Why parks are no walk in the park

By Cari Rosen, October 1, 2009

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).

There really ought to be a degree course in playground politics

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.

Last updated: 10:34am, October 5 2009