Every now and again in the UK, you wake up to the realisation that the sun is shining and it is the weekend. It is rare I know, but it happens, and when it does I appear to lose the ability to think rationally.
As the photons pound into my skull while I lay semi-conscious in my bed (now containing five humans, a cat and countless billions single-celled organisms) an idea occurs to me, and I declare (with genuine enthusiasm) that today is a day that shall be spent at the park!
The kids go wild, the wife shouts, the cat runs up the curtains and something breaks. Within moments I realise the massive error of judgement I have just made, but hey, I am committed and how bad can it be anyway?
Very. It isn’t just that family days at park don’t tend to end well, they often don’t start particularly well either. Simply getting into the car can be traumatic enough, as you try to explain to one child that the park isn’t really the place to be taking their 200 piece Mike The Knight jigsaw, and to another that there is no way we can take their six foot inflatable Barney with us. The tears come before you even arrive, and it’s when you arrive that the fun really starts.
We have three children. Child number one, aged nine, is perfectly capable of riding her bike on her own without assistance, providing she doesn’t disappear into the distance. Child number two thinks he too can ride his bike without assistance and shoots off after child number one with sparks flying off his stabalisers. Like most boys aged four, he fails to see the danger in anything, and besides, he has total confidence in his automatic braking system – this system essentially involves my wife running behind him and yanking on his hood every time it appears he might crash into a tree.
He has total confidence in this braking system because it has always worked, so when he sets off in hot pursuit of our eldest, free-wheeling down a steep hill setting off speed cameras on the adjacent main road as he did, he has no idea that on this occasion his braking system was floundering 30 yards behind him. He hits the fence hard, and the result is blood, snot and tears. My eldest is also in tears now because we proceed to blame her for the fact she was riding too fast and too far, and the three year old is crying (and had been since the moment we arrived) because she too wants the opportunity to crash into a fence on a bike but is currently strapped into a pushchair.
This goes on for another two kilometers before we enter the centre of the park and the kids’ playground. And it is packed. Of course it is, the sun is shining, it is the weekend and parents all over the city have experienced the same loss of rationality earlier in the day and they are all here in their droves.
Looking after one child in a quiet playground is stressful enough, but three of them lost amongst a sea of deranged little people high of fruit-shoots, it becomes impossible. Curiously, when I glance around I see some parents that are quite relaxed. They are chatting, sucking on an ice-pop or puffing carelessly on a cigarette. These are the parents of the kids that bounce, no scrub that, these are the parents of the kids that throw the kids that don’t bounce head first off the monkey bars.
My kids don’t bounce, they fall to ground with a thud, and on this afternoon they are doing exactly that, repeatedly. So more tears, more cuts and bruises, and yet on each occasion more determination to get up and injure themselves all over again (you have to admire their spirit). Protecting them from injury is one thing, but alongside that you have to grapple with your paranoia that insists that every male within a 100 yard radius is a child molester. And then I spot one, definitely, the creepy looking one lurking around the climbing frame. Got him. But then just before I take up the role of hero, he lurches forward to catch his three year old as he falls from the top of the frame heading towards the wholly inadequate scattering of bark chippings and a five hour stint in A&E that awaits below.
False alarm. And that worried pasty look of his? That is me too, in fact most of the dads seem to have little colour in their face as they watch their children idle across the front of the swings where older kids are trying to do a full three-sixty.
Mercifully, it all comes to an end with the promise of ice cream. Caked in the stuff, we head back in the direction of the car and another half hour of bicycle shenanigans. By the time we make it back to the car, we are a quivering wreck, but the kids are whacked and we at least get to spend the journey home in blissful silence as they sleep it off.
But this poses another problem. Keeping them asleep when you get home is impossible. So they wake; still covered in blood, snot, sweat and ice cream; but now they are grumpy and hungry, and so the nightmare starts all over again.
I ask that days in the park be consigned to Room 101 immediately, and I look forward to the next sunny weekend afternoon sat indoors, on my own, watching cricket and drinking cider in larger than recommended quantities. Well, I can dream.