I’ve just taken the kids to one of those indoor playgrounds on a wet Sunday afternoon. You know the ones, interchangeable barns, largely windowless, with brightly coloured climbing frames, inflatable slides, pits of balls and the like, and that indefinable vomit smell that my oldest son sagely tells me is the ‘combination of boy sweat and smelly socks.’ What is it about this place (as a stand in for all such places) that makes a 9 year old shriek at the top of his voice and disappear into the crowd as quick as a German from a Brazilian World Cup celebration party for no apparent reason as soon as he is let inside the gate to the kingdom? Buggered if I know. Anyway. In my 11 years as a parent I’ve been to LollyMunks-O-Rama [insert name of your local fixture here] more times than I can recall for birthday parties, and sanity saving days like today when I know I have to get the kids away from the X-Box before their small bodies decay for want of use.
For all my squeamishness about the sights and smells and sheer bloody garishness of such places, I use them and I’m grateful for them, on occasion. I’m not fond of the the occasional refrain from other GenX parents (not to mention earlier generations) including choice pieces of revisionist social history such as: “We never had these to go to in the 80s, we used to go to parks, we used to ride our bikes everywhere, we had REAL childhoods. We didn’t need the mollycoddling and safety-at-all-cost risk averse ‘fun’ today’s youngsters are fed.” (I’m not sure why I am reciting that in a Coronation Street accent, but there you go.) There is (as always) an element of truth in all that. For one thing, I remember the change in our behaviours after Teresa Cormack’s awful 1987 death; when a child’s wander to school became a symbol of unjustifiable risk and utter horror.
But on the other hand, I’m not so sure that ‘blimmin’ kids today’ really are that different to us lil paragons growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. Yes, kids are more likely to be sheltered and more sedentary now. We certainly know they are more likely to be obese. I don’t think this translates to children being intrinsically different to what they were “in my day”. Surrounded by kids this afternoon by maniacal mini whirling dervishes and adventuring tots, squabbling siblings, harried parents and families just generally getting on with being families, I feel kind of optimistic actually, that kids really will be ..well, kids. Just don’t get me started on the over-priced food. Or the ridiculously profitable machines and rides that we managed to resist today. Or the smell. Especially not the smell.