Karma is a fickle benefactor when it comes to parenting. It rarely pays back.
I’ve always endeavoured to be helpful as I go about my days: handing in toys left on the train; sharing spare nappies, wipes and snacks with fellow mums who sometimes forget things; and offering to pick up and drop off other people’s children to make everyone’s day a bit easier.
I like to think these small efforts add up and, later down the line, Lady Luck will give me a break. But some days that grumpy mantra ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ proves to be more accurate, and I wonder why I bother.
Lorraine was irritated by an unhelpful parking attendant. She was having a stressful day with her poorly four-year-old when the stony-faced attendant she demanded a £5 fee for a ticket she dropped in the toilet
Mabel, my four-year-old, hasn’t been quite right all week due to a ‘blockage’ (the most polite way to put it). Everything has been going in, but nothing has been coming out, rather like my experience with karma. It’s been a tense few days with teachers, fellow mums and siblings on standby for the inevitable.
Mabel has bravely ingested all manner of prune-based liquid and, short of crossing the good parent/bad parent line and giving her a shot of strong coffee, there was little left to do except sit it out.
But on Friday it happened. Not in the comfort of our own home, of course (thanks karma). Nope, that would have been too easy. Instead I had to face the monster in the loo at the supermarket. If you have ever seen the movie Trainspotting, about homeless heroin addicts, this will give you some idea about the state of the aforementioned loo.
Two of the three stalls were closed off with what looked like police tape which may, or may not, have said ‘murder scene’. Either way, that would have accurately described the stench in there.
The sinks were filthy and the floor sticky, the broken lights flickered on and off in the furnace-like heat.
A mum with a newborn in a buggy took one look around the door and fled screaming. Well, she would have screamed if Mabel, sat on the loo, hadn’t been screaming louder.
After 13 years of parenting four children I’m immune to embarrassment, so my daughter’s hollering was the least of my maternal worries because (thanks again, karma) I dropped the car park ticket down the loo.
Remember this scene, would-be parents. If your head is filled with soft-focused fantasies of what your mum-days will entail know that, in reality, it’s more like the exhausting TV show Bear Grylls: Mission Survive.
Precisely 5.08pm is the most stressful time of day to be a mum or dad, a recent survey of more than 1,000 parents found
You are not a real parent until you have trodden on a piece of Lego, barefoot, in the dark or endured emergency trips to germ-ridden public lavatories.
We visited that foul loo twice more during that shopping trip before we had to head off to collect the nine-year-old from school. Running late, I left a much-relieved Mabel, now three stone lighter, waiting in the car at the exit barrier while I explained to the parking attendant how I’d lost my ticket.
Stony-faced, humourless and with all the empathy of Donald Trump, she demanded a £5 fee.
Fair enough, it’s the rules, so I handed over the cash as a queue built up behind my car. She then handed me a form to fill in.
‘It’s the rules,’ she said. I refused – I simply didn’t have time.
She was immune to pleading, so I just got back in the car and sat at the barrier until the angry beeping became more troublesome than an unfilled-in form. Finally, she raised the barrier and let me go.
The mum asks why unfriendly officials have to make life difficult for busy parents
I am bemused by these unfriendly and officious nitwits. Why wouldn’t you just help out someone?
On Sunday, I met another one, as I was forced to wait an hour-and-a-half in an empty sports hall for a Westminster Council trampoline coach to turn up.
Having been invited by our school to take our children to a trampoline trial, a huge group of parents and pupils sat there while the man on the desk pretended he couldn’t see or hear us. It wasn’t his job to find out where anyone was, you see.
He eventually buckled under parental pressure and made a phone call, but I could sense ‘helping’ wasn’t his ‘happy place’.
There’s a weird cruelty in wielding this kind of power over frazzled parents, and it’s one I seem to encounter on a regular basis.
Usually, it’s best ignored – life is too short and all that – but sometimes it deserves to be called out.
Anyway, the next time Mabel ‘has a blockage’ I might be tempted to leave car park lady a small gift. I bet there isn’t a form for that.
Lorraine Candy is editor-in-chief of Elle magazine.