Before I had children I hated noisy kids. Those screeching brats that would ruin a nice, civilised adult occasions with by yelling and dashing about around you. I would cast evil looks at their seemingly oblivious parents, tutting away under my breath at their poor manners.
Now that I must travel everywhere complete with my tribe of four small children I realise that perhaps I misunderstood those parents. It's not that they didn't care that their children were disrupting everyone else's peaceful afternoon, it was that they simply didn't notice. Not because they were thoughtless or feckless, but because you have to learn to tune out the noise when you live with little children or you would lose your mind.
This weekend we made the foolish mistake of taking all our sons with us to Ikea in search of an elusive light bulb (don't ask). After a fruitless search during which both twins alternated between coming within a whisker of being run over by some oversized trolley carting a mattress out to the car park, or whining to be carried by their already overburdened parents, we gave up and went to buy hotdogs.
Even though the hotdogs contain such quality ingredients that they only cost the princely sum of 50p we still found that with so many mouths to feed we didn't have quite enough small change to cover our gourmet feast. So off my husband escapes to the cash point leaving me with the three rowdiest members of the brood to entertain in the rather unpromising environs of the cash tills.
Having played another few nerve racking rounds of dodge the trolley, I decided that enough was enough and took them off to a quiet corner to play with the toy trains they had been clutching all around the store. This apparently was the best idea as they happily engaged themselves in smashing them off a packing shelf and onto the floor, while squealing with delight as they poor trains crashed onto the concrete.
I heaved a sigh of relief. Everyone was entertained and out of harm's way, always a good outcome when out and about with small boys. But before my shoulders could sink back from around my ears I noticed the evil looks that were being cast my way by the other customers. Far from being relieved that I had found a way to keep my children amused and out from under the wheels of their trolleys, they were annoyed, if not to say extremely pissed off, by all the squeals of delight that were splitting the air as part of the boys' jolly game.
My ears have grown so accustomed to daily assaults from loud children that I hadn't even heard all the noise they were making, I was just happy that they weren't all dashing off in different directions in search of the most dangerous thing they could find. Noise is a small price to pay to keep the children all in one place and relatively happy.
But as I looked around it dawned on me that, rather than simply attempting to keep them out of everyone's way, I had to keep the decibel level within reasonable limits too, or else suffer trial by dirty looks from the entire clientele who wasn't accompanied by toddlers. Which given that most parents of toddlers are sensible enough not to take them to Ikea on a Sunday lunchtime, was most of them.
As I ineffectually shushed the boys, turning a vibrant beetroot red as they ignored their mother and screeched even louder, I sent up a silent prayer to all those poor parents who had been on the receiving end of all my venomous looks in my pre-children days: 'Forgive me, I knew not what I did'.