I find playgrounds intimidating. They seem to bring into focus all my physical inadequacies as a parent. There are other strong, confident dads swinging gracefully through the monkey bars with a toddler under one arm, probably freestyling a rap about the size of their love for them. There are OAPs leaping off whizzing roundabouts, scooping up their grandchildren and hoisting them up round their necks in one athletic movement. I once saw my own pensionable father slip majestically down a pole from the top of a wooden rampart before flinching at the same prospect myself and scrambling down the nearest ladder of shame.
I also have a sense of the playground being a little patch of the actual world and the need to protect my sons from it. From the aggressively friendly children, scooting around with total disregard of playground convention. Standing dementedly on the seats of swings, crawling up slides. And covens of older kids gathered under the ramparts of the climbing fort, loudly listing all the sex acts they’ve ever heard of. And the dogs. I once saw the Major sprint off in terror when he spotted a cocker spaniel puppy benignly trotting towards him with intentions probably no more violent than sniffing his bum. Perhaps he wanted to check his nappy, like an oddly invasive Lassie.
I’ve been to a number of playgrounds and to stave off my neuroses I’ve identified the areas which offer the best and worst opportunities for fun whilst avoiding potential humiliation or injury. I’ve enthusiastically ranked these, beginning with my preferred choice:
No.1 – In terms of the ratio of infantile enjoyment to adult effort the swing is the probably the most effective means of entertaining the boys that I’ve found. Once I’ve worked up a solid rhythm in the swing I find that just a light one-handed push to the centre of the back can send the Major or Minor soaring off on a lovely carefree arc and give them the sensation of flying like a canary on a bungee. It also leaves a hand free to look at sport on my phone.
No.2 – The Major enjoys a roundabout and seems to possess the stamina of a NASA cadet when subjected to the impressive amount of G-forces I’m able to generate in spinning him. Issues arise however when he requests my presence on it I can’t hack it and have to stop after literally seconds. Otherwise it’s off to a quiet corner of the playground to put my hands on my knees and spit queasily into some thistles.
No.3 – If I was to describe a slide as gravity-defying it would make it sound thrilling but I’ve watched on countless times as the Major has sat motionless and confused at the top as the expected plunge hasn’t materialised. We don’t need a bobsleigh run we just want basic laws of physics adhered to. If Isaac Newton had sat at the bottom of a playground slide and not under an apple tree then we’d all still probably be groping around wondering what was stopping us floating off into the stratosphere. And he’d be on a register.
No.4 = The see-saw necessarily requires a two-man workforce. Due to a mismatch in weight between the Major and me we quite often arrive at a situation where he is basically just sat at the end of a stationary plank of wood. At the other end I have had to form my long legs into a sort of M-shape which is stretching unpleasantly at my undercarriage. If we approach this process with any more energy there is a real danger that my bulk may catapult the Major through the air.
No.5 – The zip wire or flying fox is a relative newcomer to the playground. When I was small they could only be found in woods surrounding National Trust properties. It was what turned a mere playground into an adventure playground. Until very recently the Major was unable to operate these alone and I was obliged to gather him up and board the mechanism together. This meant that I had to straddle the dangly down bit which immediately moved forcibly towards the top of my crotch when it squashed unnervingly up against other dangly down bits it met there. It’s also really difficult to dismount due to the lack of anything to get purchase on and the gravitational forces acting against us (where were you on the slide?). We normally have to rely on a kindly gran to scoop up the Major and remind him that physical co-ordination does exist in at least some humans.