A Fathers story of Being at home parenting his children
Arlo makes friends wherever we go. Even older children who look at him like he’s some crazy-talking-fictional-character at first, warm to him eventually. He’s relentless in his eagerness to have fun and that’s infectious. This puts me in contact with a lot of new faces. You could label some cute. Others, energised. “Spirited,” a granny might say. But the majority can onlybe described as mucky! Existing on some level between disgusting and icky. It’s not their clothes, which are usually pretty mucky too, (you can tell they were clean when they put them on in the morning) it’s more of an aura of muckiness. Smears of snot like snail trails glistening from certain angles on the side of their faces. Sticky warm hands covered in hidden germs and everything else they’ve touched in the last hour. Including, and in no particular order: Their bum hole, genitals, the bit of the toilet no adult would touch without rubber gloves, something that was originally solid but has softened in their warm clammy grip, fluff and dust off a floor which has become intertwined with the stickiness of their being.
I include my boy Ove in this. 100%. He looks mucky after a bath. That’s not easy to achieve, so I’m sympathetic to the plight of the mucky child phenomena which is a blight in any parent’s day.
But I recently witnessed something so unbelievable it’s difficult to describe its mucky-magnificence. Arlo was playing with a boy at soft play. They’d been running wild around the place while me and Ove had a leisurely stroll from area to area without agenda. This boy’s face was always out of view. I thought nothing of it at first but then the first tingles of awareness sparkled and snapped around at my consciousness. An ancient, reptilian part of my brain was alerted – protect your child, there’s muckiness afoot. I grabbed Ove and slid him into his sling. Together we approached the mouth of the large climbing, slidey, ball pit area where only the brave will enter. Ove looked at me with his pure blue knowing eyes.
‘Yes, Son. We must go in.’
He pointed towards the flashy arcade game in the corner and mumbled.
‘No. Arlo needs us.’
I tightened the sling around us. I wasn’t going to lose this one. We entered. I pushed through the long lightweight punch bags hanging from metal bars. A toddler was in the corner headbutting the fence while crying. I asked him if he needed help. He stopped headbutting the fence and began laughing hysterically. We left him to it. Arlo and his friend stomped above us and ran across a rickety bridge. I only glimpsed the bottom of their socks but I knew it was them. We took a left and began climbing up a strappy thing to the next level where we came face-to-face with what can only be described as the lost children from Mad Max. They’d been long forgotten by their carers, parents, whoever it was who’d brought them to this place. I tried to pass them without being seen but it was hopeless.
‘Mama?’ asked a child wearing a potato sack for a dress.
I didn’t make eye contact and she wandered towards an inflated tube with a clown face.
‘Mama?’ she repeated.
I placed my back against the sponge wall and moved along a corridor towards the entrance to the next level, but the Mad Max children had sensed my presence.
‘Dadda?’ a boy with half a haircut asked.
I shook my head and shushed him, but it was too late. The docile pack had been awakened. They’d never seen a man under sixty years old on a workday and they wanted one badly. Kids dropped from the padded scaffold all around us. Others dragged themselves over brightly coloured patched up barriers. Their eyes were wild with excitement. Ove squeezed my shoulder.
‘I know, Son. I love you.’
We pushed forward.
I guided that boy down the slide to my left.
Sorry little Princess. I point to the floor.
Several of them including a haggard looking Snow White look down and I pressed on.
The children parted and a little girl, the leader I think, made her way to the front of the pack. Smaller children hissed at her, but she scolded them with a look, and they recoiled into the shadows. She turned her attention back to me.
‘My Daddy,’ she said.
The pack began slapping the floor and stamping their feet like demented chimps as they approached us. We were done for. But suddenly, from out of the darkness to our left, flickers of light began to sting the children’s eyes as dangly strips of fabric were disturbed by a chubby fist. I took the opportunity and jumped onto a separate platform as a truly mucky toddler wobbled his way into the centre of the pack. He looked around. Unwittingly. Not sensing any danger. Innocent. He held out a hand which clutched a white semi-chewed ball of deconstructed toast.
‘Toast?’ he exclaimed.
He never stood a chance. The pack completely forgot I existed and homed in on that poor boy. He looked towards me, confused at first then angry, as the pack began clawing at the prize in his grip. This gave us the vital seconds required to scramble to safety. I looked over my shoulder one last time as a Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol enthusiast pushed him to the floor while the pack surrounded him.
‘Thank you,’ I whispered. ‘Your sacrifice will not be in vain.’
The higher we climbed the hotter it got. Greece, in the height of summer, hot. I thought somebody was cooking kebabs in the ball pit, but it was the smell from my armpits which was oozing toxins stored from Creamfields Festival 1999. Some fresh- faced kids appeared waving small balls in the air and smiling. They were using gestures and a dialect I couldn’t understand. I dodged, nudged and continued to climb until coming face-to-face, sort of, with Arlo and the back of his new friend’s head. All noise was sucked from the room as if a great sound collecting vacuum had been switched on. It darkened. A chill filled the air and the damp patches under my arms and across my chest froze instantly. Ove looked at me. I nodded. We’d come this far. The only way back down was on the multi-coloured slide less than five metres away. We scrambled onto the final platform where Arlo and his friend were sitting.
‘Hi, Daddy,’ Arlo shouted.
His new friend turned suddenly before I could reply. Ove grasped my hand. The illuminous snot hanging from this kid’s nose was nothing short of miraculous. I was hypnotised by its shear otherworldliness. I wanted to prod it with a stick but I had no stick. No sense of space or time. Was it real? Is anything real?
This living organism attached to that child’s face made me question my very existence. But I acted swiftly.
‘You need to go find your mum, or whoever you’re with, sharpish and ask them to wipe your nose, mate.’
He knew. His eyes told me so. I respected him at that moment. He had the presence of mind to not wipe it on his thin sleeve – he would’ve needed an arm longer than an orangutan to achieve this anyway. Instead he chose to continue enjoying himself. Allowing it to exist on his face. Neither boy concerned about any social faux pas, such as spinach in the teeth or in this case, a new organ developing on his philtrum. But unlike these children, I have a keen eye for such things, so I pointed with a finger and nudged him with a toe towards the slide.
‘Go on – go, get, go on.’
He rolled away and slid down the bumpy slide headfirst on his back, never breaking eye contact with me for a moment. Neither did it. I tried to take my eyes away, but it was simply too amazing. He disappeared from view.I removed Ove from the sling and we both hugged Arlo, who had no idea he’d been in the presence of a medical marvel.
‘Shall we go down the slide, boys?’
‘Yeah,’ they agreed.
We took up positions at the top of the slide. I turned to my right.
‘Are you ready, Arlo?’
He was. I turned to the left.
He was ready too. I turned back to Arlo and his friend had returned with a handful of Cadburys Buttons melting in his grasp. Chocolate smeared all over his now snot-less face. I pointed to the ceiling, creating a moments distraction, then pushed both my boys down the slide to safety.
We never looked back.
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