Ah, the perfect Father's Day:
A long lie, a cooked breakfast and an afternoon spent dozing in front of the British Grand Prix. Then some quality time with the Xbox, followed by a couple of beers and a film featuring explosions, giant robots and Megan Fox. Meanwhile, the children tip-toe around quietly, being polite to each other and clearing up after themselves.
This is the life...
Not my life, unfortunately, but, hey, I can dream. Marie's attending a birthday party and so I'm writing this surrounded by yelling three-year-olds at the softplay.
Still, at least there's cake and these days I don't usually have to go into the ball swamp myself. I can shove Marie through the entrance of the giant maze of ramps and netting, and then retreat to a safe distance. I can drink a cup of coffee and make use of the free wi-fi while remaining oblivious to her dare-devil antics dancing on tottering piles of squishy shapes.
It might be worth checking on her later but there are plenty of adults about. After years of crawling through large PVC pipes to rescue her from foam-filled disaster, I'm more than happy to stay in the viewing area and let her fend for herself for a while.
Besides, the bruises haven't entirely faded from last time I was here, a fortnight ago.
It was the turn of Scary Karen's younger son, William, to have a party. With him and his brother in the softplay, I thought I should keep a closer eye on proceedings than normal. (They're the only pre-schoolers I know who've been banned from gymnastics classes for bringing power tools.) They were the least of my worries, though. I'd just followed Marie up to the top of the apparatus when Karen got carried away doing a Tarzan impression. Letting rip with a ululating cry, she swung across the cargo net on a rope and then let out a shriek as she went flying and body slammed me. I yelled and we both fell backwards and went head-first down an enormous slide in a tangle of limbs and cleavage. She was on top. I think I may have screamed.
The rest I've blanked from my mind. The next thing I remember is staring up at a circle of wide-eyed toddlers and then crawling away to the café, whimpering quietly to myself...
On the whole, it was not a pleasant experience. Oddly, however, it was less sore than the only time I've been down that slide voluntarily:
When Fraser was small, I encouraged him to have a go, only to realise as he disappeared that this meant he was at the bottom and I was still at the top. We were a couple of minutes of clambering apart. There was no telling what trouble he might get himself into in that time. To catch up with him quickly, I had no choice but to follow him down the chute. Undaunted, I launched myself in. After all, how bad could it be?
Within half a second of beginning my descent, I regretted my decision. I was hurtling to my demise in a highly-polished, neon red tunnel of doom, and I didn't even have headroom to sit up and see where I was going. In an instinctive bout of self-preservation, I stuck out my arms to slow myself down.
My speed barely altered and I had to spend the rest of the afternoon with my elbows dipped in a couple of Slush Puppies to soothe the friction burns they suffered.
Ow. Fear, and a need for control, brought me pain. I'm not doing that again.
I can't recall ever having seen this happen to a child. They just whoosh down. More than that, it doesn't matter whether they come out laughing or crying, they're back for another go within minutes.
There's probably a metaphor for life, parenthood, faith, marriage and/or bull riding there if you can be bothered to look for it.
Hmmm.... Bearing this in mind, maybe I've been a bit hasty. Maybe I should stretch my boundaries a little and live life more to the full... I think I'll go have another shot on that slide while Marie is still small enough for me to sneak into the softplay on the pretense of looking after her. Who knows? It might be fun.
If you hear a distant, terrified scream, you'll know it's me. Hopefully, this time, it'll be due to the slide and not Karen...
Yours in a woman's world,
PS Happy Father's Day! Here's wishing you more than a mildly insulting card and a badge which reads, 'Best Dad Ever!'. Put your feet up. You deserve it.