The swirling ball of chaos that is your child can be mostly confined to the walls of your home. There, your furniture, your accoutrements (teatowels, chairs, tablemats, everything that can be picked up) and your clothes will take the full brunt of their bountiful energy.
The first six chapters have covered many different facets of your new adventure into parenthood, but there comes a time when you must venture out from your safe haven and into the big world out there.
Taking your child out in public of course involves lugging twice your body weight in baby accessories. That too is something that we have touched on in previous chapters, but it isn’t just about ensuring your kid is clean and fed.
You’re responsible for ensuring a smooth passage through childhood. That involves assembling together the myriad of facets that comprise a person. A big section of that is their personality.
They will mimic much of what they see – every time I burp, my kid does the same and laughs, much to my wife’s chagrin – and that is a large percentage of what they will become, but they need external influences.
They need to socialise, you see. They need to mix with their own kind, swap stories of dribble over by the water cooler, compare loaded nappies and see who can whinge the loudest. It is important for their development to take part in activities and for you? It is a real eye opener to see how they react.
I’ve recently started taking my eldest to a toddler football club. This was for a few reasons. Firstly, we actually think he might be good at it. Everyone who has seen him go up and down the garden like a saliva-soaked metronome has commented that his mobility and his dribbling (with the ball, although his mouth dribbling is pretty impressive too) is way beyond what a kid his age should be capable of.
Secondly, our boy is like a coiled spring most days and a chance to let loose some of that energy, but in a constructive manner? That sounds like a plan.
Lastly, we know that he hasn’t really had many chances to socialise with his baby brethren. When he does, he has shown an alarming penchant for stroking their hair. Cute, but it has led to a few other parents raising their eyebrows. The kids? They don’t seem to mind.
Still, we don’t want that to be our boy’s go-to response when meeting new people. Just imagine how awkward his job interviews would be…
So, I drove him to this football group.
There was about ten similarly aged kids, and the floor was covered in footballs. Some of the children had donned a supplied kit, and their parents toddled after their toddlers as they all walked about in generally any other direction that they were supposed to.
My boy would fit right in.
Two coaches were tasked with corralling these young charges into some mild form of activity, and they did a fantastic job. The football-orientated activities required some form of instruction, but it was fun and my boy just loved having the ball at his feet.
He didn’t really do any of the tasks. He didn’t gather the coloured cones. He didn’t pick up the football’s and put them in the sack. He didn’t crawl under the apparatus and then score a goal.
He simply dribbled the football really fast around the room. This was interspersed by bouts of banging a metal covered radiator which made a no-doubt satisfying noise – so much so that it ended up luring two other kids to do the same thing.
My child is a bad influence already.
Anyway, as he was dribbling, he ran full pelt into at least four of the kids. Three of the kids went down like a sack of spuds and were too dazed to utter even a howl before being swept up by their parents, away from the ruffian who is a menace to their beloved.
The last child who was taken out by my flesh and blood hit the deck and bawled instantly. What I didn’t know before he went down is that this kid had a rather serious lazy eye.
So when he opened his eyes while on the floor, I instantly thought my boy had done lasting damage.
The guilt you feel when your child does something to affect another child is suffocating. You instantly flush and rush over, gushing apologies which are accepted and you are reassured that there’s no problem.
You know though, that when they get home and tell their family, your child will be described as an uncontrollable monster.
It’s true, my boy was the only one who made another cry. He was the only one who knocked another to the floor. But none of this was done out of spite. My offspring was simply the only kid who was running fast. He was the only one dribbling the ball.
Still, he definitely has room for improvement. In between the activities, there are songs and periods where they have to listen and that was where his shortcoming lay. He wouldn’t sit still like the other kids, who were listening intently, raptured by the group leader.
Mine? Well, I was simply busy trying to keep him in the room without the need for rope. He doesn’t sit still…
It is quite funny as you look around and watch the other parents to see how they have trained their children. Have they got them in an armlock in order for them to sit in the same spot for more than three seconds? Are they bribing them with small treats like a dog trainer at Crufts?
No idea. The parents were taking part in a lively version of the club hit “Heads, Shoulders Knees and Toes.” The kids watched on, as the parents tried in vain to show that this is fun, why not try it yourself? Us parents were doing the majority of the activities while the subjects of our devotion looked on, unimpressed.
The whole experience lasted an hour, and I was covered in sweat as I had followed my boy around the room as he did laps. Will we be going back next week? You bet.
There were some real beautiful moments in amongst the panic as my son went hurtling toward an eighteen month old tiny girl and then an open door. He hugged another kid, who reciprocated. He went underneath an arch and did kick the ball when instructed. Such small acts but my word, my heart swelled, and it wasn’t just because I need to kick up my cardio.
Your heart is in your mouth a lot of the time when you take your kid out to socialise. You have no idea what they’re going to do next because THEY don’t have a clue what they are going to do next – but isn’t that amazing?
You’re seeing them map out their personalities, experiencing so many things for the first time. This road is peppered with potholes that will leave you tearing your hair out, but when the going is good, you will have memories you can truly cherish.
My boy at these football classes showed he truly is a cut above when it comes to football and it is something I will try to flourish. The little moments where he interacts so sweetly with other kids? That is far more important to me.