In the end, we needn’t have worried. Taking three kids – aged five, not-quite-three and seven months – to London for the day to see the Christmas lights in the West End was as joyous an expedition as we had hoped, and nowhere near as fraught an experience as we feared.
The Central London crowds two Saturdays before Christmas are difficult enough to navigate as an adult – it’s like trying to leave a packed Wembley Stadium after a sold-out event – but when you’re trying to keep three small kids and a baby buggy all together it becomes a situation fraught with all kinds of potential difficulties and dangers. Two overexcited boys who want to do everything right now, masses of people where it’s hard to spot a fellow grown-up let alone a child who doesn’t even come up to your waist, all manner of stairs and escalators to negotiate on the Underground – let’s just say it’s tricky, even for an attentive parent, when you’re outnumbered three to two.
As it was, we were fortunate (and grateful) to have two grandparents and a willing uncle to lend a helping hand (or six). Careful planning reduced the number of flights of stairs which had to be negotiated – and it’s always lovely when a helpful stranger offers to help with the buggy – the boys, despite their excitement, stuck obediently with a grown-up at all times and never threatened to get themselves lost in the crowd. And when tiredness started to overcome them, they were delighted to be offered shoulder rides and trips on double-decker buses.
Even Kara – all seven months of her – seemed completely unfazed by the long day, the busy crowds and the fact that for most of the day all she could see were the backs of people’s knees. She was wide-eyed with glee during her first trip on the Underground, and spent the entire time winning over the hearts of random people with a smile and a chuckle in the way that only an infant can.
As day turned to dusk, we ticked all the major boxes we wanted to. Stroll down Oxford Street gawking at lights – tick. Babyccino for the boys (very important, that) – tick. Multiple bus rides – tick. See the tree in Trafalgar Square – tick.
What we hadn’t realised beforehand was that we had pitched up on the same day as the annual Santacon flash mob, meaning that by the time we turned up at Trafalgar Square it was full of thousands of revellers dressed in Santa costume, a significant proportion of whom had clearly already partaken of a not inconsiderable amount of Christmas ‘spirit’. Try explaining all of that to two small children … “Daddy, I thought there was only one Santa – and why can’t they walk straight?”
Bold as brass, Isaac quickly worked out that if he strolled up to a friendly-looking group with bags and beamed “Hello Santa!” at them that he would probably receive some goodies in return. Several sweets and a Santa hat later, I think he was quite pleased with his efforts.
After that there was just enough time for dinner in Chinatown, where Toby sharpened up his chopstick skills.
And after one final bus ride back up Oxford Street and a return journey on the tube, three exhausted children were bundled into their pyjamas in the car and were asleep almost before we had pulled out of the station car park.
All in all, a great day. Despite our initial concerns and misgivings, the kids had a great time and we had no heart-stopping moments. And although we won’t always have extra pairs of hands available to us, it’s definitely something we will have to repeat in the future: Chinese New Year next, maybe.