Peeing in the Ball Pool

“Do you think he’ll be alright?”

“I don’t know. It looks deep. Has a child ever drowned in a ball pool?”

“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.

“What, darling?”

“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. 


  1. Lovely post. I may have something in my eye …

  2. Good work Mr Richards, really like the narrative structure and the line ‘several degrees beyond lovely’ is a clever way of adding warmth to the mental image.

    • Thanks, Julian. Always impressed by a man who casually tosses ‘narrative structure’ around on a Sunday afternoon. Yep, they were lovely. But blimey, they can certainly drink my wine…

  3. Oh how wonderful to hear from an older dad on the blogosphere about how they come out of the parenting sausage machine ok in the end! Did you ever read that lesser known picture book by Quentin Blake called Zagazoo? Reminds me so much of it. If you haven’t, you must grab a copy from the library or even buy it – its all about the hilarious stages of boyhood. My son is 8 turning 16 and my daughter 10 turning 11 (she turned 16 aged 8 too if you know what I mean!)!

    • Morning Siobhan – no, I haven’t read that. But just about to get reflective myself as I’m starting a series of ‘looking back’ articles for Post 40 Bloggers, which should be fun. Age 8 onwards – it’s slightly ominous isn’t it? You start to get glimpses of the teenager lurking in the shadows. Thanks for the comment – enjoy your weekend.

  4. Thank you for writing this, I can never read stuff like this too many times! So many people say it and I know it in my head but these young teenage years I quite horrid! Just as soon as my girls grown out of it, the boy will be in the thick of it. Do boys really turn into monsters at the age of 15?

    • I mustn’t tempt fate because as soon as you think you’ve mastered being a parent something goes wrong or your kids move to a different stage – but the meal really was lovely. I’ll freely admit though (and openly, as my daughter reads the blog) that I found her really difficult around the 15/16/17 stage. But she’s come through it and last summer we even worked together for six weeks, which I’d once have thought less likely than bumping into Elvis. I think you just have to trust that the values you hope you’ve instilled at a younger age come through in the end: that and always being willing to talk, even if you don’t like what you’re hearing…
      PS Promise you’ll let me know when you have that meal with them!

  5. Very funny and poignant post Mark. I wasn’t expecting the segue into the children being grown up; that really got me. I suspect we’re not that far apart in age but I’ve come to parenthood late in life so as I am not even at the ball pool stage I suddenly saw the years disappearing in front of me. And therefore saw my haggard self with a zimmer frame at my son’s wedding. I already have a fear of wee (and worse) in swimming pools so now I can add ball pools to my list of OCD triggers 🙂

    • Thanks for that comment, Adrian. If you’re not even at the ball pool stage you’d better not read my blog! Best advice is to have more children – by the time Ben (number three) arrived we were totally relaxed. Or knackered. Or both…

  6. You were right, I LOVE this, so much so it brought a little tear to my eye, that one day that will be me drinking wine and eating cheese with my grown up, non tantrumming (she hopes) kids. Thank you x

    • Thanks, Vicki. It was a lovely evening. Nothing I like more than lingering over the dinner table with the wine and the cheese – and even better when you’re doing it with your children. Mind you, they can drink…

  7. So funny and yet so true. Once I ended up clutching my child in my arms and running down the street. Far down the street. And why? His pampers were about to fall off and he had done a poo and I had forgotten to bring a spare pair. I live in Germany, giving him a wash there and then and stripping him naked was just not an option, so I left and ran off with him. They must have thought I was enormously rude LOL!

  8. This, just this. It is so right. I have had both my boys home today, and it was lovely.

    • Thanks, Hilary. Next thing I’m looking forward to is a serious boyfriend/girlfriend being brought home. No rush though…

      • That just changes the dynamic completely. I am lucky, my son brought home his girlfriend and she is lovely. They get married next year. Neither of my boys have brought home ‘casual’ girlfriends. Probably because we said we wouldn’t tolerate one night stands. However, it does bring with it a whole new set of questions and dilemmas!

        • In some ways I’m really looking forward to that – but it will pose problems for the blog! Will he/she mind being written about? Presumably I won’t have that long to wait to find out…

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