I have so many stories, anecdotes and tales about our holidays spent in the Outer Hebrides that I could probably write a book about them. My eulogy of the island alone, would take up at least half of the book, describing the rich wildflower machair, the white sands, the giant Atlantic waves, the smell of peat smoke curling from the chimneys, crofting life…. Evenings cooking herrings in oatmeal with mustard sauce, a glass of Talisker whisky to hand.
Our first visit to the Isle of Lewis did not have what could be described as an auspicious start. At the time we had 4 children (Theo was still in the pipe-line so to speak) aged 7, 3, 2, and a 6 week-old baby. Add to that genetic mix, two exhausted parents, an ancient wheezing long-wheel base Landover, an 8 hr drive, a 3hr ferry crossing and all the other little incidentals that make family life what it is, and it was always bound to be something of an adventure.
When at last the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry sailed into picturesque Stornoway harbour we were relieved and excited to have finally arrived. Bags, children and various bits of miscellanea where carted down from the passenger deck to the car deck below. Engines started to rev up from the lorries and cars and soon the great ferry doors were opened and we were out on the open road once more. I was driving and my husband was endeavouring to map read us out of Stornoway and onto the road that headed southwest down to Bragar on the western side of the Island. We’d probably been driving for around 20 minutes when one of the children asked us where Georgia was? I slammed my foot hard on the brake, forcing the car into an emergency stop, and did a quick head count. GEORGIA! Where the hell is Georgia? I screamed at my husband, and he in turn screamed at me and then everyone screamed in unison ‘GEORGIA’S still on the boat!!’
How any Mother could be so utterly hopeless that they leave their tiny infant on a boat, I just don’t know but the fact is that I did, I’d left my darling 6 week old baby on a boat and had gone off without her. I don’t believe I have ever driven so fast in my life. We flew through Stornoway, narrowly missing pedestrians by inches, drove down one way streets the wrong way and finally screeched to a halt on the quayside in a cloud of dust and a smell of burning rubber just as the last of the cars, lorries and passengers where being waved on board the boat for the next trip back to the mainland.
I found my cherub exactly where I had left her. Sound asleep in her Moses basket up in the cabin on the passenger deck, blissfully unaware of her Mother’s negligence.
The second faux pas that I made was on the following day, Sunday. After breakfast, I put on a laundry wash and taking full advantage of the perfect drying conditions, sunny weather and fresh hebridean breeze, I pegged it out to dry on the line outside before heading off with the family to enjoy our first day exploring Lewis.
It did occur to me as we were driving around the island that it was very quiet. We saw the odd crofter tending to his haystack in the fields, a procession of villagers all dressed in black on their way to church, but there were no shops open, which was fine as we had our sandwiches, our flask of tomato soup and everything that our hearts desired for a perfect day out, safe in the knowledge that we had at least this time remembered to bring all of our children.
Later that evening when the children had been bathed and put to bed, I poured myself a large whisky and sat down in front of the fire with the ‘Guest Book’. I opened it and there on the first page was a reminder of the Do’s and Don’t’s when staying at the cottage. Rule Number One: Never hang your washing out on the line to dry on a Sunday. You will upset and offend the neighbours. Sunday observance is very important here in Lewis and we ask that you respect it, thank you.*
Oh dear, not only was I a terrible mother, but I’d now become a terrible neighbour as well.
There is much to do and see on the islands, especially if you love nature and wildlife and our first two weeks there went all to quickly. I was determined that we should see otters and it became a standing joke with the children and my husband, every time I pulled off the road and ran down to the shore hoping to spot one. This fanaticism did pay off as early one morning on a subsequent trip after I dragged everyone out of bed at sunrise and we drove down to the shoreline a mile from the croft and watched and waited. You can imagine our excitement when a family of otters and their babies suddenly appeared and then spent the next half and hour or so playing and swimming. Baby Otters are quite enchanting and very playful – I could have watched them for hours.
Our Moby Dick trip was not quite such a success. I’d read somewhere that occasionally whales and dolphins can be spotted from the top of the island at the Butt of Lewis (Interestingly this famous lighthouse was built by the Stevenson family as of Robert Louis fame) so I had a fancy to go and check out the lighthouse and throw in some whale watching while we were there. The weather that day was changeable, one minute sun, the next rain but undeterred I made a stack of sandwiches, pulled together a picnic of sorts and we headed off on the 40 minute journey up to the top of the island. By the time we arrived at the Butt, a gale was blowing and the sea was looking very grey and rough. Rather than risk losing a child to the perils of the sea, I decided it best that we stay in the car so, there we sat, eating our sandwiches, windscreen wipers on at full pelt and the car windows all steamed up.
‘Don’t worry darlings, I’m sure we will see a whale very soon’ I said through mouthfuls of sandwich and swigs of molten hot tomato soup, trying to convince them that I wasn’t a total nutter and determined to keep family morale up. With visibility not much further than the tips of our noses, they knew, and I knew that even with the best will in the world this was just not going to happen.
There was one particularly memorable evening when, after we’d all eaten supper at 9pm, we decided to make the most of the late daylight and take a walk down to the shore. (Due to the proximity of the islands to the north, daylight hours are long in the summer months with only 2 hours of darkness during the night) It was a still, almost balmy evening as we made our way down to the shore and picked our way along the rocks. I should add at this point that however white the sands are, and as azure as the sea may be, the water is not warm. Hell no! It’s cold, bitter in fact, but despite this, and because I may have over dosed on whisky earlier in the evening, I suddenly felt a burning desire to go skinny-dipping. Stripping off I then launched myself into the water and swam away from the shore. The water was so freezing that I had no option other than to swim as fast as I could. I waved back at the children who were standing on the rocks watching my madness when all of a sudden a huge creature loomed up right in front of me – it was a Bull Grey Seal. I was so shocked and surprised at the sight of this magnificent creature that I remember first feeling elation then absolute terror. This 400kg, 3 metre hunk must have been quite surprised by me too, as he let out a loud and deep ‘oink oink’ sound. We eye-balled each other one last time before he dived then swam one way, and I swam as fast as my frozen legs could take me back to the shore.
Over the course of our family visits to the Outer Hebrides we had some wonderfully happy times and great experiences. We never did get to see the whales but we did see porpoises and I know from talking to folk and doing my research that it’s not unheard of to see Minke Whale, Killer Whale, Basking Sharks, Pilot Whales and Dolphins if you are lucky.
The Outer Hebrides is certainly not a place to visit if you like your entertainments laid on for you, myriad bars, blazing sunshine and heat. However if like us, you enjoy beauty and peace, nature, the joy of walking along a beach with no one else on it save yourselves, the sound of the wind whispering through the machair, watching sea birds dive, otters playing, and eagles soar, then this place will touch your soul forever. I haven’t yet even mentioned the culture, the first Mesolithic settlers, the pre-historic sites, the extraordinary Callinish standing stones that pre-date the Egyptian Pyramids, the beautiful Gaelic singing – that’s for you to find for yourselves, to explore and hopefully delight in.
21 thoughts on “On Being A Bad Mother”
Wonderful story, we’ve all had that ‘neglectful parent’ experience, so I hope you haven’t burdened yourself with guilt all these years. Had one myself, Brett youngest at three was playing in the backyard while I was babysitting. Front doorbell rang and I found a woman holding Brett’s hand; “Is he yours?” on admitting ownership, I was informed he was standing in the middle of a busy thoroughfare pants down having a pee… with cars and trucks whizzing past. It is still a puzzle to this day how he escaped the enclosed backyard. I don’t dwell on the ramifications.
I’m very relieved that I’m not the only one and thanks AV for making me heaps better about being a crap parent!!
I have an even better ‘bad-parent’ story that I’ve just remembered but I’ll save that for another day…it involves Fire Engines.
Thanks as always for your comments 🙂
I look forward to the ‘fire-engines’
Lottie, Lottie with nerves of steel and the boldness of a lioness. I never tire of reading the tales the you weave of your delicate yet tenacious hold on life. Honestly I do not understand how you preserved your sanity with a stair-step passal of children and preservered as if it were just another day in Sunnytown.
Your stories are the best. Are you in way sort of putting all of your stories into book form ? I don’t know squat about writing a book but these should be saved in a printed version for your children.
You are not the frst to leave a child behind. My mother-in-law bore or birthed, 6 boys in a time span of 8 years. Talk about rabbits? Well anyhow it seems they made trips to states commonly referred to as “outwest” by Texans. Ma and Pa as everybdy called then and I do mean everybody, stopped at a filling station and everyone piled out of the car and made haste to use the bathroom. After the fill-up with gasoline (for the car of course) and the potty breaks and a around of sodas for the kiddos, they all piled back into the car and were off like the charge of the light-brigade. The miles ticked by and Ma pointed at various scenes that were suppsed to be edicational and entertaing for a group of boys who were amusing themselves with spats and a few punches. As the boys became increasingly rowdy she turned to the rear of the car or station wagon- whatever. As she surveyed the scene she suddenly and somehow saw only five tow-headed demon tykes. Then she screamed, “Robert, ‘Ish” (his nickname) is not in the car.” Replied Robert, the father, “Oh, how can that be? We accounted for everyone.” “No-no Robert! I said, Ish is not in the car.” They had driven more than 50 miles when the discovery of the missing child was made. Pa, (Robert) made a u-turn and then the 5 little demons were grilled one by one, two by two and so on. “How did you let your brother get left behind? And ,other choice phrases of questions that were interspersed with Bible quotes that were meant to impart some sort of significance to the problem at hand. Ma told me that it seemed and enternity as they sped down the road. At last the car came to a screaching halt and there was Ish sitting quietly on a bench under the canopy of the service station. I think at the time that Ish was maybe 5 years old.
Gee, I could just keep writing and embellishing this tale. Actually I did not stray far from the truth. I knew the basic details of the left behind child. But could not remember them all. My mother-in-law was a bit RELIGIOUS and I am putting this lightly.
Anyway Lottie, the dip in the ocean. I just haven’t reached an appropiate name for your bravery. I am curious if your children inherited your spunk and sense of adventure.
Mail coming your way, I hope later today.
What a wonderful story Yvonne! You should write some of these family tales down – they are great, very funny and hugely entertaining.
This is written in haste as I have a flight to catch but yes, my children are all great adventurers and love travelling
Speak soon, Lottie 🙂
I finally found a way to leave a comment, went the long way round hope it works. Loved this post, I felt like I was there. Every mother has their “bad mother” tales, I have many of my own!
Hey hey! you did it! I have the same problem leaving comments on blogger and other sites – not sure why but I find it impossible to leave a comment so I admire you hugely for your persistence, thank you 🙂
Maybe we should put together a book of Bad Mother Tales? xx
I almost lost it with herrings in oatmeal…gag! But when you left poor Georgia on the ferry I completely forgot about the nasty dinner! It is a wonder any of us survive childhood!
Sherry, I really can’t believe that you called one of my favourite meals in the world, ‘A nasty dinner’ – you’re horrible to say such a thing! Hah, I’m tempted now to cook it for you when you come round…..that’ll learn you 🙂
What I don’t understand is why it was such a problem. I mean the ferry would have come back again in due course. I suppose at 6 weeks feeding needs to be taken into consideration but Georgia clearly didn’t complain judging by the smile in the top picture. I think its good to let children be independent at a young age.
I was on a birding tour in Spain once and we had one very formidable ex-headmistress in the group. Her name, I still remember. Priscilla. The leader was finding her quite demanding. She didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humour. After a few days we made a routine stop at a petrol station, washroom breaks were taken and on we went. Some twenty minutes later the leader turned to speak to Priscilla and, as we say in the valleys, there she was, gone. Priscilla it turned out had taken a longer break than the rest of us and had been inadvertently left behind. With great trepidation leader (his name was Chris) returned to the petrol station, expecting to be subjected to the most ferocious barrage of criticism. We were met with a very large lady, laughing loudly, wondering how long it would take before we realised she was absent without leave. Her sense of humour surprised us all and the reunion was an ice-breaker.
I find the idea of skinny-dipping with a bull seal much more alarming than absent-mindedly forgetting a child. Happily the seal survived the experience. I think you should choose your swimming companions more carefully in future, Lottie.
When does the book come out?
There’s something about Priscilla’s…I loved your bird watching story – Priscilla was a bird you obviously weren’t taking enough notice of HA!
Yes, poor Grey seal – that yelp he let out must have been one of pure horror and disgust! I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to swimming in the sea – I put the blame firmly and squarely on the JAWS film for that – swimming in the sea has never had quite the same appeal since.
What a lovely story…. i knew it would be after seeing the first photo – all great adventures start with a Landrover, no doubt!
We had a lot of great adventures in that Landrover – the longest road trip we did was from the North of England, through France, through Spain and then right down to the bottom end of Portugal and then back. My children were amazing, never grumbled, never complained and saw it for the great adventure that it was!
This is fantastic Ped xx
Lottie — this is priceless! You are not a bad, mum, by the way. I can’t believe you kept your sanity with four young children on a trip. I’m on a ledge just reading about you embarking in the first place. Thanks for your wonderful, touching and hilarious story — I always love reading about your adventures and misadventures. xoxoxox
Thanks Steph 🙂 your sweet comments always make me smile – you are a wonderful blogging friend.
Though having 5 children was hard work at times, I loved it and I suppose i’m really just a big kid myself so we had a lot of fun and did some great things. I suppose it helps if you have a nutty mother who believes in mermaids, dragons, fairies etc and loves telling stories!
Hi Lottie, I can so relate to being a “bad” mother 🙂 Maybe it’s because I also have a Georgia (Love that name). Or maybe it’s because my mind tends to be doing ten different things at once. Whichever, both my kids survived and actually turned out pretty decent. You’re an awesome travel writer. Hope my hubby and I can make it to the Outer Hebrides some day. (He flies to Jakarta this Friday!)
I’m delighted that I’m not the only “bad mother” out there!!
and also that you have a Georgia too! hey great minds and all that!
Hope your hubby has a good trip – wow, it’s a long long way for him to travel. If he needs anything, tell him he’s welcome to contact me, my email is on my blog.
I hope you can make it to the Outer Hebrides some day too – I think you’ll love it 🙂
What a wonderful post, Lottie! Hilarious, touching, and inspiring. I cannot wait to get my butt to the Herbrides (no swimming in the beautiful, cold waters for me though, thanks! Yikes!! I would have been absolutely terrified! And cold, terribly, terribly cold with this desert-thinned blood of mine).
And what a bad person, I am! I can’t decide which would be more embarrassing: leaving my baby on the ferry or hanging out my wash to dry on a Sunday! I think maybe the wash…
Love the photo of your beautiful girls. The happiness on their faces is priceless.
“…you enjoy beauty and peace, nature, the joy of walking along a beach with no one else on it save yourselves, the sound of the wind whispering through the machair, watching sea birds dive, otters playing, and eagles soar, then this place will touch your soul forever.” Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes! So beautifully said. And through your writing, I feel touched, as well. xoxo
I have a prediction – You are going to visit this place and fall madly and passionately in love with it! You may even live there….
Thrilled you liked the post and I hope hope hope that you get a chance to visit sometime very soon xoxo