Today I took the boys to a local farm. There’s an enormous sand pit, gorgeous play area and several wooden playhouses. The boys love it. They spend hours getting muddy, bombing around on ride-on tractors and flinging sand around to their hearts’ content.
I overheard several exchanges today between parents and their children.
‘Come on, let’s go and get an ice-cream from the cafe.’
‘No, Mummy. Want to stay. Play.’
‘Come on, we are getting an ice-cream. Or do you want cake instead, or a biscuit?’
‘No, Mummy. Want to play. No want ice-cream.’
(Mother forcibly removes screaming child to go and get ice-cream.)
‘Come on, it’s time to go home. Let’s go home to put on the dinosaur film.’
‘No, I’ve buried a treasure chest. I want to dig it up again before we go.’
(Irate mother) ‘I said it’s time to go NOW. We won’t come back again if you don’t come now.
(Little boy follows his mother home in tears.)
‘Come on, we need to get back now. Your little sister is tired.’
‘I don’t want to go. I’m playing with these boys, digging holes.’
‘Okay, then Mummy is leaving without you.’
(Mother walks off, leaving the boy to run after her crying when he realised she wasn’t coming back.)
I sat there in the sunshine building sandcastles with my boys and I felt sad. I know everyone has time constraints, but all three of these exchanges ended in tears and I felt so bad for the children. I wanted to tell the mother of the first little girl that she didn’t want an ice-cream, she just wanted to be wild and free. I wanted to tell the third mother how contemptuous I felt towards her to put her innocent and trusting little boy in a position where he truly believed his protector had abandoned him.
I am, by no means, a perfect mother – but I do pride myself on allowing my boys to play over getting food or watching television, should they choose to play. My heart breaks when I see these tiny snippets of other lives. If they treat their children that way in public, how do they behave behind closed doors? It would have taken each of those parents 5 minutes to engage with their children and speak respectfully to them so they understood what was required of them.
Am I being too judgemental? I think every child has the right to play, to get dirty clothes and even dirtier faces. I lost count today of the number of times I heard, ‘don’t do that, you’ll get dirty’. What is childhood if you cannot run barefoot in the sand or feed the animals freshly pulled handfuls of Clover?
When my boys were born, I made a promise. And that promise was to always let them play, to let them be children, for as long as they want to be children.
We are in no hurry to forget how to play in this house. I hope those little souls are sleeping soundly now, their tears forgotten and with memories of a good day swirling in their dreamlands.