Parents as problem solvers

Problem-solving is a major part of parenting, and it gets more intensive and involves a lot more driving as children get older.

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Parents are problem solvers. Every day we are confronted by small and sometimes large challenges and we try to work our way around them, whether that be coming up with a last-minute Roman toga or finding an essential small toy in the five minutes before you go on the school run.

Some problems are ones you can’t solve – like the economic situation, the weather, geopolitical crises etc – at least not directly or imminently, and some days seem to throw up more than the usual level of hurdles.

The small stuff is usually ok. Often it requires sleep deprivation. Sleeping on the edge of the bed with a bucket because your child – and you – have norovirus. Somehow you get through it. With older children, it often involves driving. A lot of driving. And worrying.

Take last Wednesday night. Daughter two was due home for reading week. She’d booked the bus to a car park somewhere in Cambridgeshire at around 9.30pm. It had seemed, at the time, a better option than arriving at midnight on a North London road as she did last time. I had prepped myself to sit it out in the car park with a good book for several hours, given the unreliability of the bus timetable. Last time it left 2.5 hours late, but arrived 20 minutes ahead of its updated schedule, when I was stranded in traffic on the North Circular.

Daughter two rang at around 4pm. The bus had been cancelled. “I’ll reschedule it for tomorrow,” she said. I asked if she had perchance checked the news or weather forecasts because a mighty storm was coming overnight and I had been consulting BBC Weather on an hourly basis to see exactly when it was likely to hit Cambridgeshire. I suggested the train, with some trepidation as I know how expensive that can be. It turned out that she could get a relatively inexpensive ticket arriving in Euston at 10.30pm. Done. I said I’d meet her in Stratford.

Daughter three came with me for company. She had only got in at 4.30am after missing the last Halloween tube home and spending several hours negotiating night buses home with her friend, doing an entire tour of London, because she didn’t want to wake up her parents, who thought she was staying over with her friend. We got to Stratford on time. Ping. Daughter two said the train had stopped outside London somewhere and was not moving. Police had come on the train and announced it would be stopped for the foreseeable future. It was edging towards 11.30. Daughter three and I conferred – daughter two was going to miss the last train home at this rate. I decided to drive to Euston down a route with no petrol stations, which was slightly worrying as the petrol was running low.

Eventually we refuelled and, for some reason, ended up in Tottenham Court Road where daughter three had been waiting for a night bus only 24 hours earlier. “This is bringing me bad memories,” she said, sneezing as her night-time odyssey had reignited her cold. I have told her to henceforward ring me AT ALL TIMES in case of emergencies.

We made it to Euston. Daughter three was starving. There was only Burger King open and only for chicken royales. Daughter three is vegan. Just after 1am – right when the storm was supposed to hit – daughter two emerged from the depths of the station to big hugs. We got home around 2.30am through lashings of rain, just ready to get up at 7 to negotiate potential flooding on the route to school. Mission of the day accomplished. Onwards to the next challenge.

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