As soon as they open their eyes, your job begins. Yes, technically your job is to love them, parent them, help them blossom in an atmosphere of safety, support but also arm them with a curiosity to try new things and learn how to fail and start again and…
But mainly your job is to TIRE THEM OUT SO THAT THEY’LL SLEEP TONIGHT.
Operation Tire Them Out isn’t always done with military precision. Often there’s a bit of wishful thinking about what exactly will tire them out.
What won’t tire them out is watching 15 episodes of Hey Duggee in a row while you lounge with a cocktail and a book. Hey Duggee only inspires children to want to take part in activities so it’s counter-productive anyway.
No, they need to be running around. Maybe if you had a large walled garden and all the walls were lined with the stuff they put around rugby goalposts and all wasps had been told to stay away, maybe then you could dust off the hammock and get stuck into your thriller about a hero who races against time to find the man who killed everyone but “is the real villain Bax Sampson himself” while the children did laps.
But even in that scenario, parenting now requires a lot of participation. When they are babies we spend so much time giving them absolute attention and taking photos of them and exaggeratedly praising every single one of their poos that they, quite rightly, have an expectation that we would be around to watch them play, at least for the early years.
The old methods don’t seem to work any more or aren’t allowed. That was the parenting philosophy of benign neglect. You can’t send toddlers out to play on the road and warn them not to come back until it’s sunset. It’s not enough now to threaten a 7-year old with punishment if he doesn’t adequately mind his four younger siblings.
We are surely not too far away from the time where well-meaning – or maybe not well-meaning – strangers will call the police if they see a child under the age of 12 heading to the shop on their own. I mean like, those fags were for me. Talk about a NANNY STATE.
Fresh air is key. The holy grail is Sea Air. Sea Air is the question to which the answer is You’ll Sleep Tonight. Historically all fresh airs have been quite damp in Ireland, so the fresh air has to be brought indoors in pipes into Play Centres.
For the child-free, the play centre sounds like a delightful place full of frolics. But in fact it’s more of post-industrial nightmare where children are screaming while running around high above your heads in caged runways or have disappeared in ballpits being trod on by Rough Boys.
And you may think as parents we sit back sipping ‘catering-tea’ and eating childrens’ chips and chicken nuggets hoping they’ll stay in their ‘zones’ while we discuss the latest fear that circulates through parenting circles like a WhatsApp group but with people. By the time you read this, it will be a new fear. Overly aggressive magpies or the level of mercury in Netflix cartoons.
I say all this with love of course. Play centres are very necessary. And they have a lot on their plate in even trying to stay open. They are victims of every clown who has pimped their child through the courts for a wad of cash after a stubbed toe and hoped to go to Disney world and also the insurance companies who thought it easier to load the cost onto everyone else and the legal industry which refuses to be reformed.
If they all do close down and maybe our attitude to insurance changes, maybe our children will be back out on playing on the road or sent out of the house and told not to come back until sunset again. Except this time you’ll have to go with them running wild around the town. You’d be tired out just thinking about it.