The Pub. A Smile.

I’m always on the move. Even if it looks like I’m stationary, still, I’m not. In my head I’m travelling at a thousand miles per hour, searching perhaps, but in a place which, in that particular moment, I can’t physically be.

My mind has a habit of wandering and is often pulled in by the lure of a pint, a small table in the corner of the pub, a quiet spot in the off-peak hours and maybe a coaster or two wedged under a leg to stop a wobble; I smile; the furniture is showing signs of wear and tear and I can sympathise. Furniture dealers would call it patina but on me it’s just a collection of weary lines, stretch marks and dark circles under my eyes. I don’t often get to the pub these days, not as much as I used to and not as much as I’d like, so stealing a few moments away with my drink of choice has become something to aim for. It’s a simple want, one which would bring a simple pleasure, and I’m fortunate enough to have pubs nearby which I feel comfortable in, even though I tend to only frequent them in mindful wondering.

So what’s my problem? Why am I only ever travelling to pubs in half-arsed daydreams (there must be better places to dream of after all)? Why don’t I get out more?! In short, I’m a mum to a toddler. It’s difficult going to the pub with a child (hell, it’s difficult just getting out of the front door on some days), on one hand it’s not a problem, there are family-friendly establishments out there which we are welcome in and which our little family has frequented, but it’s not quite the same as just stealing away a few moments to oneself. Pubs are perfect for mentally switching channel, or switching off completely. You can’t do that if you’ve got a beautifully energy-rich and jubilant infant to entertain or feed. Worse is when there’s a tiredness or hungry anger to work with.

Worse still is being struck with anxiety.

Anxiety which makes it hard to make decisions; which gets you more muddled and twisted than the cables behind your telly; which makes you unsure of what you want, where you could be and who you are; which puts you on edge and unable to relax, like a coiled spring being held down. Pop my aforementioned beautifully jubilant and energy-rich infant in to the mix and making what should be a simple decision to pop to the pub suddenly becomes huge and unfathomable. And if a pub is not obviously family-friendly, well, it may as well be a hell mouth at that point; something to swerve as swiftly as possible. That’s a sad thought, no? The idea that a pub should be avoided just doesn’t seem right somehow, and yet this is the case not just for my anxiety-ridden days or for those of us with kids who just don’t know if we’ll be welcomed or frowned at and tutted about, but for many people, many pubs just aren’t welcoming.

I’ve been seeing a counsellor for a few weeks now to talk about my anxiety and learn ways to block it out and ignore its chatter. It was always a thing, mostly a small and manageable thing, but after giving birth (a horrendous experience) it became a much bigger beast. There are different elements to this anxiety and different triggers but one thing my counsellor asked me was “When do you have time off?”. When do I have time to myself? When do I get to switch off, to mentally recharge, change channel and focus on me? I was set a little task; take two hours to myself and do something just for me. I chose to sit in The Pub.

The Pub isn’t just one place, it’s the collected name for all of the pubs that have welcomed me. The Pub is where I fell in love, made friends, had my best ideas. And worst. The Pub has been an oasis when tired and in need of refreshment (for body and mind).  The Pub has always been an option and now I want my child to be welcomed too, I want him to see how to behave in pubs and around alcohol. I want him to know that a good pub can be a wonderful experience. But sometimes it isn’t. Some of the comments I’ve seen around the community are vocal about kids not being welcome in pubs and this is a shame. For one it makes parents who are looking to mentally recharge and sit in a space that feels more like theirs, rather than soft play and parks, feel unwelcome and in some cases this can fuel an anxiety. Where’s the smile?

Kerthudd! That’s the sound that a half-full infant’s beaker makes when it hits a hard tiled floor, thrown from the height of a highchair with all the gusto and might a fourteen month old can muster whilst sleepy and full of chips. Well, mostly full of chips, I’m sure half his portion were on the floor by the end of the session, minus the one half-eaten fry that was gifted to the staff member who took her time to get to his level and say hello. I don’t think she ate it though, despite my boy’s insistence and I don’t blame her, sometimes just a smile is enough and he was getting that in spades. Whilst I was chatting with a friend, my child had been communicating in his own little way with another little kid on the table next to us. They had their own little language going on and were getting on like a house on fire. At the end of lunch a slip of paper was popped on to my table, as I looked down a lopped-off giraffe’s head looked straight back up at me (it was, I soon realised, the top of the children’s menu), next to it in crayon were names, a number, and the words; play-date? I smiled. I smiled all the way home.

If that pub we were in hadn’t been so open to families then I wonder if we would have met at all. I’m so glad we did. I have met a new friend and my kid has new friends now too. I’m so glad that there’s a space where I feel like the pressure is off just for a little bit, where I can feel like the anxiety is dampened, where I can connect with an environment where I feel comfortable and have my child be in that environment with me. It’s important that he can see me be in a space which isn’t just for him but where he’s welcome and actually, more than that, where him being welcome adds to the easy nature of the place which makes it somewhere I want to be in the first place. No it isn’t a kid’s space, it’s a space for everyone, or at least it should be, it should be there as an option for anyone who needs it; The Pub should be inclusive.  I’m lucky that I have options and if I want to sit in the corner in the off-peak hours and mentally re-charge with a pint at a wobbly table then I absolutely can, but I also know that if I needed a space where I could take my kid, then he can be right there with me too. That helps the anxiety be a little less beastly. That’s The Pub and this is a smile.

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Author of Look At Brew - a beer blog dedicated to the celebration and promotion of the modern beer scene.