“Do you think he’ll be alright?”
“You stand there and watch him. Jessica’s filled her damn nappy again.”
Center Parcs. 1996. Tom was two: our eldest, and everything was new. Worry? Of course we worried. Hadn’t we found him biting a biscuit tin at the weekend? And some paint had gone in his mouth. Why hadn’t they invented Google yet? Metal poisoning and brain damage from a biscuit tin: a blindingly obvious search term.
“Come on, darling. Would you like a go in the ball pool? Daddy will stay and watch you.”
I stared at the other children – was there a homicidal four year old who’d hold my son under? I took a deep breath and lowered Tom gently in. Astonishingly he had a good time and didn’t require medical attention.
Jane came back. “Is he alright?”
“He’s fine. I told you there was no need to worry. Let’s just pop him on the slide and then we’ll go for a coffee.”
“Oh £$%&!” Now our beautiful princess had vomited. My wife was spending her holiday in the toilet.
“Do you want to go down the slide then? You’re the bravest boy in all the universe aren’t you?”
Giggling and laughing Tom slid down. But as he reached the bottom he suddenly pitched forward. Face down into the sand. He swallowed a mouthful. I knew what was coming. Tom threw up. Spectacularly. Right at the bottom of the slide.
I looked around. The play area was deserted. I grabbed my son, kicked sand over the pool of puke and ran out.
If your son or daughter was the next one down the slide I’m truly sorry. If it’s any consolation I’ve been ashamed for 19 years.
A few weeks later Tom and I were in Toys-R-Us. Jane had parked us again. And I’d parked Tom in the miniature ball pool. “Daddy,” he said.
“I’ve done a wee.”
“No! You can’t have. Not in the ball pool…” And once again I grabbed my son and ran away.
Fast forward to today. Those reminiscences were prompted by a great post I read on one of my favourite Mum Blogs – The Unmumsy Mum. Somebody’s children have to be the worst behaved in the park, she’d written. The law of averages suggests sometimes those kids will belong to you.
Absolutely right. And statistically we’ll all have days when we get parenting completely wrong. When we make all the right noises about being brave and telling the truth – and then run away as soon as our son pees in the ball pool.
Which is an important point…
Being a parent is tough. But stick with it.
Statistically you will have the worst behaved child at some point. It happens. But I now know that children do not suffer irreversible brain damage from gnawing a bit of paint off a biscuit tin. I’m not the first parent to kick sand over a pile of puke and Tom almost certainly didn’t break new ground by having a pee in a ball pool. It just felt like it at the time.
On Saturday night Jane and I had dinner with our two eldest children. Both of them all too briefly home from university: together for one night only. And it was lovely. Several degrees beyond lovely. The boy who turned into a truculent lodger on his 15th birthday is now kind, considerate and thoughtful. Teenage sarcasm has given way to an understated dry humour. The girl who used to live on cream cheese and Petit Filous is now a fully paid up foodie. The teenage daughter who raised slamming doors to an art form is now doing a joint degree in Journalism and Dinner Parties.
We had an intelligent conversation. We drank too much wine, ate too much cheese and carried on having an intelligent conversation.
Of course there’ll still be problems ahead. That’s what being a parent is all about. At some point Tom or Jessica will casually mention they need the deposit for a house and Jane and I will toss a coin to see who sells a kidney.
So it doesn’t matter if your children were the worst behaved in the park today. It doesn’t mean they’re bad kids and it doesn’t mean you’re a failed parent. It’s simply statistics.
Trust me. Stick with it, don’t give up on what you believe in, fight for your kids when you know school has got it wrong and one day some absolutely charming young adults will come into your house. And they’ll be your children…
Stop Press: I’m delighted to have been shortlisted for ‘Outstanding Blog’ in this year’s BritMums ‘Brilliance in Blogging’ Awards. The next stage is to get through to the final 5 – if ‘Best Dad’ makes you smile you can vote here – and thank you.