Bigger parenting mistakes than mine have been made; you must have heard about the woman whose child fell into a gorilla enclosure.
And the Dad who got so angry with his rock-throwing 7-year old on a forest-trip that he got in the car and drove away. Obviously he looped back to pick him up, but by then the kid had vanished; he was missing in the Japanese forest for another six days before being found safe.
Anyway, both parents probably feel shit already and their position makes them very easy victims of social media outrage without my adding to it.
Instead lets explore greyer areas of parent-criticizing; let me tell you about my bank holiday.
We arrived at the campsite late, a biggish party of us. We put up our tents, gossiped and laughed, probably slammed more car doors than were strictly necessary and after a while the lady from the tent opposite came over to tell us, politely but assertively, to shut up.
Fair cop. But of all the noise we were making, the thing she specifically focused on was how far the children’s voices carried. In particular, Tiddler had woken up as we unpacked the car, wanted to get back to sleep and was sobbing gently.
We weren’t ignoring him. Having established that Tiddler doesn’t have removable batteries, hubby was doing everything he could to jiggle and soothe him, including walking him a long way away from the tents while it was at its worst, while the others helped me to assemble the bedding compartment.
I understand that the woman has a right to a quiet campsite. We shouldn’t have been laughing, talking or banging doors. But it’s hard to know what else I could have done about Tiddler. It’s not that we particularly like his crying voice ourselves. I assured her that I was on it and then breathed a huge sigh of relief because once I could get into my sleeping bag, he slid in next to me and was out before he’d even finished demanding a story.
But it made me fret. Next time we go camping he might not wake up, but perhaps I shouldn’t take him, just in case? Should we only go if we can arrive at a civilized time (that would be never, with my job)? Or carry a sign that says: ‘Don’t worry! He won’t do this all night, I promise!’
But what if something else, something largely unpredictable, made him cry in the middle of the night? Is it OK to assume the goodwill of neighbouring campers in that scenario? Of course the answer lies between two extreme viewpoints; that of a mother who wants to camp and a childless couple who want peace. The lines will always require negociation. If you’re pregnant and have a bit of spare time, never underestimate the value of practising sheepish smiles.
At the pub the following night, despite having booked, our group waited an hour and a half between ordering our food and its arrival. My kids were knackered – but they were also awesome. They didn’t argue or fight or scream much; they read books, chatted in a civilised manner and went in and out of the open side-door to play hide and seek on the lawn. Sure, one of them knocked my glass over at one point, but they were great.
Or so I thought. The lady at the next table calmly complained that the children walking past to access the lawn had been impinging on her ability to relax. She obviously had no idea what an achievement for a three and five-year-old she had just witnessed, or how much worse her ability to relax would have been if I’d have insisted they sat at the table with their arms folded. I’m afraid that I (equally calmly) explained it to her.
Those who don’t want to have to run into children during their bank-holiday breaks are always welcome to stay at home with the door locked, because I’m of the view that kids are part of our society and should be accepted in public life. Yes, their needs and abilities are slightly different to most adults, but then we wouldn’t tap an elderly person on the shoulder and complain that they got up to pee too much, would we?
Anyway, on the last morning of the holiday the kids were being little sods and knowing their limits, I hadn’t bothered to do anything about the fact that they looked as if they’d been dragged through a hedge backwards, twice. Spotty faces (midged), covered in cuts and bruises, with hair you couldn’t have got a cat-brush through, at least one of them had lost its shoes (the other might just have been refusing to wear any – or any trousers). The pub we stumbled on turned out to have a gorgeous beer-garden, an expensive menu and an exciting condiments tray. Tiddler ate more condiments than anything else. He was having a great time. We sang ‘we’re going on a bear hunt’ more than twice (with a supermarket: ‘scuse me, scuse me, scuse me’) which caused loud hilarity.
I winced when I saw a woman walking towards me. I nearly picked up the kids and ran. But when she said hello she had a North American accent, which stereotyping suggested was a good sign, so I stayed.
‘I just wanted to say, how nice it is to see children who aren’t overly controlled. You know, shoes thrown aside, hair tangled up, being allowed to be a little bit wild. It’s just great.’
I nearly hugged the woman. But I didn’t in the end, because parents can be dangerous animals. If you interact too closely with the other species and an outsider interprets it wrong, you never know when up might end up getting shot.