When I go shopping with Betty I normally keep her safely strapped in the pushchair for the duration. If she accompanies me by foot she is wayward and self-propelling, and it takes an age to get anything done. The last time I allowed her out of her pushchair she became obsessed with Abbey building society. It took several minutes to remove Betty from the queue for the mortgage adviser.
Yesterday afternoon we all went into town together. Tom announced that it wasn’t fair to keep Betty restrained in her pushchair when all she wanted to do was walk around with us. I tried to warn Tom but his mind was made up, and so I told him that if Betty was on the loose then she was his sole responsibility. Tom mumbled something about freedom and justice, unleashed our growling daughter, and then ran after her as she headed in the direction of the cathedral. I shouted down the street at a rapidly-disappearing Tom to let him know that I would be checking out the maternity range in Hennes and he should come and find me in an hour or so.
Twenty-two minutes later, from somewhere near the scarves and handbags, there was a very familiar-sounding commotion. ‘I said an hour,’ I told Tom. ‘Go and have another look around.’ In no mood for my excellent sense of humour, Tom quickly tried to give me an overview of what had happened while rummaging desperately in my bag for some snacks. Betty was being far too loud for Tom to make himself understood but the gist of it was, Tom was not going to be able to spend the next thirty-eight minutes with Betty at large.
I then announced that we must all go to the Early Learning Centre. So off we went, albeit slowly, and on arrival Betty was over the moon to find a toy shopping trolley. She spent 15 minutes pushing it around the shop and collecting everything off the shelves and placing it in the trolley. When it was time to leave I jokingly said to the shop assistant: ‘Expect a tantrum from my daughter when we try to leave the shop’. We both laughed light-heartedly, me because by ‘tantrum’ I meant a few crocodile tears which would quickly be forgotten once outside the shop and out of view of the trolley.
We left the shop and Betty had the MOTHER OF ALL TANTRUMS. I had never seen my sweet daughter behave in such a way. Tom picked her up around the ribs like she was some kind of giant insect, her arms and legs scrabbling wildly. But Betty was not to be so easily removed from her beloved trolley. Every few minutes she wriggled free of Tom’s grip and headed in a straight line back to the Early Learning Centre. Even at a distance of a couple of hundred metres, and around several bends, our homing pigeon Betty still headed back in the right direction. Then she started sitting down. That may not sound so bad but she sat with unbelievable determination. She is barely two stone in weight, but she somehow made herself as dense as a neutron star. Tom tried to move her along but nothing would shift her. He just had to wait for her to change position long enough to be able to grab her, then she would wrench herself free from his grip and the whole thing would start over again.
All the while, I was walking safely on the other side of the street, smiling sweetly and pretending that I wasn’t with them. Eventually I did go to Tom’s rescue and together we crammed our 45-degree-angle ramrod of a two-year-old girl back into her pushchair, threw her some snacks and jogged back to the car, trying to ignore the shouts of protest from below.
Poor Tom is still in shock. At supper-time last night he even announced that he wasn’t hungry. Betty’s first proper, full-on strop: I thanked god that it hadn’t happened without Tom being there, as I genuinely don’t think I would have had the physical or mental strength to deal with it.