Green spa­ces are no walk in the park

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

IT WOULD be fair to say that we have al­ready es­tab­lished that moth­er­hood is one steep learn­ing curve. So how is it that I am con­tin­u­ally sur­prised when I dis­cover yet an­other new thing I never re­alised I needed to know? For the ma­jor­ity of my 40-some­thing years a park has been… well, a park. Nice green space; a few dogs; the odd tree; a swing or two. In my younger days I would have been de­lighted by a ten­nis court; now a cafe will do me just fine. But ba­si­cally noth­ing too far off the stan­dard dic­tio­nary def­i­ni­tion.

Th­ese days it’s not so sim­ple. A park is not a park. Just as the wolf donned a frilly bon­net and pre­tended to be sweet, rosy-cheeked grand­mamma, so this green patch of land has hood­winked me into be­liev­ing it is an in­no­cent play space, not a hot­bed of so­cial com­plex­i­ties. Oh, why did no-one warn me about park eti­quette?

My ig­no­rance has meant I have been forced to learn the hard way that it is never OK to tell some­one else’s child to get off the slide, even if they are stand­ing on your own off­spring’s ears.

Nor must you raise an eye­brow when some­one tells you their son is named af­ter a foot­ball sta­dium (Stam­ford — as in Bridge).

More­over, it is bad form to laugh, at a poor bald baby done up in a big flow­ery hair bow, even if she does look like a berib­boned egg.

There re­ally ought to be a de­gree course in play­ground pol­i­tics. At least then you would be equipped with the knowl­edge that cer­tain moth­ers are “in the queue” for the swings be­fore they have even left home. And woe be­tide you if you try to make a case for those who are ac­tu­ally stand­ing there in line.

Also, you would know never to stare at some­one who looks barely out of nap­pies them­selves, ask­ing your­self: “Is that the baby’s mother or their sis­ter?” That way you are fully jus­ti­fied in feel­ing af­fronted when you sense some­one’s gaze upon your good self, won­der­ing: “Is that the kid’s mother or her grand­mother?”

And it has be­come clear that I’m not the only mem­ber of our fam­ily who has a lot to learn. Last week­end we strolled across the grass and the baby took a shine to a canoodling cou­ple in the dis­tance. Be­fore I could ex­plain that when it comes to ro­man­tic trysts three is most def­i­nitely a crowd, she had rushed off and hauled her­self up on to the bench be­side them, lean­ing back with a sat­is­fied sigh.

“Chair. Big girl,” she told them proudly.

Tak­ing their smiles as en­cour­age­ment, she lifted her top. “Tummy,” she said, solemnly point­ing to her midriff. “But­ton,” one fin­ger in her navel. I caught up with her as she was re­gal­ing them with de­scrip­tions of her shoes and socks.

They were ter­ri­bly nice about it and ac­cepted my apolo­gies most grace­fully — but they did run for the hills as quickly as cour­tesy al­lowed.

It is pos­si­bly best to gloss over the visit to an­other lo­cal play space, when the baby am­bled past a group of pic­nick­ers and, us­ing sleight of hand that would have put any Dick­en­sian pick­pocket to shame, reap­peared at my side clutch­ing a fish fin­ger drip­ping in ketchup.

And there’s an­other thing — con­tri­tion is all very well, but it’s not that sim­ple to re­turn a seafood snack when it’s cov­ered in teeth marks.

As au­tumn draws in and the chill winds and rains ar­rive in force, at least we are granted respite, some time to learn to mend our ways. I will try to curb my daugh­ter’s klep­to­ma­nia and teach her that not ev­ery labrador in Lon­don be­longs to her cousins — there­fore it is not nec­es­sary for her to throw her­self at each and ev­ery dog we see shout­ing: “Bagel! Woof! Waggy waggy”.

And as for me? I shall curl up on the sofa with a copy of De­brett’s and by the time spring rolls around, I shall know my stuff.

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