Lockdown has made me and my family far more familiar with our local parks than we were before.

Much like all parents, I have sought to find ways of getting my kids out of the confines of the house and outside. Without soft play areas, swimming pools and various amenities surrounding and inside shopping centres, nature is now the chief playmate for all kids outside. In 2020, for a large part of the lockdown, we had the bonus of good weather to spur us on as we explored our local areas. My oldest loved it and the fact he could really ‘let rip’ and run and run – and run some more – really helped him. Not just with his boundless reserves of energy, but even with his sleep pattern, which at the time was pretty messed up.

This latest lockdown though? It has been in cahoots with winter, and that invariably means plenty of rain for us Brits. And I’m not averse to taking my kids out when it’s wet – if anything they need to get used to it. They have been resplendent in Mickey Mouse wellington boots and more layers than a Matt Hancock PPE deal, splashing in puddles and getting drenched. But combine that with a biting wind and it is asking for trouble. So the majority of the time? The kids have been cooped up indoors.

And there’s only so much Peppa Pig you – and they – can stand.

But recently, milder climes have settled in a wee bit. Enough to warrant a jaunt or two to the local park anyway. And as I’ve started taking them regularly again I’ve noticed that parents of kids the same age have had the same thought.

It might be because we need some fresh air ourselves. It might be because we know that these kids normally expend so much energy that they can’t do that indoors without breaking something.

But whatever it is, it is a common thread. So we stand and watch as the kids go haring around the park. I’ll help each of them as they attempt to do some obstacles that are well above their age group, and make sure they get down/off/up the aforementioned apparatus safely.

All the while barking affirmations about being careful. And watching out for others. And not going too far away. And don’t go too fast. And don’t forget about your brother.

But in this little environment, I noticed something fascinating about my two boys that perhaps the walls of my house blinded me to.

Despite looking eerily similar, and in some ways acting similar – the way they are both acting in early social situations is vastly different.

With lockdown comes solitude of sorts. My oldest would have been taking part in ‘touch-base’ sessions that are a preclude to nursery right now. But that hasn’t transpired. So his interactions with kids of his own age have come entirely from chance encounters at the park. Which sounds dodgier than it is…

And watching him play and introduce himself and make those verbal connections breaks my heart every time.

My oldest seems to be very social. Every kid he has met, he instantly goes to cuddle them. Then he waves his hand, tells them his name and asks them how they are. Most kids react by running away with a smile on their face in order to initiate a game of chase. A few have shrunk away, terrified of this cuddle monster in front of them. And a few have responded in kind by then hugging my boy. Social distancing is nothing to these toddlers. I’ve given up trying to separate them, they are like magnets. So you just sit back and enjoy as the parents of the other kid on the receiving end of my boy’s cuddles panic about potential germs.

And my youngest?

Well, he couldn’t give two shiny craps about any other kid. He is more than happy bundling around and exploring. He wants to walk further, go and see things. If another kid runs up to him, he doesn’t get fazed. When he saw a dog for the first time, instead of running away, he smiled and wanted to pet it. He is fearless.

And the contrast to both of them, despite being brought up in the exact same conditions, says so much for the individuality of everyone.

And how much parenting actually adds.

We can teach them the rules of life, and their p’s and q’s.

But who they really are is always there.

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