“OK, we’ll do higher.”
I give my son another push and the arc of swing expands infinitesimally. He’s going high enough, as far as I’m concerned. This placebo push brings a grin to my two-year-old’s face. To him he’s a ‘Big Boy’ riding the wave of danger and maturity that is the tots’ swing at out local park. To me, it’s the perfect way to tire him out, before his, long overdue, nap.
“We can do better than that,” comes a voice from nowhere.
I turn to see a father and daughter, next to me. The dad, is loading his (at a guess) 18 month child into the next swing along. Without the child having time to park her posterior, pop has launched the swing into the air, with the acceleration of a jet fighter plane. The chair quickly travels so the child is horizontal to the ground, then keeps going. It peaks at a gravity defying 1 O’Clock, then returns to the father. The child in the seat squeals; though whether the noise is from pleasure or panic it’s difficult to tell.
“THAT’s how you RIDE a swing!” says dad.
Welcome to my world.
As a stay at home father, I’m down at the park every day. My son loves it there. It’s a fun place to be, when you’re 2. We play on the apparatus and we bond. That’s what the park’s there for, surely?
Yet, as a SAHD, one of the perennial issues to be faced is the arrival of the showboating parent. What do I mean by this? It’s simple really, a mum (or mainly) dad who arrives at the park with something to prove. They probably don’t get to do this type of activity as often as I do (lucky them) and are determined to make a show of how much fun their kid is having. By ‘making a show’ I mean making the other parents aware of just how amazing they are.
God they’re tedious.
Imagine you’ve just run a marathon. You’re exhausted, totally knackered, but the finishing line is in sight. Then, from nowhere, another runner arrives. They’ve not done the whole distance, they’re just running the finishing straight. They’re full of energy, loud and making their presence felt. They back-flip, sing and clap their hands. Sure, they’re quite entertaining to watch, but (seriously) anyone can be entertaining for a few minutes. It’s harder to keep up that energy long-term.
See the issue?
My son looks at Superdad, next to me, with admiration. “Higher, higher!” my tot calls. There is no way I was pushing my son ANY higher. In fact, I’ve checked I’ve got my mobile to hand, in case I need to call an ambulance when the girl on the next swing inevitably tumbles from her seat. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen. Instead the girl is hoisted from the swing and over to high slide, far too advanced for her age.
“Let’s go to slide!” my son, calls.
“No, that’s for big boys.”
This is the cue for tears, from my toddler, as I turn to see a
man boy (big enough to know better) climb up the exterior of the slide tower (not using the ladder) parkour-style with the dumbfounded tot slung over his shoulder. A group of small children watch and point, as their parents try to explain that the example set isn’t exactly the safest.
“AGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHH!” cries the dad, as he and his daughter launch themselves down the slide.
“What’s that noise?” my toddler asks.
I try to come up with a non-cynical answer.
“They’re having fun!”
The dad, on gaining the bottom of the slide, leaps to his feet and sprints (properly sprints) back to the other end of the slide – narrowly missing several tots he seemed totally oblivious to. Parents sweep their kids out of harms way, as the 16 stone-plus bloke once again scales the slide tower, jumping a queue of 5-year-olds.
“Go on slide,” mutters my son.
When I refuse, a tantrum began, and so our session at the park comes to an end.
The thing thing is, I know how precious time with your kid is. I understand the desire to bond with your offspring. What I don’t get is the urge to show off to the adults, in some kind of bizarre ‘Who’s the best parent?’ competition. His daughter seemed little more than a prop, an accessory.
Life, to me, isn’t a competition. Parenting isn’t a spectator sport. So, I’ll keep my distance from the park over half-term, as the inevitable gaggle of showboating mums and dads that arrive with school holidays can make it feel (very) claustrophobic.
As my prayers are answered, and my son falls into a nap, I conclude that parenting is like being on a swing. There are highs and lows. Yet, it’s important (even if you’re tempted) to avoid going over the top.