Dear Dave

Wednesday 31 March 2010

The knowing nod

Dear Dave,

The weather is finally improving.

Er... Well, it was last week. (You know, before it started snowing again.) We had a few days of sunshine and relative warmth. As a result, when I walked past the swing-park during the day, there were several children there rather than one well-wrapped toddler forlornly swaying on a kiddie swing in the rain while his gran had a quick smoke.

Peering over the railings, I smiled and prepared to wave at familiar faces. Then I realised that I didn't recognise anyone. It was an odd feeling.

Once upon a time, I could almost guarantee that a trip to the park on a sunny day would lead to encountering several acquaintances. Some I knew from parent and toddler, others from nursery, a few from the kids' clubs and a surprising number simply from visiting the park on sunny days often enough. I didn't necessarily know the names of these people but we'd exchange pleasantries and chat about our latest parental disasters adventures.

That's the way things still are if I take the kids to the park after school. During the day, though, is a different matter. There are kids there taking their first steps whose older siblings weren't even born the last time I was at parent and toddler. I haven't run into them anywhere else either - I'm not loitering outside nursery anymore or having to be so readily on-hand at activities or the park. These children and their adults are complete strangers to me.

The other morning, I went straight from school to the shops and found myself having to go round the swing-park rather than into it. I got stuck. I stood at the corner and couldn't work out whether I'd be quicker going left or right. Trying to plot a course which didn't involve heading through the gate and then watching a small child on the helter-skelter for half an hour was beyond me. I spent a minute trying to work out which way might be ten seconds quicker and then gave up and tossed a coin.

I almost considered wandering through the park for the sake of it anyway but I decided against it. I'm no longer part of the club. I used to be able to smile at parents with young children and strike up a conversation based on mutual understanding. Now I just seem creepy.

It's a shame. I've lost a support network that I barely realised I had. I miss being able to share the secret signs and rituals reserved for parents with small children, such as the knowing nod of two buggy-pushers passing on a narrow pavement or a sympathetic shrug to reassure a tired mum struggling with belligerent offspring. People shepherding young kids exchange a hundred little gestures designed to show solidarity in the face of whatever life may throw at them (especially banana porridge). It doesn't seem like much but it can make all the difference when attempting to survive a cataclysmic combination of tantrum and nappy leak in the frozen food aisle at Tesco.

Now my children are bigger, parents with toddlers no longer give me a grin as I approach with my brood. They see a mob of scooters and hoodies barrelling towards them and quickly steer their little ones into cover behind the nearest wheelie-bin. Given enough warning, they hide their valuables and cross the street.

This doesn't have quite the same heartening effect.

I suppose it's just another example of how I need to stop relying on my children for my own social life. For so long, lack of time and energy meant I didn't have much choice, and now I'm kind of used to it. It won't work for much longer, though. As my kids become more and more independent, I'll see less and less of their friends' parents unless I make an effort to maintain contact.

I should probably go phone someone and organise coffee. The only question is, will I be able to think of anything to talk about other than children? Let's see: the World Cup, the Never-Ending Edinburgh Tram Project of Doom (and Road Works), the weather, children... er, no, hang on...


Yours in a woman's world,


PS The swing-park was painted the other week. On the plus side, it's no longer a tetanus shot waiting to happen. Unfortunately, the new graffiti which has since been added by some genius with a marker pen stands out really well.

As Marie's reading skills are coming on rapidly, I may need to sneak out in the middle of the night and make some alterations. These will incriminate anyone in the area called BUCK but it's for the greater good...

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