Monday, January 9, 2012

School holiday blues

School holiday blues are not just for the parents of school-aged children. The ripple effect also traps parents of pre-school children.

Exhibit one: Indoor play centre in suburban Sydney on the first Monday of the school holidays. Bedlam.

It’s the same play centre where a few months ago I unexpectedly had one of the few serene moments so far of my wonky daddy day care odyssey.

Remember my loving description of the perfect combination of climbing frames and slippery dips, jumping castle and ball pit, trikes and cars, good coffee, good music and magazines and couches for parents - where I dreamt of a perfect life with a lap pool, media room with projector TV, snooker table and table tennis table?

Yeah, well that simple dream vanishes at a play centre during school holidays.

It’s crowded and noisy, with bigger kids tearing about and threatening to knock over your little kids, and the little kids all a bit ratty as they respond to the bedlam and are in fear of their lives from the big kids.

An indoor play centre is still a better bet after a rainy weekend than a park’s wet grass and mud, but it’s a close-run thing.

Exhibit two: Shopping centre school holiday activities. Good in principle, but hit-and-miss in reality. 

Key variables are the size of the shopping centre, the type and quality of activities, and the time of day.

Two trestle tables of Lego blocks in a tiny shopping centre with no room to move in the late morning rush does not make for a pleasant and diverting break for either kids or parents.

Nor would you think does a long queue for a butterfly experience inside a tent. But provided both parents can attend (one as queue place-holder, one as child attention diverter) then this is a quite delightful experience.

The queue moves slowly as they’re only allowing six people at a time inside the small tent. But this improves the quality of the experience.

It’s magic watching the delight on our kids’ faces as the handlers pass them each a stick with some food on the end, onto which a butterfly lands.

Elsewhere, a clown making balloon animals is a hit with The Complicated One but quickly bores The Big Fella.

Luckily the shopping centre is not that crowded so there’s plenty of space for me to walk around with the younger one while the older one stays and watches the 30-minute show then joins the inevitable post-show queue for the take-home balloon animal.

I can see The Complicated One the whole time, which stops him fretting about being abandoned and stops me worrying about child abduction.

At one stage The Big Fella stands on a seat and tries to throw himself over a small wall onto the escalator below.

Luckily I am alert to these kinds of capers, and catch him expertly by one meaty calf shortly before he plunges to an ugly and untimely end.

School holiday activities are hazardous for parents and kids alike.

Monday, January 2, 2012

No more Christmas for the rest of days?

"There's no more Christmas for the rest of days?" asked The Big Fella this morning, as we took down the Christmas tree.

He sounded most concerned.

"No, Christmas will come again next year," I assured him.

I didn't add that the magic of Christmas is fleeting. And he'd do well to enjoy it while he can. Dangerous thoughts, best kept to yourself.

His innocent question sounded rather final, and in some ways it is.

Christmas comes but once a year. And our magical belief in Santa occupies only a few years of our life.

At best it lasts from about 3 to 9 years - from the time you're old enough to realise something exciting is happening, until the time your older brother or neighbour tells you there's no such thing as Santa.

If you're from a family with little money, the magic may be even more fleeting. Or more about longing, than fulfillment.

As adults we tell ourselves the magic of Christmas returns when we have children or grandchildren, and can share in their anticipation leading up to the big day and the joy of Chrismas morning.

To some extent that's true. But it's a different kind of joy to truly believing that Santa is real and your wishes really can come true.

I guess The Big Fella's comment really made me think about the loss of innocence - the innocence of childhood, which seems as fleeting as our belief in Santa.

As The Complicated One heads off to the big wide world of school, it's on my mind a lot.