This afternoon three bruised and battered children and I returned from a catch up at the park with some friends. The smallest two in particular looked like they had been caught up in a brawl, and I had barely caught up with the friends I went to see.
I have spent a large proportion of the last 4.5 years in various parks and, looking back on it, I would say my time as a park-using-mum divides into three clear stages.
STAGE 1: Park with small baby
I spent a lot of time at the park as a first time mum. Not particularly for my baby’s benefit, but because it was an easy baby-friendly place with a cafe where I could meet with my mum friends. In the earliest days our babies would sleep and feed while we drank coffee and took it in turns to cry over how hard looking after a small human was actually turning out to be. But, as hard as it seemed at the time, we were actually sitting down, eating cake and conversing – all of which rarely happen now. We actually used to lay our babies down on big mats and take photos of them. Little did we know, as shell-shocked and sleep deprived new mums, how much harder our trips to the park would become as our little people started moving and as we started to produce more of them.
As the eldest boy got bigger, trips to the park were for his benefit rather than just my own. I was hugely grateful for the swings which were an essential distraction from teething pain when my boy was drooling and grumpy. And whilst I might not have appreciated it at the time, I was in control – he went on the swings because I put him on the swings, and he couldn’t get himself anywhere else.
STAGE 2: Park with toddler and babies
Now eldest boy could properly enjoy the park, and there was no time for me to enjoy the experience of coffee, cake and sobbing on friends’ shoulders while the new babies slept. There are no photos of them laid out on a mat with their friends. In fact, it took us at least a year to put any photos up of them in our house at all. Second/third siblings get a raw deal.
When they started showing an interest in the swings, I did my best to ignore it for as long as possible – they could have some extra snacks and stay in that pushchair for a while longer. Pushing two swings whilst supervising a toddler just seemed like a step too far.
STAGE 3: Park with two 2 year olds and a 4 year old
For this, I need to have all my wits about me and be at peak physical fitness. First rule – the smaller the playground the better. All boys can run, at speed, to their piece of equipment of choice. I am frequently forced to make difficult decisions: who to save first – the boy who’s about to be flung off the roundabout, or the one who’s about to run in front of the swings? I just have to hope for the best with the third boy who’s about to launch himself onto the monkey bars.
Each boy requires constant input from me – I am doing circuits of the playground pushing swings, roundabouts and lifting boys onto fire engines.
I often feel the designers of park equipment are trying to keep us parents on our toes by deliberately designing hazardous equipment. We recently came across this climbing frame which starts off entirely suitable for toddlers – my 2 year olds competently climbed the ladder and made their way happily across the bridge, to find themselves then faced with a sheer drop on THREE sides. Seriously – WHO thought that was a good idea?
This innocent looking fire engine has been the cause of many tears and tantrums from my boys – in fact, the very thought of it used to put me off going to this particular playground all together. I have seen children pushing, shoving and climbing on each other in a bid to get to their dream seat. I have dragged inconsolable boys off it, explaining that they need to let someone else have a turn and threatening that we will never, ever return to this park if their behaviour continues. Why all the fuss? Because the driver’s seat has a little wooden steering wheel. A simple suggestion for the designers of such equipment – how about equipping each seat with a steering wheel? I know it’s not as realistic, but neither is a fire engine with scramble nets and a slide. Let’s face it, no toddler wants to sit in the passenger seat. And how about a couple more seats too? And where are the steps to help smaller children actually get up onto this in the first place so that I can go and rescue my other child who’s just been flung off the roundabout?
I am certain there is someone out there determined to make things even more difficult for parents than they are already. The same person who designed the playground gates which 2 year olds can open, adding ‘escaping child’ to your list of things to watch out for in the park.