. I do have vague concerns that she’s eyeing up my wardrobe on the basis of what she can wear when she reaches the teenage years….

I left the store in fact with not one but 2 jumpers and a necklace and I think we exhaled a sigh of relief that the process of going home could be discussed in more detail.  We rounded up the older ones who mysteriously could not be reached for love nor money initially on either phone but swear blind they were just in a bad area and not the amusement arcade….hmmnnn, I believe them, thousands wouldn’t.

Of course I hadn’t factored in the time or the fact that the tribe would need refuelling again by this point. Thinking about how long the journey home would take, we decided that a little treat of a meal in the centre would be in order. Naturally, everyone else shopping had the same idea and after being turned away from 3 restaurants having been told that we would have to wait an hour or so, I was beginning to worry that the children might start consuming bits off each other like a scene from the movie Alive.

Eventually we decided that we would stick to the fast food section of the food court. Not relishing the ideas of McD’s, Subway et al , we managed to find a take away burger restaurant called Five Guys which was delicious and catered for everyone’s preferences (onions/no onions/cheese/pickles/lettuce/ketchup, you name it, yum!).  The tribe hoovered up their meals and were in reasonable spirits for the return journey. They had especially enjoyed the establishments free refills policy although I was less amused by the inevitable toilet stops required thereafter.

At this point “Muuuuummmm” said a small forlorn G-Man as we packed everyone back in the car, “I’ve been thinking, seeing as I didn’t spend my money, can we go back to the Build A Bear shop?!”  The answer a re-sounding NO we settled down to a less manic and fraught return. Everyone had enjoyed/endured their day out depending on which member of the family you spoke to.  The car was surprisingly quiet of banter and arguments as the kids turned to the DVD screens and gadgets so we turned down the Sat Nav volume and enjoyed Ed Sheeran on loud. Only the occasional uttering of “Are we there yet?!” was heard…the fact that I was largely responsible for that is neither here nor there… 😀

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