I glance around the room as people stream through the door and sign the register. I turn my head and WOAH! suddenly searing pain and a foreign object is wedged into my left nostril. There I am sitting cross-legged on the floor and eye level with a smiling toddler in a blue dress who has inserted her index finger up my nose. Split seconds of awkwardness pass while I wonder what is the best way to respond to this bizarre situation. My left eye is watering and I think my septum is bleeding. Can a septum bleed? I would really like to swear very loudly right now but instead gently grab the sticky digit and remove it while attempting a smile. It’s more of a grimace but I don’t think toddlers are attuned to such subtleties. Not this one. She thinks we’re all good and skips off with a grin.
The mother, also seated crosslegged smiles apologetically from across the room. I feel she could have done more in this situation. This isn’t the wild west you know, this is SOUTH Liverpool. She’s one of the older mums. Or a young gran – you can never tell these days! Grannymum’s hair is grey streaked and tucked into a plain ponytail. Everything about her seems is a little bit grey and anaemic. She’s wearing plum-coloured maroon corduroys and a grey jumper and black pumps. I decide to let her off the hook this once as she may not be getting as much sleep as I am right now. Then again, are any of us getting enough? Will we ever?
“Hello everyone how are you, how are you today” Guitar Gal croons from a corner of the circle, beaming broadly. She’s the reason we are all here on this Friday morning at 10am in the local community hall. I can’t quite put my finger on why this class is SO popular among us, the typical middle-class, thirty-something, Tesco-grocery-shopping child-rearing parents. If it wasn’t for my persuasive abilities, or was it my toddler’s charm?, we wouldn’t even be sitting here today. Due to the mass appeal of the class there is now a registration system where you have to call and book a place by Monday. I didn’t. Whatever.
The Bouncer, in jersey-knit mid-calf pencil skirt and clip board, searched for our names while I knitted my brow in the most perplexed angle trying to figure out why our names were possibly missed off as I was sure I had booked on, or was that the week before? “Funny how the weeks all merge into each other,” I had winked. No reaction. You see, the Bouncer is in her twenties and clearly has no children. I can’t cash my overworked-mother-too-busy-to-be-organised cheque here. But perhaps she sees the desperation in my eyes and she lets us in with a stern warning. She spends the entire session glued to her chair and doesn’t join in for even one tune. Not even incy wincy spider for crying out loud.
I scan the crowded circle of mums and the odd dad. How did their day start? Mine started at 5:30am and I was in the gym by 6am lifting toddler-weight dumbbells above my head – the only time in the day where I feel invincible. Two black filter coffees later followed by oats and protein shake, I was showered and 20 emails had been sent. I had jumped into my standard mum-duty uniform of grey skinny jeans and navy converse trainers and black jumper. A load of laundry was on and the dishwasher is whirring away and the dog had been presented with kibbles. My little boy was clothed, fed and had watched about 30 mins of Peppa Pig while those 20 emails were being fired away. I feel the partially supervised television time is immediately cancelled out by us being here at Singalong Tots.
I am always amazed at some of the mums who are terribly well turned out for the occasion. Full make-up, nails, and hair pristinely blow-dried. Among that crowd today is a Pseudo-mum. The type that makes your heart drop when you see her and instantly compare yourself to her perfect physique, relaxed state and effortlessly stylish outfit while laughing happily with her kids. You wonder to yourself: but she has three kids – how does she do this? She’s an au pair, that’s why! She has no biological children so her figure hasn’t had to bounce back from, well, anything! And I’m sure her job is demanding but she does get to hand the kids back and then get her nails done. Phew! That somehow makes it all better.
The singing is now in full swing and we are winding bobbins up, waking sleepy bunnies and dingling dangling scarecrows with flippy floppy hats. Guitar Gal, has the remarkable ability to keep everyone’s attention throughout, despite her short stature and her audience’s even shorter attention span. The fact that she has a handsfree microphone hooked over her ear probably helps too.
There is one parent who outshines us all and that’s Jazzhands Dad, sat right next to Guitar Gal (in a definite attempt to share the limelight). He wears a t-shirt covered in smiley cartoon characters. He sings loudly and in key. In a room full of female voices, his baritone lyrics boom over us. He does all the actions and a few of his own. I reckon his partner must be some high flying exec for him to look so relaxed and in the moment with his kids, who have clearly seen a LOT of show tunes in their lifetimes based on their performances in the centre of the room. I’m not sure if I like him as I’ve already seen in the future how he spends hours doing his kids’ school projects, constantly striving for them to outdo their classmates to claim all the glory.
One corner of the hall acts as the buggy parking lot. I marvel at a gigantic red buggy that can transport not one, not two but THREE children. Its owner is the exhausted Ms Family Planning 2014. I know it’s mean to call her that. With three children under the age of three she looks like she needs a hug. And I want to hug her out of sheer joy that I am not her. Her eldest and middle children have this permanent dazed look in their eyes while the newborn seems fairly happy in the chaos that must be home life.
The session has now progressed to the stage where furry animal hand puppets have been handed to each child. Shrieks interspersed with sobs as one toddler with no concept of individual ownership nabs another’s parrot puppet. Parents jump in to negotiate and the words ‘share’ ‘give back’ ‘not yours’ are used a lot. It doesn’t work and the parents resort to a rice cake bribe which works without fail. While making sure my toddler doesn’t do anything bratty, I glance with my other eye over my work emails. I need to hear back from a client and it can’t wait. I get an answer but it’s not the one I was hoping for. I try not to be annoyed while I draft a reply in my head, reaching for a bag of wet wipes to clean my toddler’s nose. I realise this gives people the impression that I’m sending emails from the office, wearing a crisp shirt and high heels, maybe even my pearl stud earrings. The impression that I’m fully present in work mode. Not juggling everything. I’m not sure how convincing I am to them, but I definitely fool myself.
And by now Guitar Gal’s routine has come to an end and all five monkeys have not learnt their lesson and have fallen off the beds and bumped their heads, elephants have wrinkles everywhere and arabella miller had her unruly hairy caterpillar.
We walk out of the hall, having finally convinced my two-year old into wearing his coat with the promise of a trip to the swing park on the way home. The rest of the kids file out, proudly displaying their attendance reward stickers. I can’t help but envy them. It’s not like I want to be Mother of the Year. But I sure would love somebody to give me a gold star sometimes. But nobody’s handing those out today.
My reward is being two people in one place. The mother-writer. Then I remember that my nose still hurts. The emails can wait. The swing park beckons. And the wheels on the bus go round and round…