Half Term Horror

I am about to say some horrible things about children. Some of them may be your own children, some of them may be the kids of friends or neighbours. Just to be clear, despite what I’m about to say, they are all pretty much innocent in this particular rant. This angry diatribe (for that’s what I’m intending to write) is going to be at the very least 95% aimed towards Parents.

Let me also add the disclaimer that I know we are all currently in the difficult world of Half Term. From seeing our kids for a manageable several hours in a day, we are suddenly ‘blessed’ with their presence from 7am-7pm, and that’s if they’re good sleepers. It is really hard to find things to do with them all day every day, and because we all have the same problem at the same time, the mayhem is accentuated by the sheer number of us dealing with the frustration en masse.

(OH, side point. Genius idea just occurred to me. Enforced staggered half terms. Who would this NOT benefit?

1.) Nowhere would be busy for one isolated week a term, which would mean parents could actually look forward to time spent with kids.
2.) All employees wouldn’t be looking for childcare or taking holiday at once, making these situations more manageable in the work-place.
3) there wouldn’t be one random point where flights/ trips etc were more expensive, making it impossible to do family trips of any kind without crippling yourself in the process.

I’m going to move on now, but if anyone in the government is listening, please pass this on to an education minister of your choice. )

Despite the difficulties that the world of Half-Term is inflicting on us, I have to say (with my judge-y hat firmly on my head) some behaviours are totally unacceptable. The following all involve the under 5’s area at soft play where I was unfortunate enough to spend my afternoon. To make things fair, I am only going to list things which I saw today with my own eyes, exhibited more than once, by more than one family.

It is not okay to drop your two year old off, and then disappear off to the other side of the venue to have a coffee with your mates. Why is it suddenly my job to be wandering around the place (ignoring my own toddler I might add) because your kid is crying and you are nowhere to be found?

It is not okay to let your 6 or 7 year old into the under 5’s section, even if it is to ‘look after’ a younger sibling. No. That’s your job. When your six year old starts behaving like… er.. a SIX year old, ignoring your younger child to bound and play all over the area specifically designed for younger kids, scaring them off the climbing frames and knocking them over with enthusiasm, please don’t tell me that he’s just ‘looking after his sister’, because he isn’t! And he shouldn’t have to be. You should be in here, like the rest of us, rather than on the phone in the corner, and he should be in the over 5’s area, y’know, where OVER 5’S can play unrestricted? Your older child is not your baby sitter.

It is not okay to hear your own shoe bag number being called over the loudspeaker that your two hours are up, and proceed to SWAP bags unbeknown to another family so that you don’t have to leave! Believe it or not, I saw this THREE times in the space of my own two hours. One of the mothers in question seemed to be telling on the family she had stitched up! One mother even got her son to do the swapping. What on earth are you teaching your kids? That rules don’t have to be followed? That deception is a clever way to get what you want? That lying pays?

On a similar theme, it is not okay to tell your child to lie if anyone asks how old they are, (clearly not 4) or to let your kid sit at the top of the slide for EIGHT MINUTES while a queue of kids line up behind him and you coo “aww, he’s a bit frightened” from the bottom, or for that matter to shout “Yayyy!” as your twins climb up the slide so that no-one can use it. It is not okay to not be watching as your enormously bratty princess throws balls at my son’s face to “try and knock off his glasses” (ok that only happened once but I feel it’s worth a mention) or as your kids play a game self explanatorily titled “Jump on baby.”

I think we have an obvious theme here. Soft play is NOT free child care. It is a place that you can take your kids, and play with them. At best, parents would be interacting and initiating play with their toddlers, encouraging them to share and participate with other kids, and get the most out of a child-friendly experience.

But come on. Surely the least we can expect as fellow parents is that you simply show up and watch them.

softplay

Big Kids Don’t Cry

All children cry. Obviously some more than others, and for varied reasons, but crying is a natural and normal part of a kids life. For babies and often toddlers who are pre-speech, it is the only way they can express how they are feeling, or tell you that something is wrong. For older kids, who have not yet learned to control their emotions, even ‘small’ events can push them to tears, especially if helped along by over-tiredness or unusual circumstances. Crying in older children can also be seen as useful as it leads to helping behaviour from adults and peers.

Apparently, until adolescence, no difference in crying behaviour is found between men and women, which suggests that it is at that point that people start discouraging tears. “Come on, don’t cry” “Cheer up” “Be a man” etc. With that in mind, as a definite adult, I feel a slight twinge of embarassment to admit the following.

I cry all the time. I’m not saying this to elicit any particular sympathy, and let me assure you that my life is pretty awesome most of the time. To make this clearer, I can remember at least three crying episodes induced by potatoes of varied kinds. There’s not much empathy to be had there is there? [Unless of course, you are an Irish farmer.] I cry like a toddler does, simply because I am sad about something, and generally over-tired most of the time.

With this in mind, when I read the somehow scientifically agreed fact that “women cry on average between 30 and 64 times a year” I have to tell you the following substantiated fact about myself. “If I didn’t cry yesterday I will probably do so tomorrow.” That makes my magic number about 182.5.

Shocking!

No need to call me up tomorrow friends to make sure I’m okay, because I most definitely cried yesterday. At soft play of all places.

I was playing with R in the under 5’s area, and was pleased as punch because he was showing some independence climbing up the steps, through the tunnel, over the bridge, (dont forget to hit the dangly foam bits) and up to the slide. At that point he would look with trepidation at the slide, shake his head and follow his previous route back the way he came, over the bridge, (hit the dangly foam bits) through the tunnel, down the steps (dont worry about other kids climbing up-just power through) and starting the whole process again.

Up until now at this particular soft play, I have done the course along with him, putting him on my lap for the slide part, and helping him ‘man up’ to become more and more able to go it alone. This was the first day where he ran ahead to climb up without a backwards glance. [nope, I didn’t well up from the emotion of it all. Stop guessing.]

Right by the tunnel, are a few larger than average steps, with harder than average mats on them, supposedly for older kids who are braver than necessary for the regular connected log steps. When standing, a toddler cannot fall, as the gap is too small, but when sitting …

R was sitting facing away from the gap by the tunnel, too cowardly to push past the other kids, and waiting for his own turn to go through the tunnel, much like a tentative early driver might let masses of cars into his lane, too scared to push forward. As I watched from below, in slow motion he shuffled himself backwards, and I knew what would happen before it did. He fell backwards in one movement, landing on his back on the next step, glasses askew and screaming with all his might at the shock. As I took the log steps two at a time, I watched him struggle upwards, causing him to fall again onto the next one! I grabbed at his hand, desperate for it to not happen for a third time, trying to squeeze myself into the toddler sized gap to get to my baby boy. (Imagine if this had happened a year ago, I would still be wedged in this evening. ;)) The look on my face must have been pretty freaked out.

And then it happened. All the mums started doing the worst possible thing they could do. Laughing? Shouting at me? Throwing ball pond balls at me? No such luck. They began to be…Nice.

“Oh don’t worry, he’s fine!”
“He just got a shock, he’s okay darling!”
“Oh poor you, here are his glasses, should I get him some juice?”

And here come the waterworks. I really think I could have held it together without all the kind words and sympathetic glances. But my own shock, mixed with his tears and fear, and off I went like Niagra falls.

And I can’t help it. It was all over with a packet of Florida Naturals and a kiss and a cuddle, (R calmed down pretty quickly too..) certainly forgotten about by the time we got to the car. But  when something upsets me, I cry!

I’m not sure what event in adolescence I missed out on that was supposed to teach me how to save my tears for the bi-monthly saddest situations in my year, but I pretty much meet my quota from watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Men on the other hand open the floodgates between 6 and 17 times a year. Given that R can pretty much reach that target by lunchtime, I guess he has some work to do to be considered a ‘real man’ by adolescence.

“I know my kid’s a brat, who do you think she learnt it from?”

I was asked recently if I would tell off someone else’s child.

Tough one.

This is one of those situations where I think it doesn’t make a difference how close you are to the person in question. If you don’t know them that well (or at all) then you’re the evil stranger who is telling off their child… But if you do know them, then what kind of friend / relative are you to be telling off their child?

Firstly, I would never dream of telling a child off for what might call ‘bad behaviour’ in my own kids. I’ve witnessed scenes like this, and no-one takes it well. I’ve seen adults commenting on other kids table manners, (I think it’s so refreshing that you don’t mind him talking with his mouth full!Play skills, (Don’t you think she’s had a long enough turn?) and language (Oooh, where did she learn to talk like that?) with disastrous consequences for the relationships with the parents in question. There is generally no reason at all to comment on someone else’s kid’s behaviour when keeping quiet would have no effect on your own children.

I would even say this is true when it is affecting you. You’re an adult; just try and get over the fact that little Timmy is kicking you under the table / drew all over your carpet / spat your lasagne onto the floor. But what to do when the behaviour is affecting your kids? 

I have always been of the opinion that most things can be said tactfully to the parents, and in agreement that parenting should be left to parents, not well meaning observers. I would say (well…hope) that in at least fifty percent of cases, especially when you know the person, parents know that kids all misbehave and will at the very least stop their child from hurting yours in that particular instance. If you still find it awkward bringing it up, you can always opt for vague statements/questions that make the other parent stop what they’re doing and notice the event occurring. These need a subtle degree of acting, and include:

  • Oooh.. What’s happening there? I missed it, who was playing with that toy first? (Translation: Notice that your kid just took his favourite bear please.)
  • Oh sweetheart, did you bump your head? That’s so strange, I didn’t see you fall over… (Translation: Because he didn’t. Your kid pushed him.)
  • How lovely that you can give -insert childs name- two biscuits, that would ruin my own kids appetite. (Translation: Pay attention you lax parent, she just stole my son’s cookie.)

But what about the other times, where you come across either complete strangers who don’t care about you and your kid, or parents who are just frankly bad at parenting? All parents come across other mums and dads who basically use soft play / libraries and the like as babysitting services, and are nowhere to be seen while their toddlers wreak havoc. There are even some parents who will watch with rose coloured glasses as their kids kick and punch their way to their favoured toys.

You can’t force them to discipline their child, but you cant really ignore the situation either once your own kid is old enough to point out the injustice. Apart from anything else, surely without getting some acknowledgement from the other side, you are condoning the behaviour in your own child.

First step always has to be try approaching the parent as above. I once was at a soft play with R, not long after he got his glasses. He was about 15 months. Another child, around 2 years old was following his army crawl around the area, pulling them off his face and laughing. I ignored it twice, and then (knowing how difficult it is to get a baby to wear glasses to begin with) looked for the mum. Spotting her, I gave her a friendly smile and said “Sorry! (why did I apologize?!) your little girl keeps taking my baby’s glasses.. do you mind to watch her?” which I thought was possibly the nicest way of asking that question humanly possible.

The mother scowled angrily at me, and replied, “Well, it was your choice to put your baby in glasses” and then turned away. I was actually flabbergasted, and felt absolutely no qualms in giving the little girl an evil glance and a slightly sharp “you mustn’t take his glasses, he needs them to see” the next time she approached him.

From then on, I always approach the parent as nicely as possible first, and then if they are entirely useless, have no concern in saying something to the child themselves.

So there we have it parents of the world. (Bearing in mind the golden rules so we don’t all get thrown in jail: Absolutely no touching, shouting or swearing at kids other than your own!) You now have my permission to tell off other people’s children, only when they are mistreating your own and when their parents are being brattier than they are.

This of course includes mine, I plan on ignoring R locally tomorrow if anyone wants to pop by and give him a good talking to.

The Usual Suspects of Rhyme Time

It’s been a while since I’ve observed and blogged a usual suspects post, but this one has been on my mind for a while. There are a few different types of baby and toddler groups that all mums who don’t work full time will try to frequent. The paid, term time classes tend to be quite structured and organised, they normally involve committing to coming every week for a term or more, and therefore you quickly get to know the other mothers and babies, as well as whoever is leading the group.

That’s not the kind of groups I’m talking about today. I mean the drop in, sometimes free, often council provided, in a library or community centre type of class. It may be called Rhyme Time, Stay and Play, Mummy and Me classes, Bright Beginnings, but you get the drift.

The availability of such classes is amazing, and I’m sure most new or first time mums would find it hard to cope without a cheap and local place to spend some time with other adults and their kids. Added to this, like any situation where you are in a closed space with strangers, there can be some interesting and entertaining moments to be found. So join me, and humour me, while I put on my judge-y cap and point out some colourful characters that I often see on mine and R’s travels.

The Awkward Assistant
I’ve seen it be a teenage girl on work experience, or a middle aged librarian. I’ve seen elderly ladies who should have long ago retired, or a guy who thought the silence involved in working in a library would mean he didn’t have to speak to anyone. But they all have one thing in common; they have no idea what they’re doing. Too shy to ask the bolshy woman why she’s taken two tickets for the group when she only has one child? Too nervous to stop a toddler from wandering out the electronic doors? Too incompetent to count the correct number of heads in a stationary line? You’ve found them.

The Lackadaisical Au-pair.
This type often moves in groups of the same species, and can be identified by the fact that they are rarely looking in the direction of the kids in their charge. They chat to each other mostly in their native tongue, which makes sense except it means that they normally have a bored looking baby spacing out on their laps. These type of groups are easy for them to go to, and therefore they continue to frequent them even when the kids are really not age appropriate for the activities provided. Spot a ten year old girl sullenly fiddling with a toddler jigsaw? I can guarantee you wont find her mother there.

The Awkward Child/Oblivious Parent
Oblivious parents are seen everywhere. They let their kids run off without supervision, they prefer to sit still in one place and hope the kid comes back, and they very rarely notice what’s happened in a tumble or collision.
Awkward kids are the kind that are just that bit too friendly, climbing into your lap when you’ve never met them before, or bringing you the entire contents of the Lego box piece by piece until you are crushed under the weight.
When you put these two together? Dangerous combo. The child is busy desperately trying to get attention from you, (how sad that they already realise there isn’t any point petitioning the parent) but you have your own kid to watch, and frankly-you didn’t come there to entertain someone else’s! Do you say something to the parent, who is nonchalantly scanning the room blankly, avoiding your gaze? Do you keep removing the kid who clings to you like a limpet, and start ignoring them too? If anyone knows the correct etiquette for that one-do tell.

The Bully
I know we’re supposed to believe that all kids are born innocent and lovely, and that everything they do that seems like pure evil is really just a phase… but I’m not too sure. Whether you want to believe that their shortcomings are the fault of the parents, or that they were born that way, there is something just not nice about that child. Nature/Nurture debate aside, why is no one telling that boy to stop throwing sand in everyone’s eyes? Why is the mother taking photos of her little girl snatching the drum stick and using it sword-like to poke other kids until they fall to the ground? And.. did she just laugh and point at the baby who is now crying in pain? Scan the room and watch the rest of the parents lead their kids by the shoulders to a different area, and don’t feel bad when you catch their eyes and silently thank heaven for your normal discipline issues.

Also to be found in such scenarios, is the Over-helpful Leader who asks just a few too many personal questions about your family structure, gives advice when it hasn’t been asked for, and keeps coming over to make sure you’re all having a lovely time. The Screaming Crying Kid, whose parents really need to just take him home, and stop him spoiling the activity for the rest of us, and Over-Indulged Child who has enough snacks and extra toys to draw jealous looks from everyone else’s kids (which is only going to lead to them asking us for non-existent treats and getting rightfully tearful at the unfairness of life when we turn them down).
Also on display for the lucky viewer, is Freakishly Bright Girl (its always a girl) who rotates her appearance and skills, but can be found doing any of the following list: Walking at 7 months, Chatting full sentences at a year, naming and choosing colours at 18 months, using the building blocks to make a replica of St Paul’s Cathedral, etc etc. She is usually accompanied by Smug Parent who obviously doesn’t realise that not only do none of us care that our toddlers haven’t memorised the periodic table yet, but also that their kid isn’t even that cute. more annoying.

Please do share if you think of any others!

The Usual Suspects of Soft Play

A while ago, I posted a blog about the usual suspects of the doctors waiting room. Thankfully, I have been spending much less of my time in hospitals and seeing various professionals, and much more time playing with my son and going on outings. So therefore today, I am able to bring you the much awaited sequel..

The familiar faces of Soft Play.

1. The neglectful mum.
This lady may be hard to spot, because she’s likely to be nowhere near her child. Best way to find her is to locate the kid that seems far too young to be unaccompanied, and then pair each other adult up to their kids. You should find one unattended adult, probably on her phone, possibly talking to a friend, definitely facing the opposite direction to the child in question. No doubt she would be the first to cry negligence if someone took the (ample) opportunity to grab her kid and run. She is immune to evil stares, and probably thinks she is a cut above other mothers simply because she is ignoring her child in a place with other kids and toys, not just in the tedium of their own home.

 

2. The ‘enjoying this far too much’ dad.
Maybe this is due to working full time, and only having scarce time for kid/parent bonding, but that doesnt really excuse why this parent is building a 4 foot tower with the giant lego while his kid is sitting on the sidelines. This dad clambers up the climbing frames, shouting to his kid to follow him almost as an afterthought. He creates far too elaborate imaginative play for his children, and then gets irritated when they deviate from his carefully constructed plotlines. He’s one step away from asking his kids if they will stop for ice cream on the way home. Exactly whose outing is this dad?

 

 

3. The rules dont apply to me mother.
These are just a few of the thoughts evidently running through her head.

  • I’m not taking my shoes off, do you know how much these cost?
  • I know that technically this is the under 5’s area, but I have a 8 year old and a 4 year old.. surely you cant expect me to walk between the two keeping an eye on BOTH my children? I’ll just let the 8 year old trample on the toddlers. 
  • Well you SAY don’t take photos, but look how adorable my child is, I need to capture this moment, regardless of safety issues.

 

4. The screamer.
WHY doesnt a parent do something about this kid? I know, soft play is a place of merriment, but surely they can enjoy themself without the high pitched shrieking? Weirdly enough, there is rarely more than one at a time, but there is ALWAYS one, regardless of how crowded or empty the centre is. Come on now, they are spoiling it for everyone.

 

5. The ‘how did I get roped into this?’ dad
Similar to the dad at the doctors surgery who has no idea what’s flying, this parent means well, but should not have been chosen for the days chaperoning. He isnt even sure if he is allowed to go into the actual play area with his kid, and once he overcomes that obstacle, he feels kind of awkward joining in too much (take a leaf out of his book, #2) and therefore stands at the side shuffling his shoeless feet and throwing out the occasional encouraging remark towards his offspring. He looks at his phone and watch often, and couldnt be more relieved when it’s time to head back to familliar territory.

6. The overly friendly parent.
Whether she is on maternity leave and looking for some company, or just one of those parents who is too proud of their kid, you know there isnt any escape as soon as they first hopefully catch your eye. This never happens on a day when you yourself are harbouring any loneliness or insecurity, oh no. This woman only appears when you’re waiting for a friend yourself, or just want to be generally left alone. Starting with a neutral “aw how old is he?” she will lure you in with an impossible to ignore question, and not stop until you know every aspect of her little Janey’s routine, including bottles, favourite nursery rhymes, sleeping schedule, and exactly when they visit this particular play centre.
Actually, that last one is kind of useful, we must remember not to be there then.

7. The ‘Thank God that isnt my child’
The characteristics change each time you visit, but every parent leaves soft play with the their minds lingering on one particular kid from that days outing. They might have been so overly familliar and unaware of personal space that you could barely play with your own child that day. They might have been so loud and disruptive that you can still hear their voice echoing in your subconcious. Perhaps they were the sticky kid. Or the smelly kid. Or despite the ‘All kids are beautiful’ lie, the ugly kid. Whatever the day’s selection, we are always just a little bit more understanding of our own offsprings faults and foibles when faced in such close proximity with what other parents have to deal with. I cant remember the last time I left soft play without giving my 1yo a slightly longer or tighter cuddle than usual, thanking him for being just the way he is.

 

 

Any other famillar characters you think need adding to the list?