When my eldest daughter was about two and a half, I took her to a local housewares store. I can't remember what I wanted, although it should have been white paint and the biggest mirrors known to man as we lived at the time in a Victorian terraced house so dark and gloomy it made Miss Havisham's abode in Great Expectations look like Liberace's lounge.
As I perused the shelves, Emily contently played bongos on some huge paint pots on the floor. The door chimed and I clocked a very glamorous woman coming in. The shop was in an iffy area, so she stood out in her swanky black ensemble. I can even remember her hair: it was in a chignon, a style I much admire but which, when I try to recreate it on myself, resembles an explosion in a sofa factory.
I went back to browsing, keeping a vague eye on Emily as I moved along the shelf.
And then it happened.
There was a loud bang followed by a shocked cry. I turned my head to witness a scene of such absolute devastation I almost dropped the tin of Whispering Peach emulsion I was clutching.
Glamorous Woman was glamorous no longer. Instead, she resembled an art installation in a particularly avant garde gallery. From her coiffed crown to her manicured toes she was covered in thick, white paint. Ropes of it hung quivering from her ears. Glutinous streams of it oozed down her torso. If I hadn't personally observed the complete annihilation of her appearance I wouldn't have believed it possible. In front of her stood my startled daughter, doing that great-big-intake-of-breath thing small children do before they emit a wail worthy of an air raid siren. On its side between them lay one of the big tins of paint, the last of its contents pooling gently on the floor.
I instantly understood what had happened: Emily had somehow lifted the pot up by its handle (I made a quick mental note to put her forward for weightlifting in a few years) and then dropped it, causing the lid to fly off just as our stylish fellow shopper rounded the bend. The forces of gravity were clearly against Glamorous Woman that day: while she looked like she'd been shoved through a satin paint sheep-dip, Emily had mere splashes on her shoes.
Picking up my howling sprog, I dived straight into profuse apology mode, offering to pay her cleaning bill - heck - buy her a whole new outfit. But so ashen-faced with fury was she that not only did she not respond, she wouldn't even look at me.
The manager came over and led the woman out onto the fire escape. Obviously realising a cloth wouldn't have any impact on the carnage in front of him, he gave her some sort of scraping tool, which she set about using while cursing under her breath. I made one final entreaty but she pointedly turned her back on me, clearly not trusting herself to engage. I then approached the manager and offered to pay for the paint but he waved me off; I had the feeling he wanted my daughter and I gone as quickly as was humanly possible.
Outside, a sleek, black torpedo of a car gleamed gently in the sun. It was obviously Glamorous Woman's, and I imagined her negotiating the journey home while desperately trying to keep white paint off its pristine seats. I pushed my buggy a tad faster, just in case notions of revenge overcame her previous restraint.
It was for stories such as this that I compiled The Alternative Baby Keepsake Book. While I could never forget this particular incident (even now, 16 years on, if I happen to drive past that store with a family member they will invariably pipe up: "Isn't that the place where Emily..."), there are a hundred other stories that didn't score quite so highly on the mortification meter and have thus been lost to the mists of time.
Parenthood comes with countless gooey-eyed moments (most of which happen when you watch your sprog innocently slumber following a day of carnage), but for every one of these there are any number of frustrating, embarrassing and - frequently - funny incidents, usually involving bodily fluids or fluids of another kind (see above). These are the stories that should be captured for posterity, the anecdotes that will be accompanied by shrieks of laughter when they're retold at family gatherings. A baby book that merely depicts a series of sentimental scenes would be a very dull thing indeed. Let's capture our children's childhoods in all their gory - sorry - glory.
I'd love to hear about the mortifying moments your kids have caused. Share them here.
Esther Onions can produce 1,000 words of decent quality copy (or so she likes to think). But ask her to write a mini biography...