It was all going so WELL, too. We’d been strawberry picking, on a day that was forecasting torrential downpours, but the sun had shone and the fruits were ripe and the children had been, well, normal. They ate so many strawberries that Frankie’s widdle turned pink, and Alice took a nibble out of each strawberry that went in the box, but for the most part, we were a nice, average family. We’ll come again next week, we said! Wholesome fun for all the family, we said!
And then we went to Bunnings.
Now, I don’t mind Bunnings, for the most part. Mid-week Bunnings is FINE. Saturday-afternoon Bunnings is tolerable. Sunday-lunchtime Bunnings is, however, fucking horrific. All the Prozac in the world couldn’t have softened the blow of Sunday-lunchtime Bunnings.
“Can I have a sausage with custard?”
“What’s custard mustard?”
“It’s kind of hot, like pepper.”
“Pepper, like salt, you know?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh for fucks sake. One sausage with custard, please.”
“We’ve run out of onions.”
“Well that’s fine, because we don’t want onions.”
“You can have raw onions.”
“We’d like neither raw nor cooked onions. Just one sausage with custard. Now Alice,” I said, turning to our small daughter, “you DEFINITELY don’t want a sausage, right?”
“Yuck. No doddage. I don’t want a doddage.”
We get Frankie’s doddage, we enter Bunnings. Right on cue: “I want a doddage!”
“Of course you fucking do.”
To Frankie, who’s holding his doddage at arm’s length, repulsed: “Can Alice have your doddage?”
“But you don’t want it.”
“She can’t have it.”
“I want a small trolley,” shouts my daughter, momentarily distracted from her doddage woes. Frankie – who up to this point had NOT wanted a small trolley – spots the one available small trolley in Bunnings, and makes a beeline for it, holding on to it with small, clenched fists, his doddage long-forgotten.
“I want a small trolley!” (Loud, this time. Piercing.)
“Are you looking for anything in particular?” a kind Bunnings assistant asks, as Frankie spins his small trolley in 360-degree circles, kneecapping casual Sunday shoppers.
“A small trolley please!”
“Oh, they’re in short supply on Sundays! You won’t have much luck!”
“Fuck you! I mean thank you!”
“I want to go to the playground!” (Frankie, this time.) Alice starts HOWLING, immediately. I feel similarly disturbed.
“Why are you crying?”
“I don’t like the faces on the swide?”
“What faces on the swide?”
“The big faces on the swide!”
Right. Paul and I begin negotiations. “You and Alice go and get the fluorescent strip light for the garage, which Ben’s mate smashed while playing keepy-uppies with a football, and Frankie and I will go to the playground, yes?”
Yes. Except the playground is the seventh level of hell, packed with parents affectionately calling their children “mongrels” (NOT EVEN JOKING) and a vague smell of poo and wee.
God, I hate small playgrounds. I hate big playgrounds. I hate playgrounds.
“Come on the slide with me mummy!”
“I’m not coming on the slide.”
Damian style: “Come on the slide with my mummy.”
I go on the slide. I feel soiled. I also feel IMMENSELY relieved that I’m coming to the end of the playground period of my life. There’s a mum on the playground with three children under the age of three. She’s wearing those terrible mum jeans that expose three-quarters of bum-crack, and repeating – over and over – “where are your shoes” to anyone who’ll listen, apparently. She looks like she’s lost the will to live. I lose the will to live on her behalf. I don’t ever – EVER – want to go back to the very-small-person period of parenthood. Remember that bit? Just standing aimlessly in piss-soaked playcentres, trying to find a reason to continue this meaningless existence? Walking up and down the driveway in your socks, while a small child practises riding a trike, over and over, and all you want to do is sit down and check Facebook?
“Mummy I need a POO.” Of course you fucking do. OF COURSE.
I drop the extremely delicate strip-light that’s Paul left in my care while he goes off to find plaster screws, or some shit, and then accidentally let a kid out of the play prison, who cackles and runs for freedom.
“Where are your shoes?” says the mum, to the back of the child making a run for it through the sacks of compost.
I’ve got to get out of here.
I’VE GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE.
And then there are balloons on sticks. BALLOONS ON FUCKING STICKS, and a little girl wailing because hers has blown out across the carpark. “WHY ARE YOU CRYING ABOUT A BALLOON,” her mother shouts. “IT’S JUST A BALLOON. DON’T CRY ABOUT THE BALLOON. THE BALLOON IS GONE. STOP CRYING. I TOLD YOU NOT TO GET A BALLOON. YOU SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO ME. NO ONE LISTENS TO ME. FUCK THE BALLOON.”
I feel sympathy for the mother, despite her undeniably unsympathetic response to her daughter’s loss. But yeah, fuck the balloon.
“CAN I DO THE BEEPING,” says Frankie, holding the scanner aloft at the self-serve checkout.
“GIVE ME THE BEEPER.”
“I WANT TO DO THE BEEPING.”
I want to cry. I do cry, a little bit, and then collect myself because there are no fucking bags in Bunnings and I have to ferret around for a suitable box to carry strip lights and some stupid plaster screws plus an uneaten hot dog to the car.
“I will not be returning to Bunnings,” I tell my husband. “Not on a Sunday, not ever.”
“Fuck Bunnings,” Paul replies.
“Fuck Bunnings,” I agree.