Attn: World Police, do not panic – we have stairgates now.
How did humanity become dominant without its young being focused on their own health and safety and without the adults having 360-degree vision? I tell you, folks, I’m looking forward to returning to work for a relaxing break.
I am writing to let go of one of the most horrendous long weekends of my life, which – of course – involved an extended visit with all ten of my in-laws. Before Sprout was born, planning commenced for the Great Golden Wedding Anniversary Celebration 2015. His mother’s one wish was for her whole family to be together. While this sounds simple in theory, there is a deep schism within the K-family because one brother refused to attend the wedding of another brother. Furthermore, one brother and his family live in Singapore. The Golden Couple live in The Province. So, the celebration had to last four days.
I spoke sharply to myself before the Great Event. I swore solemnly that I would maintain my grace and not yell at K-man or snap at the Golden Couple. This weekend is for them, I said, as a gift. Suck it the fuck up.
Come Sunday night I was broken into a million tiny pieces in a hotel room, screaming at K-man.
The tale begins on a Friday afternoon: K-man set down me and the Sprout at a country hotel and immediately shot off to the railway station to pick up the Golden Couple (they won’t drive themselves anywhere beyond a ten-mile radius of their home, necessitating difficult chauffeuring arrangements). We had to change rooms because the pram and travel cot would not physically fit in the first room, and the Golden Couple had to change rooms twice because of – gasp! – a connecting door in the first and broken air-conditioning in the second. That was the easiest three hours of the weekend.
Sprout was seven months old at this point, but he already had impeccable timing. That night he developed his second ever cold, and it was a stinker. If he was upright on my shoulder, his nose cleared and he was asleep within seconds. That bought 20 minutes of lying down before snot choked him awake. I sat in a chair with him on my shoulder until 1am. Calpol worked for three hours, which bliss accounted for the three hours of sleep we got that night.
Not content with merely getting a dreadful cold, Sprout cut his first tooth the following day. I had to listen to fake-sympathy from various in-laws, which didn’t extend to offering us some slack with the outrageous list of pre-booked and paid activities and mainly the need for us to be the ones to chauffeur the Golden Couple everywhere. Others had, variously, too many children or luggage of their own, a ridiculous sports car with only two seats, and accommodation half an hour away from the rest of us owing to their delaying booking until the preceding Wednesday by which time every room in the locality was taken.
There follows a very brief summary of the reasons the weekend would have been tough even without these factors:
- A cramped unfamiliar hotel environment where the solution to every baby-related problem must be MacGyver’d from string, buttons, and toilet roll using only a swiss army knife;
- The Golden Couple behaving as though Sprout is their long-lost son from whom they were forcibly removed seven months previously;
- The Golden Couple insisting he’s fine, he’s fine, when Sprout is crying, sliding half way down their shoulder staring pleadingly at me, desperate for my help;
- Two ill-disciplined cousins, aged 9 and 10, who spend their entire time three inches from Sprout’s face prodding him and yelling his name and my brother and sister in law who did nothing about it; and
- My sister-in-law having her own gravitational pull, evidenced by the extent to which all things revolve around her at all times.
On the Saturday, we went to afternoon tea at a nearby flash hotel. Pre-booked, pre-paid, us-the-chauffeur, the family-photo-op meant there was no way we could get out of going. The Golden Couple loved it. Sprout was miserable. I whispered Om under my breath for five hours. The K-family went to the pub in the evening, and I settled my screaming snot-soaked son and lay in a darkened room reading by kindle-light.
On Sunday morning we repaired to Blenheim Palace, a 40 minute drive away. K-man and I were late because well, snot-ridden, tooth-pain, sleep-deprived child, and then paid a princely sum of money to sit in the Palace cafe for two hours trying to get Sprout to take in some form of nutrition while there were no cousins insisting on ‘helping’ as he flailed around in pain and frustration. The Golden Couple toured the house and loved it. K-man and I sobbed quietly into our ninth cup of caffeine. Sprout dozed.
I insisted that on Sunday evening we be in our hotel room on our own alone, and get Sprout a nap, meal, bath, and sleep without anyone else all up in his face. We would inhale a meal from room-service. We made it to the hotel room at about 5.30pm after explaining this to the K-family, but Sprout would not go to sleep despite being exhausted so K-man took him in the pram in the hope he would nod off for half an hour before food, bath and bed – all of which are easier with a somewhat rested Sprout. We agreed he would return after forty-five minutes at the most. Meanwhile, I scurriedly prepared the travel high-chair, milk feed, solid feed, bedtime outfit, bath etc. I tidied the room, and then started to wonder where the hell my husband and child were. Time passed, until the clock read 6.45pm.
Telephone calls yielded no response. I was on the edge of being the angriest person ever to file a missing persons report when, at the french doors of the hotel room (ah, the joy of a ground floor room), a knock sounded. It was K-man, with the entire fucking K-family on tow. Sprout was still awake, in his pram, looking like he’d lost a teether and found a pile of dog shit. The cousins started making their way into the room, and I blocked their path. My mother in law said ‘I suppose you’re looking forward to some sleep tonight!’. Yes, I said, as soon as bloody possible. Bloody is bad language, so she looked aghast. We now had 45 minutes to feed, bath, and bottle-feed our exhausted child, order and eat room-service, and gently guide our baby to the land of nod.
The K-family dangled for five precious further minutes until my one-word answers finally hit home. When the door shut, K-man babbled some incoherent shit that amounted to his inability to be assertive with his family even when his baby’s welfare and his wife’s sanity depended on it. Apparently the K-family spied him, bounded over, and followed him round while he batted away invitations to dinner/pub and explained that we really needed to make sure Sprout got what he needed and that we got a relaxing evening and hopefully some sleep. When he announced he was going back to the hotel room they followed him.
The general issue with the K-family is that they are quite inconsiderate, and don’t take hints. Yet, any kind of direct communication – even back-bendingly positive-framed and polite – when it corresponds to something they don’t want to hear causes immediate and lasting offence of disproportionate magnitude. I find this extremely difficult to tolerate.
I thought that when we had the Sprout K-man might finally find a way to address this, and that weekend I discovered he wouldn’t. He never will, and I must learn to live with it. Whatever he did manage to say to them was not assertive enough, proven barely a few minutes later.
We were, I admit, in the middle of a pretty big fight. Sprout was screaming, and I was failing to calm down while genuinely trying to understand whether my husband’s communication was really that bad, or whether the K-family really are that inconsiderate. K-man, who has no problem being assertive with me, claimed that I was a) trying to ‘control everything’, b) unreasonably failing to appreciate that his parents don’t see Sprout that often, and c) upsetting Sprout. This was the thousandth tiny cut. I proclaimed that he could deal with the consequences of his actions and call me when he had taken care of the Sprout sufficiently that he was asleep. I knew he would really struggle to do this on his own but I didn’t care. I would be at an undisclosed location boiling myself up into ever greater rage.
I marched out of the hotel room. But what’s this? I thought I must be so angry I was finally hallucinating, for my eyes alighted upon the Golden Couple heading purposefully down the corridor towards me. I closed my eyes and opened them again: they were still there. I didn’t even break stride; I went outside and wondered if my marriage was over.
After about ten minutes more Om, I returned to the room and asked K-man to shed some light on what the hell just happened. His parents, he said, believed they were being helpful by bringing down some toys we had left in their room. He had to stop trying to feed the screaming Sprout, answer the door, and explain that no he really didn’t need their help with anything at that precise moment and that they were in fact making a bad situation worse. They went away, miffed. Still, he insisted they meant well and simply wanted extra time with Sprout. He believes they were trying to catch Sprout in the bath so they could witness it. Because watching an exhausted sick teething 7 month old from afar is much more fun than being the one who has to actually deal with the consequences of other people’s ‘help’.
My rejoinder was:
- we have been with them for two entire days by now, meeting everyone else’s requirements;
- it was made abundantly clear that we needed some space as we were really struggling;
- all parties were aware that we had had six total hours of sleep across the last 72 hours and we can’t just biff off for a nap whenever we feel like it;
- if they wanted to be helpful they could have called first to check, rather than just appear at the door;
- what they really wanted was to spend yet another few minutes with Sprout, regardless of whether that was the best thing for him or us, which at this point, was ridiculously selfish.
We re-bonded after lamenting his parents’ lack of sensitivity. I explained that K-man had better find a way of dealing with the fact that his parents get unreasonably offended because if he couldn’t start saying things more frankly to them, I would. And nobody wants that.
The following day, Monday, we went to Highclere (where Downton Abbey was filmed). I was so tired I could barely see, and we had another horrendous lunch where Sprout ate nothing because of the cacophonous cafeteria noise and the ministrations of his two cousins. That afternoon, he marked the end of the celebration by doing a shit so enormous we had to find an emergency off-road stop-off to change him.
I was proud as punch of my son that weekend, because even though he was absolutely miserable he was extremely patient. He smiled occasionally, and considering what he was going through he didn’t scream much at all. He put up with a large group of people who were essentially strangers holding him and poking at him, and ineptly trying to feed him. He is a star.
I just hope he will be as understanding during his first birthday ordeal, when we will have both sets of grandparents visiting.