I have about two minutes to avert disaster. From her little piping voice to a spreading stain and another bout of hand washing clothes and disinfecting the sofa/car/my neighbour’s dog is about two hundred seconds. Although I will go through this another two times with my later children, at the moment, it’s my first attempt at teaching another human being not to wet themselves. It’s a very quick learning curve. From the first time the splatter of urine on plastic brought a rush of enthusiasm and pride, there were only a few accidents before I had the routine down. I have sprinted through cafes and restaurant with a small person tucked under one arm, dashed behind the bushes at a barbeque with a potty between my teeth, and even found a quiet spot behind a shopping centre, watched by employees taking their cigarette breaks. Refusing to be kept house-bound, I have maintained our busy schedule and built up excellent thigh muscles. This particular moment is lent a certain gravity, however. We are surrounded in splendour, seated beneath the ornate arches of a Victorian hotel, couched in a corner that I know to be at least a ten-minute walk from the toilets, as the listed status of the building has prevented them from making further adjustments. This was proudly announced to us by the best man when we arrived. Ah yes, we’re also in the middle of a wedding. My school friend Frankie is tying the knot after a whirlwind romance with Trevor. Unlike my registry office and hall to hire affair last year, we came from a delightful village church, past some enormous houses (apparently only half the size of Trevor’s family ‘estate’) and are surrounded by impeccably dressed waiting staff. I’ve never eaten fois gras before and we’re driving home later as the price of rooms was obscene.
Her legs start to jiggle under the soft blue velvet of her dress, not something that will clean easily. Frankie was so keen for her to be the flower girl and cooed down the phone at me after she found the perfect frock. How quickly I forget that a few months ago I didn’t categorise all clothing and upholstery by how stain resistant it is. Only a child free person would pick this material for a toddler. Little creases form on her forehead, her hair in tiny sausage curls, tied up with shiny ribbons. She woke up at five this morning in her excitement to wear this outfit. Determination sets in. I scoop the bag off the back of the chair, over the head (the time I had it on my shoulder, it fell, I didn’t retrieve it quick enough and got a damp hip), and scoop her off the gold seat cover. But where to go? Ignoring the heads snapping in our direction, I scan the room. For now, we are under the cover of chatter. There are three doors. One leads out to the front entrance, and eventually the bathrooms, but only after two flights of stairs and a long corridor. The other I think leads to the kitchen, as waiting staff have been coming in and out, so I opt for door number three.
Success. It appears to be some form of cloakroom, with a storage cupboard off to one side. A little close to the action, but hopefully distant enough to avoid the assembled guests overhearing. I plop it down, hike her skirt way up over her head (the fabric really is delicate) and swipe her pants down. There is a little overspill, clearly we were close, but she is soon wiggling her legs in delight as I crow over her achievement. I begin to breathe a little more easily.
The clatter of silverware on glasses is surprisingly loud, clearly we are not particularly sound-proofed. Still, the worst is over. Open wipes and tissues are to the left of the potty, all prepared. I focus on congratulating and keeping the dress away from the moisture beneath. And, only a wee, so definitely could have been worse. She gets a smartie for her efforts, I hold the dress high with one hand and quickly wipe her. Pants up, dress down. Success.
Now to put everything back in the baby bag. The paraphernalia necessary for leaving the house with a small child has been one of the most surprising elements of motherhood. Of course I had seen parents encumbered with rucksacks, bags strapped around pram handles or stuffed underneath, but had always imagined it as some sort of extension to the normal handbag, and that most women were way fussier than I. By the time we were into month six, I had gathered more sympathy for the bag-laden masses. I assumed it would simply be a matter of a toy, a couple of nappies and wipes. I soon learnt that the needs became far more specific. When she was sleepy, then small fuzzy rabbit came out. If distraction was needed, rubber keys or the squashy cow book worked well, but there were other days when only squeaky bug would help. Toys alone took up nearly half the bag. Add to that the multiple changes of clothes for soiling situations, wipes, tissues, travel potty, blankets, and quickly you started to understand why they came in such a size, with so many pockets.
Wipes, tissues, spare pants, nappy bag for damp pants, all are stuffed back into their allocated spot in the bag. When I turn back, there is a little-girl shaped hole. The potty is gone too. Back in the hall, all I can hear is one lone voice, meandering over the dips and peaks of a speech. A few claps, clearly some thank yous are happening. Maybe she just went into the cloakroom.
Walking out, I see the door swinging wide. She is about two feet away from the first table of wedding guests. An elegant array of hats, jewellery and finery prevail. Her bare-feet steps are careful, measured, eyes fixed on the potty grasped firmly in her hands. I won’t get there in time. Rushing out anyway, my futile shuffling in uncomfortable heels fails to cover enough ground. She’s out between the tables now, heading for a gap in the middle. Nudges and mutters begin, attention taken from the new husband standing proudly next to his new wife, currently saying something about the bridesmaids, although I’m more concerned with closing the gap between us. I don’t think that many people have noticed and I’m almost there.
She stops. For some reason the cessation of movement causes more people to look over. The speech stutters, comes to a stop. All eyes flicker to her.
“Look what I did!” She holds the potty out as far as she can. Underneath the mother of the bride’s nose is a slightly frothy pool of yellow and, unnoticed by me earlier, a small brown nugget.
I arrive too late. By the time I scoop her up (at which point she starts wailing, the lack of enthusiasm from the assembled guests clearly unsettling), a ripple of disgust has passed through all one hundred and twenty guests. Though some will laugh about it later, at the time the gravity of the setting did not lend itself to amusement.
The green silk dress still hangs in my wardrobe. I can’t bring myself to throw it away, mostly because of how much it cost, despite the stain on the left thigh where I picked up the embarrassing evidence a little too quickly before scurrying out of the hall in shame.