I took my son to the play park after school today.
A fine autumnal sun was warming my skin and I decided he deserved a little treat for making the readjustment to P2 life without significant complaint. Also, I reasoned, there may not be many more sunny days left before winter has us in its grip and I have to disturb the family of giant crows which has taken up residence in our chimney.
As I’ve discussed on this blog before, the play park is very much an interactive experience for me. While most of the mummies are able to sit merrily enjoying the weather and watching their children play, I’m dragged around and expected to take part in every game and activity. At one point today just as I was being dispatched to search in the grass for long lost treasure, I actually noticed one of the park bench mummies was being given the time to read a book.
Soon we moved to the large climbing frame and slide at the bottom of the park area. My boy likes to pretend this is a prison and I’m a robber who keeps making vain bids for freedom only to be chased down, handcuffed and soundly beaten (the Prison Ombudsman does not exist in my son’s make believe world).
But as we approached the equipment I noticed something a little bit different. There was a small group of boys playing there and they seemed to be hurling objects in the general direction of each other. As I neared I realised the objects were actually large pieces of rock.
I quickly realised that there is an old wall at the rear of the park which is beginning to crumble. The children were gathering sizeable pieces of masonry from the bottom of the wall to use in their new improvised game.
There was no malice or conscious intention to do harm, it was merely little boys doing what little boys tend to do. But, due to the size of the stones, there was the obvious risk that someone could get hurt.
I had three main fears, which I record here in no particular order (although use of bold type could be inferred as giving particular prominence).
1 My little boy would get hit by a rock and be reduced to tears.
2 Another boy would get hit by a rock and be reduced to tears.
3 I would get hit by a rock and be reduced to tears.
So I decided I had to intervene. I put on my caring adult voice and began to tell the little boys that throwing rocks is not a fun game. I think I managed to get about half of the sentence out before a piece of masonry the size of Belgium flew past my ear.
It was clear that stiffer measures were required but I was gripped by an awkward nervousness, borne of a social reluctance to chastise another parent’s child for bad behaviour. I looked around at the mummies on the park benches, but they were all much too far away to see what was happening.
So with the tiniest adjustment in the tone of my voice I told the children to put the pieces of rock down on the ground. They all complied immediately and I gathered the stones and discarded them in a corner.
My son and I then played our cops and robbers game for a few minutes before he quickly got bored and decided he wanted a turn on the roundabout at the other end of the park. As I spun him around I kept my eyes on the distant climbing frame. Within two minutes one of the little boys had gone back to grab another piece of rock and lobbed it again towards the group.
We played on for some more minutes, my son taking turns on another slide, which is closer to the top of the park where the parents and carers congregate. We were lost in the middle of another make believe game when I noticed that a little boy had now moved to this piece of play equipment – with a large stone in his hand. He threw it a couple of times, at nobody in particular, before chasing it down and gathering the stone to throw again.
At one point, as he was about to hurl it in the direction of my son I put up a warning hand and sternly told him not to dare to throw the rock at us. He stopped immediately. Another mother intervened when it looked like her daughter was going to pick up the rock, instructing her sharply not to touch it.
At this point I decided that perhaps retreat was the safest option and we left the park to go and buy a lolly. I was even reluctantly persuaded to buy one for my son as well.
As we sat on the benches at the front of the grand old church, licking our lollies in the sun I watched as, gradually, all the other children left the park. Sweet innocent faces, filled with wonder at the world, as their little hands nestled comfortably and reassuringly in the grips of their mothers.