Have you ever made a list of the ‘things’ you take with you for a family day out? It’s really quite remarkable.
After packing up yet another carload of provisions for a mere few hours of poolside parenting, I allowed a touch of exasperation to creep in. Popping out for a day with baby twins is task that demands meticulous planning. So great is the list of requirements, it is miracle if one actually remembers to take the babies with you.
I occasionally wonder if Ernest Shackleton packed as many bags for his Antarctic expeditions.
In the early days when the girls were just two months old, we decided to get out of London for the afternoon and go to Henley-Upon-Thames. I had this romantic idea of a cosy pub lunch and a wintery walk along the river afterwards as a new family of four. By the time we arrived, both girls needed feeding and we were already twenty minutes late for our reservation. I sat with them balancing on my boobs in the front seat of the car before one baby exploded through her nappy, vest and La Coquetta ‘Sunday Best’ dress. We ended up having to swaddle her naked body, Jesus style, until we found a baby shop to re-clothe her and when we eventually sat down for lunch, all I wanted to see was the wine list. And as for our leisurely stroll along the Thames, under the setting winter sun; the reality was a shivery 30 yard power walk, to find an ice covered bench for me to breastfeed on. A day to remember.
This was when it was theoretically ‘easy’; all the girls needed were my boobs and a pair of clean pants. Now we have hit a whole other level of family planning.
So what does one actually need?
Allow me to present the list:
- Nappies (normally 6 will cover it for an 8 hour stint)
- Bum cream
- Nappy bags
- Portable changing mat – the West African nappy changing facilities are seriously below par…
- Milk, milk and more milk
- Bottles x 2
- Sterilised water
- Enough food for lunch and dinner x 2
- Spoons x 2
- Bibs x 4
- Muslins x 4
- Blankets x 2
- Dummies x 3 (one always gets lost)
- Change of vest x 2 incase the inevitable happens – normally I forget which results in us carting around at least one soiled and naked babe
- Swim suits
- Swimming nappies
- Hand sanitiser
- Small but engaging toys in an attempt to distract them while we drink wine
- Play mat (helps reduce the volume of sand consumption)
- Booster chairs (restaurants here are devoid of high chairs)
- Parasols in the hope they might nap in the buggy
- Lipstick if I can fit it in
- Sense of humour x 2
The list is so great that upon arrival, the words ‘did you remember to bring…?’ (normally uttered by a male), are like a red rag to a mentally over-stretched bull. And the success of your outing seems to hang on having brought everything.
No carriable bag on the market can cut the mustard. A wheelie case may well be a more appropriate solution. Or perhaps a small trailer that we could tow behind the buggy.
However it recently crossed my mind that it may just be us slightly neurotic Brits packing bags like Mary Poppins on speed. Whenever I see a Senegalese mum in Dakar, she is strutting around with a baby strapped to her back, and her hands are swinging free. A sight to behold. So I decided to delve deeper.
I approached one mum I saw wearing a tightly fitting wax print skirt (no pockets!), peplum top and fabulous matching head piece. Her baby must have been a year old and unless she was hiding a load of nappies in her hat, she had nothing else with her. So in my best French I asked, madame, if you don’t mind me asking, where on earth is the mountain of shit you need to carry around for your baby?! She laughed for a good minute before telling me she had only popped out to buy fruit and she lived around the corner. She assured me that anytime you see a hands-free Senegalese mother she is most likely running a quick errand.
Then I asked my driver, Balde, who has a two year old son. He reaffirmed that substantial packing and planning goes into a family Sunday at the beach; food, toys, change of clothes, water, towels, and of course they take Momo their pet sheep. I didn’t ask if he packs a bag for Momo too.
I am now certain of one thing. While culturally we may have some differences, parentally we share the same challenges. If you want to have a nice family day out, then failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
And one must always look at the positives. I now have the perfect excuse to buy a Louis Vuitton trunk…