Travelling or shopping with three ‘small’ children as I call them (although both the seven and four year olds would take exception to being described as small, the two year old doesn’t know any better) can be hell. Fortunately my family are very understanding of my need to shop and have done endless hours of babysitting whilst I have trawled through the summer sales over the years.
Seven years ago, shopping for my newborn baby, literally running up and down the high street, when she was only a week old at home screaming for a feed, was pure madness in retrospect. I was convinced that I’d find nothing for her in the way of clothing in Dar es Salaam and didn’t want to buy much before she was born as I didn’t know her sex and had was vaguely superstitious about buying things for an unborn child. Once born I had to do the shopping immediately as we were planning to travel back to Africa when she was two weeks old (we did) and had not scheduled another UK visit for a year, so I was scooping up 0-3months, 3-6month and 6-12month clothes in a frantic rush. The high street sprint led directly to some weird post natal illness and a course of antibiotics. Ironically, as soon as I arrived back in Africa, a new friend introduced me to the joys of ‘mitumba’ (second hand markets) where I could buy new or good as new designer clothes for my baby, at a snip. She wound up wearing Ralph Lauren and OshKosh and not much of my rush buys.
The following year I was obsessed with buying up ‘nice’ good quality nappies as the pure plastic ones available at home were so very sweaty for my precious (it was 100% humidity in Dar). I even asked visiting family to bring huge boxes of nappies with them which must have been difficult to explain to airport check in staff when no child was in sight (sorry everyone!). The next summer I was snapping up shoes in bulk and trying to explain to UK shop assistants that it really was ok to buy three consecutive sizes of the same shoe for my two year old, without any fittings. ‘You won’t be allowed to return them’ they argued, ‘I know…!’ I said.
Later there was another baby and a little less clothes shopping as I’d already got the basics, however there was quite some to-ing and fro-ing over buying the all singing, all dancing off road, three wheel push chair that I convinced myself was necessary. The fact that we’d survived without for the first baby somehow didn’t seem relevant. (By the way, if you are living in Africa a push chair is not really necessary. You never walk anywhere much and your nanny will more than likely prefer to strap your baby onto her back with a kanga than push a push chair around. A cheapo umbrella pushchair will suffice for airports and travelling back to Europe etc.) I particularly wanted a light colour so as not to attract mosquitoes – it’s surprising how many push chairs are navy blue or black. I found what I was looking for but think I used it only a handful of times. Every time we attempted to take it out, we seemed to be plagued by flat tyres from thorns. Plus, at the check in with a two year old and a 12 day old, the airline stewardess said that my luggage was over weight and I’d have to pay hundreds of pounds for excess baggage. If you are reading this, lady, I’d like you to note that I’ve never forgiven you……….
A fellow expat friend in Tanzania suffered the same treatment when travelling back to Africa with her two small boys. The check in man took exception to the two bicycles that she was hoping to freight. Amazingly my friend, on the verge of hysteria, talked him around by asking if the air steward had a boy of his own and if he had a bike? She said that she wouldn’t want the bikes to go to waste and if her boys couldn’t have them, perhaps he would pass them on as a gift to someone in his own family. If her children had to be deprived of having bikes at Christmas, at least the air steward’s child would not be (I think at this point he was stammering ‘thank you but his children already have their own bikes’). She added that she would not be able to buy bikes for her kids in Tanzania so they would now have to go without. I think that at this point he broke down and let her luggage through. Persuasion can work with men but be warned, the female airline staff can be steely to the point of cruelty.
This year the shopping was complicated. Trying to stay focussed on checking sale rails for 2-3yrs, 4-5yrs and 7-8yrs was tricky. We also had three sets of shoes to consider (a year’s worth), bits of school uniform for the eldest and this year riding hats and ballet shoes. I also tried to plan ahead with Christmas presents. It can be soul destroying to buy a Bratz doll or Barbie here for £40 when you know it’s only £4.99 in Woollies. You also need to use the opportunity to keep up with friends and relatives’ birthday presents back home. Phew. I’m sure that it would be possible to manage without all of these purchases, but it’s hard to pass up the shopping opportunity whilst it is on your doorstep. I am omitting to add that I also managed to pick up one or two things for myself! I did almost exclusively stay within a £15 per item limit but lost it a bit on a denim jacket and nice leather belt. A low point was going into Jigsaw Kings Road and asking if they had a 'faulty' rail, as their sale had not yet begun. Anything that's faulty gets sent back to the warehouse, the shop assistant politely told me. I was blushing to my boots.
Packing up 80kgs of luggage was an effort. My Dad arranged a mini bus to take us to the airport and he came along to help with the Heathrow queuing system (thanks Dad). At 7.30am it was pretty chaotic and packed. The queuing took not less than an hour and my eldest was having a fashion meltdown (she didn’t like what I had picked out for the journey – trousers; too short, shoes; too cold.) However, to be fair she did rally round and help, just as the two year old began to loose it. A low point was when the two year old, who was precariously balanced (by me) on her Maxi-Cosi car seat which in turn was balanced into our supermarket pushchair, then proceeded to propel herself forwards and onto the floor just as we were just about to go through the x ray machines. Somehow she fell out with the Maxi Cosi (not really a lightweight item for those not in the know) crashing down on top of her. Everyone around stared in shock, no one said anything. You could have heard a pin drop (if it weren’t for the screams). Staggeringly, this didn’t seem to deter me from proceeding to select a new watch from duty free and then insist on queuing again to buy a burning hot take away café latte before boarding the flight. The four year old abandoned her wheelie bag at some point. When we found it the seven year old said; ‘lucky it wasn’t destroyed!’ – It seemed that the ‘Any unattended luggage will be destroyed’ loudspeaker was on a loop. The two year old then tipped mango smoothie all down her white shirt as she hadn’t got the hang of the straw in a bottle combination and she began to cry again. Oh well, the flight itself wasn’t too bad. The only other spill was when I managed, unaided, to tip a cup of water over myself.
Emerging at the other end, our bags arrived quickly and in tact (hooray), the seven year old pushed one trolley of 40kgs of luggage, me another and the four year old pushed the two year old in her push chair. By some stroke of genius customs did not stop us, in spite of the seven year old shouting in a loud voice; ‘but Mummy, why do we have SO many bags!’