Even before I was a mother, I wasn’t overly struck on shopping. Avoiding eye-contact with overzealous shop assistants whilst I’m trying to find clothes that make me look two sizes smaller just doesn’t do it for me. But, who doesn’t enjoy wandering around a beautiful city like Manchester, even if you know the only thing you’re eventually going to buy is a hot chocolate from Starbucks? Post-children people, that’s who. In particular, parents of the smaller, toddler variety.
A couple of weeks ago, I bundled an almost two-year-old, a buggy, and the accompanying bag of essentials into the car and went for a girl’s shopping trip to our nearby city. I glanced at said two-year-old in the mirror on the motorway and felt more than a bit smug that the departure time had coincided with her morning nap. Now she’d be in a great mood when we got there. Unfortunately, my optimism had not taken into consideration the huge energy rush that would follow the nap, which is the equivalent of feeding a child twenty-four packets of blue smarties. After a malfunction at the NCP car park, where I drove straight back out of the exit after getting a ticket, and then held up a queue of cars trying to explain to a yellow box why I should not pay £3.50 for the privilege of driving around the car park for thirty seconds, I eventually made it back inside and found a space on a floor that smelled suspiciously of ammonia. The buggy unfolded, now-awake child strapped in, we were all set.
What none of us had accounted for was the absence of a lift in the
urinal car park. Luckily, I’ve been to the gym approximately three times this year, so carrying a two stone child and a buggy up four flights of stairs was a piece of cake. Now we were set! Everything seemed to be going quite smoothly for the next five minutes until we went for a browse around Urban Outfitters. I must stress that we went there for my fourteen-year-old cousin, to whom the cropped clothes are more suited, rather than for a thirty-year-old mother who is still working (occasionally) on her postpartum body. Not to mention it would cost one month’s child benefit to purchase a t-shirt that somebody had seemingly cut in half. Now anxious to be out of the restraints of the buggy, the small one began to make a high pitched whining noise as she pulled on the hanger of some popper pants. It was at this moment I realised I had left the bag of essentials in the car. Knowing hell was more likely to freeze over than for me to cart her back down and up those steps one more time, we made a swift exit from Urban Outfitters, much to the relief of the hipsters who were not enjoying the vibe of a crying baby as much as you might expect.
Feeling more at home in the Tesco across the road, I went in search for nappies. Could I find any? No, but Boots were sure to have some. They did. Upstairs. Thankfully, they had an escalator, but I once got severely reprimanded in Debenhams for taking a pram on there, so I checked with the assistant, who kindly directed me to the lift. Which was broken. Feeling the same way myself at this point, I returned to Tesco, sure that my second home wouldn’t let me down. And sure enough…they did have nappies, which were reachable by their (working) lift. By this point, if I’d have been wearing my FitBit, I’m sure it would’ve tracked my altitude levels similar to those when I walked the Yorkshire Three Peaks a few months ago. Nappies paid for, I met back up with my cousin and my mum and we went to get the now hangry toddler some food.
There’s a lovely restaurant in the Northern Quarter called Dough. A group of thirty-somethings were all in there enjoying a baby shower. This was my kind of baby shower. Everyone bar the expectant mother had a glass of wine, they looked to be having a civilised conversation over food, and there wasn’t a single, weird party game in sight. I’d put money on it that nobody had a sheet guessing the baby’s weight and birth date on it. What a time to bring a toddler tornado into the mix! The perfect baby shower party looked on as my blotchy-faced, blonde haired, baby girl screamed on the floor in hysterics over me asking if she needed her nappy changing. I didn’t particularly care if she did or not, after all the faffing about of going to buy the bloody things, I would be damned if I didn’t open the packet before we got back to the car. I let her yell it out for ten minutes so the pre-children people knew what was in store. My gift to them was insight, and I felt like I’d done a good deed for the day. The rest of the meal involved throwing crayons on the floor, spitting water out onto the table and chewing up dough balls before thoughtfully replacing them in the dish they were served in. Fortunately for the staff at Dough, we didn’t all participate in those activities as we were too busy shovelling food down our throats in order to pay and leave.
On the way back, we passed Affleck’s Palace. More stairs. Another broken lift. Defeated at last, we strolled down the street as I considered a career change to become a self-employed lift engineer because you sure wouldn’t be short of work in this city. Approaching the Arndale, the Baby Shower Destroyer started to rock in the buggy in a manner that bared an uncanny resemblance to one of the patients on Shutter Island. A small mercy of the day saw us cross paths with a man selling candy floss and I can honestly say it’s the best rip off I’ve ever invested in. A smile and a couple of minutes peace, what more could you want? Ironically, as we headed on back to tackle the descent into the aromatic car park, a lady handed me a flyer asking me if I needed Jesus. I needed him an hour ago when I was scalding my mouth with risotto whilst simultaneously avoiding crayon missiles, but thanks.
So, my top tip for shopping with a toddler is: don’t bother. Stick to soft play. Much more offensive to the senses than looking at historic buildings and cobbled streets, much more likely to entertain a small child. If you absolutely must take your offspring with you, other sensible suggestions include dining at Greggs rather than a fixed location, only shopping in small towns where the shops are all on one level, and perhaps try enlisting Jesus for help as you try to bend your stiff-as-a-board baby into a seated positing to fasten their buggy straps. Good luck!