Toilet roll situation :
Actually, now housemate is back the toilet roll is going down a little bit faster. It’s almost like two people are more than one person.
Weeeirrdddddd thing happened this week and to be honest I still feel a bit uncomfortable about it. Had just started making a leek, courgette and fake-bacon mac and cheese and I couldn’t find any more macaroni. When I thought about this a bit more, this sort of tracked, because I think I did only buy one bag of actual macaroni and then last time I made mac and cheese the packet said that the bag contained three portions of pasta and I always assume that they’re lying to me a bit, in the same way that coke is lying when they say a 500ml bottle of coke is ‘two portions’ or in the same way that the serving suggestions for quality streets is two quality streets (show me a person who eats just two quality streets in a sitting and I will show you how quickly I can judge and ostracise others) so I figured that three portions really meant two portions. Anyway, as it turns out my mistrust was sort-of-founded, in that I ended up with about five portions of mac and cheese and basically ate nothing but carbs and cheese for a week (which is fine, if not recommended). So, okay — no macaroni! No worries! I’m only a part-time mac & cheese purist and I’d already kinndaaaaa surrendered that today by adding leek and courgette so I just figured I’d go for regular old pasta.
At this point, I’m half in the under-the-stairs cupboard which serves as the land of the ‘not currently on the go’ rice/pasta/couscous etc, the large collection of tinned things, bulk buy cat food and the frankly horrifyingly large amount of plastic bags, searching for macaroni. Housemate is cooking something over at the stove and is near the ‘mid-way-through-cupboard’ that’s just above the kettle. I ask her what pasta is open.
She says…. ‘There is no pasta.’
Now, this is not a disaster on the scale of herb gate, because there’s a single bag of penne in the backup cupboard, but…. But this is the last bag of pasta.
Not ashamed to say that I don’t really believe her. Come over to the ‘mid-way-through-cupboard’ and sift around the six varieties of rice, eight middle class grains, various bags of nuts etc and conclude that she is correct.
We are currently eating the last bag of pasta.
Profess myself to be a bit uncomfortable.
She says ‘is this another way the pandemic has scarred you for life’.
I say ‘ha, ha’ but, three days have passed and I’m still thinking about it.
There’s only two portions of pasta left in the house.
One if the supermarket portion size is lying again.
(Except the spaghetti and the lasagne sheets, but they don’t really count. You can’t exactly have those in a pasta bake).
Mum’s top sentiment of the week:
Recently saw Scotland Sister (for the first time in 18 months!!!) who reported that a collection of my jeans have been passed on to her as Mum declared they will ‘never fit me again’. I’m fine with this given these are jeans that I had when I was seventeen and I am perfectly content with being a different size to my seventeen year old self, but apparently my sister said something about this being harsh and my mum said ‘no, it’s because Helen has such a high ass’.
Not really sure what to do with that.
Holidaying with a person who doesn’t belong to you
By brilliant, wonderful, fabulous luck, the week commencing Monday 17th May — sometimes known as the week that inside became legal again – happened to be a week my family booked two caravans on the East Yorkshire coast. Granted, in the original dreamings of this plan, May wasn’t such a colossal disappointment, weather wise, and we didn’t have to bring quite so many coats, waterproofs, wet weather plans and backup options. Well, in the actual original plan we were going to Disneyland Paris in September 2020, which then became Disneyland in May 2021, which was then downgraded to Haven in February. However, these things happen, and it all worked out because on the day it opened I finally finally got to escape Bradford for more than three nights for the first time since 2019.
(Now, let it be noted here that I understand that I am privileged that normally holidays are part of my life. I do know that. And on this occasion, one of the immense privileges was BEING IN A PLACE WITH OTHER HUMAN BEINGS THAT I LOVE FOR SUCH A LONG TIME).
Holiday plan is my parents & me in one caravan and sister, brother-in-law and beloved niece in the other caravan. Parents are in the process of moving to Yorkshire because they can no longer tolerate the pain of being so far away from me (/ their niece), but are still midland based. Have seen them a few times since Christmas as looking at houses is something you’ve been allowed to travel to do since one variation of lockdown easing (I think one that coincided with gardens?) but not for long and not without wearing six coats, holding an umbrella and huddling under sister & brother-in-laws gazebo-esque thing wishing I was warm. To ease up on the length of their drives, I nip across to Leeds to catch up with my sister’s lil family unit, for pre-travel brunch and familiarising myself with the toddler plus holiday equation.
In theory, I have done this a number of times, but not since September 2019 and now niece is slightly less likely to wet herself in the entrance to a restaurant in Disney world (“MASSSIVE WEEEEEEE”), or nap, or be pushed around in a pram, and is now a glorious nearly four-year-old who’s going to school in September, has opinions and an imagination and an absolutely stonking northern accent.
As I come out of the train station, I hear niece yelling “Helen, I missed you!!! (extra gratifying as I saw her not one week previously) , we have a legal hug (!) and then toddle off to brunch.
Over brunch, we have lengthy conversation about how daddy likes sugar in his coffee, aunty Helen likes milk in hers (I don’t know why we persist in calling me “Aunty Helen” when I don’t think niece has ever called me this) and Mummy doesn’t like milk. We move on to niece telling me about her princess dress and then her telling me about how lungs work, which is a new favorite subject of hers. She has decided she wants to be a doctor-nurse (as well as the world’s first consumer of daddy’s baked beans and my mushrooms on syrup-coated pancakes). Parents then ask her about the intestines. She increases in volume by approx. 1 decibel and says “Food makes poo!!!” which I’m sure is nice for all the other people who have booked the day off to enjoy eating inside a restaurant for the first time in 7 months.
Brunch very tasty, then we set off.
In theory, the drive is between 1 hour 30- 1 hour 45 ish, but in reality takes about 3 hours. The whole thing is almost satirical, because two minutes into the journey niece ask “when we will be there?” and follows this up almost immediately with “I need a wee”. Someone also thought it would be a good idea to teach her the song ‘Summer Holiday’ which she sings incessantly. She declares that she wants to wee at the caravan, loops back round to ‘when we will be there’, then back to ‘Summer Holiday’. In the end, we stop at a shopping outlet in York and sister does a mad dash with niece towards the loos.
When we get back, niece is inconsolable about not being allowed to buy a giant rainbow teddy they had to walk past on the way back from the toilets. Daddy convinces her not to commit to full on tantrum by handing her a Bing Magazine, which I have been reliably informed is toddler crack.
We set back off. Niece asks ‘when we will be there’ for the six thousandth time, makes up a new verse to ‘we’re all going on a summer holiday’ (which features Grandma and Grandad quite heavily) and gives me strict instructions about which stickers from the magazine to give her.
We hit a traffic jam.
We continue to sticker.
The traffic continues not to move.
We continue to sticker.
Niece asks ‘when we will be there?’ again.
We continue to sticker.
Somehow, we end up in a conversation about bodies where niece forgets the word for penis and asks ‘what do boys have’ and points at her crotch. Sister and brother have gone for the real terminology, rather than the slightly creepy slang. Very much appreciate the sentiment and reasoning behind this, but does result in niece turning to me and asking me a question that I have never been asked before in my entire life, that I can honestly and truly say that I was not expecting, nor did I have an answer for.
Helen, do you have a big vulva or a small vulva?
After we have all stopped laughing (while trying not to laugh, because I hear you’re not supposed to do that), Bro explains that we can’t ask questions about other people’s privates and Sister puts on a video about pants and things being private and what not, which is a nice respite from both ‘Summer Holiday’ and stickering, which at this point is making me feel slightly ill due to combination of country road and new migraine drugs.
Respite does not last.
We continue to sticker.
After another rousing verse of ‘Summer Holiday’, I say to her “I like going on holiday with my Millie.”
She looks me dead in the eye, offers me that perfect smile and says “I like going on holiday with my grandad.”
Discovered that caravan’s attempt at ‘curtains’ are essentially as effective as using cling film for curtains at around 5am yesterday. Unfortunately, sister and bro have also had a similar discovery and niece works on this logic that if it’s light outside then it is not bedtime, which means that no one has really slept since we got here. However, Dad is gunning for the grandad of the year award and retrieves niece from sister and bro’s caravan and brings her to ours very early, where she proceeds to run very loud laps up and down the corridor.
Am besotted with my niece. She’s overflowing with energy and innocence. She has an imagination to be jealous of and this self-confidence that I hope she never loses. She loves to play. She loves to be silly, with this gorgeous toddler-laugh. She likes to be a Princess and a Knight and to fight evil peas with her new magic sword. She loves to swim, splash, swing. She makes up her own songs and sings them to herself, which is a trait that I admire and share, and she’ll sing my made-up songs back to me as we trot down to the play park. She’s curious and strong-willed and unburdened by life. She plays and jumps and stomps and sings and chatters away and I love, love, love all of these things.
Am slightly less keen at 7am on a day I have booked annual leave and have spent the night trying to sleep squashed against the wall in a tiny single bed, on the third day of not sleeping.
So, when niece comes toddler-running (thump-a-thump, thump) into my room, I pretend to be asleep.
This is ineffective.
She asks ‘why you still in bed, Helen?’
I tell her that I am still tired.
She says ‘why you tired, Helen?’
Consider explaining the exhausting nature of existence: about the laundry never being finished and the fact that I have recently been told it costs nearly £1000 for a new back door with a cat flap in, about the fatigue of wanting to make more ethical choices but also wanting to do things cheaply and efficiently, about trying to hold ‘I need to pay to renew my garden waste subscription before the 31st May’ in my head alongside the number of new coronavirus cases, and work, and the existential angst of feeling slightly stagnant and just wishing that you could sit down and have a glass of wine, while trying to remember how many glasses of wine you’re allowed to have in a week before you have to lie about it when you have to fill in one of those GP questionnaires.
Instead, I settle on ‘ I didn’t sleep well.’
She says ‘why you not sleep well?’
I say ‘I just didn’t, Millie.’
She says ‘why?’
I say ‘I just didn’t.”
She says ‘why?’
I say ‘will you tell Grandma I’d like a cup of coffee?’ and get out of bed.
After two and half hours of playing a game where niece demands grandad/ grandma / I build a tower with Bing themed jenga blocks, just for her to knock it down and then ask that we rebuild it, we head to some of the site sanctioned entertainment to do some high quality crafting.
Today, we are painting plant pots and making a garden. Niece bouncing (literally) with excitement as she selects the caterpillar plant pot and the paint pens. After approximately one minute of scribbling on this with pink pen, niece declares that she’s finished.
Persuade niece that we could add additional details to the caterpillar, such as feet, or eyes, or a mouth. Niece concedes and says ‘your turn’ and then suggests that feet, eyes and mouth should also be pink. Follow these orders. Niece declares we’re finished again. Suggest we add some more decoration. She asks for ‘pots’. Not really clear what she’s talking about, so take a gamble on some spots. This doesn’t appear to be what she wanted exactly, so aim to draw a tiny plant pot on the arse of her caterpillar plant-pot, which goes down well, then suggests she colours them in. Niece colours one in (pink) while humming something that sounds a lot like the pants song about private parts, then hands me back the pen and says it’s my turn again. We end up adding her name, and age (‘yes, because I three’) and she concedes to black pupils and I decide I can’t persuade her we’re not finished anymore. Nice man leading the activity gives us some compost, some grass seeds and suggests we add daisies or some grass to make a garden. Niece adds one more of each of these and we head back to the caravan, via the play park, to play another thousand rounds of the Bing game.
Just before we head off for lunch in Scarborough, niece declares that I have ‘normal sized boobies’ (which I’m going to take as a compliment, I think) and I wonder how it’s possible for it to be noon and to have already been awake for two whole days.
Eat pizza and visit castle. Surprisingly gorgeous day, with the threat of rain holding off. Niece gained fake sword at some point while I was buying and eating a doughnut, which leads to some sword fighting (with my ‘tend sword and her real sword) and her asking lots of questions about why someone took the walls and the roof off the castle. Not entirely sure anyone knows, so suspect we might all give her slightly different answers about bad guys and treasure and it all being a long time ago.
For some reason, sister thought it would be a good idea to go to the ‘children’s entertainment’ so after nine hundred and ninety nine more rounds of the game with the blocks (we’ve now added a variation where instead of just building and knocking it down, the Three Pigs /Red Riding Hood / Goldilocks narrative happens alongside it, which at least stretches out the time lapse from building to demolition to over 20 seconds) and dinner, we all head back down to the centre, mask up and take our assigned seats.
There are some things that don’t pandemic well. This is one of those things. We are not allowed to leave our seats and niece cannot see the stage from our seat and it is very hard to explain to her why she can’t run towards the poor, poor sod in the gigantic bear costume ‘singing’ (read: awkwardly swaying along to a pre-recorded track) to dance. This girl loves to groove. This girl has the music in her. This girl is too small to see the stage and too small to understand why she has to sit in this seat when she can’t see the stage.
Niece gets upset.
Mum says ‘why didn’t they pick a guy who could sing’. Unsure if she believes the bear is really singing live.
Niece still upset.
After some more dramatic outworkings of toddler upset, bro and niece end up watching the gigantic bear swaying at the edge of the balcony-bit, where no one else is standing or sitting, and the rest of us order extra drinks.
After a loo trip where I get nominated to drive the toilet train (niece is allowed to pick who takes her to the loo, a strategy which I’m relatively sure my sister introduced because she thought she’d have to do it less) and get a socially-distanced photo with the giant bear (weird), niece gets back to our table just in time for this franky bizarre quiz, which is incomprehensible, challenging and quite loud.
Have just realised that they are, in fact, playing an opera version of Baby Shark at the point where niece says ‘um, Helen, why do you have a big drink?’
Oh, the innocence of youth.
Have been selected for toilet duty again.
Earlier today, niece proudly declares she is able to sit on the seat all by herself (as in, without someone holding her up so she doesn’t fall in) and we are all gathered to watch and say “wow” except Grandad / dad, who doesn’t do toilets.
Niece clearly thinking about this too, partially because I was her second choice of toilet buddy.
She looks at me from the toilet and says “why gandad not do toilets?”
Have played a lot of the “why” game already today, so defer to the eventual conclusion.
“Because he doesn’t Millie” I say.
Niece drops her voice to a conspiratorial whisper and says “grandad does do toilets when no one else is here.”
This at least explains why niece doesn’t have any accidents in the hour after grandad / dad has collected her from the t’other caravan, before anyone else is awake.
Not entirely clear why we let him get away with it the rest of the time.
By Friday, niece has decided she wants to sleep in ‘grandma and grandad caravan’. There was a certain inevitably about this and we bargained with her that if she promised to sleep the whole night then yes, sure, we can have a sleepover.
Run with this ‘sleepover’ concept to try and get a sleepy-niece. We’ve had a good day full of making grass heads, going to the play park, going swimming, hiding from the rain etc, so we suggest that it will be the height of fun for us all to get into our jammies (PJs) and watch a film together snuggled up under a blanket.
Niece very keen on this idea!! She is very pleased about us all being in our jammies! She picks for us to watch ‘Shrek 3’ which we technically also watched yesterday, but niece was also yelling ‘YOU THE CHILDREN, I THE TEACHER’ and insisting on demonstrating the macarena, which I taught her in the car on the way to the beach the other day (she does both hands at the same time rather than one at a time, but she’s surprisingly good at the macarena. Especially the hips-wiggle-clap bit), so wouldn’t say that have actually seen Shrek 3 so, fine.
We are joined by a teddy cat, a teddy unicorn and an unidentified teddy. About 50% sure that all of these are called ‘Princess Millie’ but that might be ungenerous. Still, law of averages (our grass head was entitled ‘Princess Millie’ with great pride earlier this morning). Twenty minutes into this film, we are doing bits with the teddies having different voices and plot lines. Teddy-cat is stretched out on my legs purring. Teddy-unicorn keeps knocking teddy-cat over, because kids are brutal. There’s lots of falling off knees ‘will anyone save me’ and swapping teddys and I still don’t know what’s happening in Shrek 3.
At some point, we decide another blanket might help and I declare that this is a ‘blanket sandwich’, unsuspecting that this is clearly an invitation to a game. Niece declares ‘I’m the ‘ mato in the sandwich!’ (translation: tomato) and then burrows into the sandwich, and then says ‘I’m the cheese!’ and then ‘blanket sandwich!’ and I still don’t know what’s happening in Shrek 3.
Twenty minutes before the end of the film, niece gets off the sofa and says ‘umm, can we play a game now’ and we end up back to the blocks.
(The next day, we watch Shrek again. Still don’t know what happens).
Somewhere in the midst of the post-beach, post-bird garden, pre-packing part of the day, we are trying to get niece to eat lunch. Niece is trying to get us to open a chocolate bar for her. Niece declares that she doesn’t want her sandwich, she wants chocolate. Negotiations are attempted. Hard lines are attempted. Niece asks each of us in turn to open the chocolate, but we present a united anti-chocolate front.
Grandma says ‘what happens to those listening ears?’
Niece beams and says ‘they ran out of batteries’.
It’s hard to contend with this level of cuteness.
Nevertheless, fifteen minutes later, niece has mimed putting new batteries back into her listening ears, we have narrowly avoided tears and I am making her a new sandwich.
She has asked for an olive sandwich.
She is not to be persuaded otherwise.
Present her with sandwich.
She asks for crusts to be removed.
I remove the crusts from her sandwich and present it back to her.
She says she only wanted a black olive sandwich, with the green olives on the side.
I meticulously pick out all the green olives and put them next to her sandwich.
I give her the sandwich back.
She proceeds to take the whole thing apart, put cheese in it instead, and eat it.
Decide this battle is not one worth fighting and start work on her previously rejected cheese sandwich. After a few bites, reject this too, as niece has been rejecting it pretty consistently for about an hour and it’s now stale and unpleasant. Make myself a new sandwich (cheese, not olive).
Niece says ‘ you missed one of the green olives’ as she continues to dismantle her black-olive-crustless-sandwhich. ‘Silly Helen’.
By this point our primary game is ‘Ticket to Ride’ which, when niece is involved, usually involves each of us putting coloured train tracks on the right part of the board, or the game where niece takes out all the pink coloured train cards, gives me the rest and then challenges me to a game of match (niece has a 100% success rate of getting her all-pink cards to match. Suspect the game is somehow rigged). However, today we’ve progressed to playing Goldilocks ticket to ride, which goes like this.
Grandad/ Dad (depending on who you ask): * goes to put track down*
Niece: No, not there! A blue one!
Grandad / Dad: how about here?
Niece: No, that ones too big!
Grandad / Dad: this one
Niece: Too small!
Grandad / Dad: This one?
Niece: too dirty!
Grandad / Dad: This one?
Niece: too boring!
Grandad / Dad: This one?
Niece: too cold!
Granded / Dad: well, that’s all the blue ones on the board and you said it was blue.
Niece: No, red!
Grandad/ Dad: Okay, this one?
Niece: No, too hot!
Game has now reached new facets of painfulness. At this point, it gets a minus three fun points from me. Grandad/ Dad suggests that we go to the play park instead, before it starts raining. Niece says we haven’t finished the game and lets him put down two pieces of train track. Move on to sister’s turn. She tries every single place on the board for them all to be ‘too big/small/hot/cold /dirty/boring’. I say ‘are you sure you don’t want to go on the swings, Millie?’
She does not.
We go round the board once more.
Grandad / Dad says ‘I really want to go on the swings Millie’.
Niece says ‘not yet!’
I am told that I can’t put my track there because it’s ‘too dreary’.
We go round the board again.
Niece says that we can all go to the park.
We all breathe a sigh of relief.
Niece, sis and bro went home last night, which leaves Monday feeling oddly quiet and calm, although not necessarily unpleasant. Take a detour to Filey (lovely!!), have brunch again then parents set off driving me back home to be reunited with my PERFECT cat and my plants and my housemate (housemate and I have taken to talking about Bertie like he’s our child, with updates and what/ when he has eaten and his litter tray habits).
On the way home we listen to an hour long radio show about shower doors spontaneously exploding and I develop a minor complex about washing ever again, but am gratified that no one sings the pants song or ‘summer holiday’ all the way home.
Take a detour and buy six more bags of compost to fuel my gardening addiction, then parents head off home.
Am quite overwhelmed by such a lovely week surrounded by people I love, after such a long time, and as I get back to the very important job of pruning my tomatoes I’m left with this satisfied sleepiness, this contentment, this awareness of how excited I am to sleep in my own bed and the ever present wondering of what on earth a ‘Bing’ even is.
Two Thursdays later
Have just got back from office-straight-to-foodbanky thing after looooooonnnng day of work, where there have been unexpected deadlines and everything is finally hot which is nice but I forgot that the hot makes me grumpy and likely not to sleep. Additionally, message from sister suggested that they will be picking me up for our bro-sis-niece-Helen trip to Alton towers “by seven AM”. Wasn’t aware anything happened by seven AM. Not entirely used to things happening when I can see the seven (of the AM type) on the clock, particularly on days when I’m not working. We are staying in a cbeebies hotel and I expect the whole thing will be very, very fun, but also already feel slightly broken and we haven’t gone yet.
It’s now eight thirty pm. I have been out for twelve hours which I used to do multiple times a week and now makes me feel like a zombie-person (as in tired, not like I want to eat someone’s face. Although maybe if I was tired and hangry and they were annoying) and I have not eaten, nor packed and I need to wash my hair, yet somehow I end up sat on the floor of my kitchen next to one of the dining chairs. Think I got down to stroke a cat but now I am just there, looking at the edge of the table and thinking “oh”.
Housemate is sitting opposite me on a real chair.
I say “I don’t know why I’m sitting on the floor.”
She says “I see that.”
I say “I think I’m stuck.”
She pushes my wine glass nearer to the edge of the table so I can reach it from the floor and says “At least you can be stuck on the floor with wine.”
God bless Grace.
(They arrive to pick me up early the next day. Alton towers is greaaaat and exhausting and hot and tiring and long and fun and I think I might need a holiday from holidaying-with-toddlers for juuuuuusssstt a couple of weeks, or something).