On the tram again today with the boys. If I were to add up all the hours the three of us have spent on various forms of public transport, it would be a considerable chunk of their short lives, even excluding the seemingly innumerable hours spent in the sepulchral gloom of the London Transport Museum, slumped in a corner of the plywood "Fun Bus" wishing for death, or at least a large cappucino.
From five months until he turned two, Lashes would come every morning on the Circle Line from Great Portland Street to Liverpool Street with one of us, meaning that his first words included "Plaistow" and garbled versions of "Stand clear of the closing doors" and "Royal National Institute for the Blind". For the latter part of that time I was pregnant too, dependent on the kindness of strangers (usually forthcoming) to haul him up the stairs on the way home, a courtesy he would receive regally, like a small pasha. I swear the Metropolitan and Circle are imprinted deep in his DNA. I bet they could recover the whole line under hypnosis.
Next, Paris, when optimism continued to triumph over good sense, and I continued my public transport odyssey. I spent many long, dark hours trekking from Etoile across Paris with a bloody minded two year old and a new baby, negotiating the endless stairs and correspondances, the long, dark pee stained corridors that probably don't go where you think they should (St Lazare, Havre-Caumartin, I am looking at you), learning the eternal truth that wherever you are going, you will probably end up in Châtelet. Memorable trips included La Villette and most particularly the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes, where only the splendour of Kiki could entice me to negotiate two changes and the hopelessness of the Gare d'Austerlitz. My abiding memories of Paris are of constant physical exhaustion, dragging a folded pushchair on my back up the stairs at Monceau, with a baby under one arm and a toddler disappearing in the direction of the nearest deadly threat, be it live wiring, traffic or a Parisian old lady, lips pursed in a cat's arse of fierce disapproval at his filthy nose or lack of socks.
After that, back to London, and living in Spitalfields meant yet more of Liverpool Street, which I am beginning to think might be my spiritual home (a fact which suggests I have the spiritual life of a Boots prawn sandwich). To Bethnal Green for the Museum of Childhood, to Holborn for the Transport Museum (ghastly Holborn with the platform on the side you aren't expecting it, and steep, steep stairs, how I hated you), to Stratford for Discover. And buses this time too; anywhere and everywhere, to see Violet, to Coram Fields, to the British Museum, often just for the sake of it. The paradigm shift to TWO free range children. No pushchair, for sure, but equally no control; children running in all directions, eating bus tickets, dropping cars and marbles, demanding biscuits, falling over, standing on seats, screaming.
And then here; and the tram. And a couple of years of more of the same - chasing after children who disappear down a packed carriage, leaving me with schoolbags, an open carton of juice, three power rangers and a plush parrot. Anxiety. Apologising as they career into legs and shopping and squabble for a seat and kick their neighbours obliviously. A pickpocketed wallet during one of those distracted minutes.
But now? Those boys are big now, you know, and I can trust them. So this morning we get on the tram and they disappear from sight as they are wont to do, leaving me with a pile of bags and an aerated weepette. But I don't have to chase them; force my way along the central spine of the tram bashing people in all directions, getting flustered and calling their names querulously. I find a spot and hold on, like everyone else. Eventually, as the heaving mass of Belgianness subsides, I spot them both. Lashes has found a seat and is staring at the opposite side of the tram, reading the adverts. Fingers is straphanging with furious concentration. I catch his eye and he smiles at me, an understated and hugely grown up small smile. "Ok?" I mouth, and he nods back. And a short while later, I catch their eyes again, and they both get off with minimal fuss, and wait for me at the stop.
And it's an odd, and small, sort of triumph, but rather a nice one.