You’ll have to excuse the optimism, but there’s no time of year and day quite like a spring morning. An early start, the air is crisp and sweet, the sky is blue, the shadows long.
Living in London, a faint glimmer of sunshine means our local playground is packed during the day: queues to the swings, chaos on the slides, carnage on the roundabouts and a highly stressed guy at the ice-cream stand trying to keep up with the constant flow of grumpy, happy or hyperactive children. Trying to get Little Bear on a swing can involve a five minutes wait, which doesn’t make sense in a toddler’s world-view so involves 5 minutes of stopping him from throwing himself at the other children on the swings. A trip up the ladder to the slide is equally tough, with inevitable disaster when he tries to climb back up the slide when he gets to the bottom. ‘No baby! No! ‘t ‘genst rules baby! Stop!’ shouts the 3-year-old who can’t understand why Little Bear doesn’t know the ways of the playground yet. Then,like soft-play only with concrete floors, comes the inevitable head kicks from older kids and the toddler tumbles.
Back to Spring mornings: the other great thing you don’t think about pre-baby, is the silence. No-body else is around save the occasional jogger. Try the London playground setting at 6:30 in the morning… Peace. Since Little Bear’s up at 6 and Pappa has morning duty on the weekends, why not? A huge playground almost entirely for the Little Bear. ‘Screw the rules Pappa! I’m climbing up this slide and there’s no ugly 3-year-old to shout at me! Allons-y! Freedom!’ . Go Little Bear.
I say there’s no-one, but the last few times we’ve found parents there who have had the same thought. Usually just one set with a babba about the same size as Little Bear.
Dog-owners will often say that dogs are a great way of striking up conversation with strangers. Your dog plays with other dogs and you talk to the owners (normally about dogs). Kids and adults alike look at your dog and want to stroke it: ‘isn’t it so fluffy/tiny/huge/adorable’ etc.
Babies are like dogs. Last week Little Bear met a baby in one of the quiet early morning playground tunnels. After the little guys had exchanged a few words and made a few attempts at gouging out each other’s eyes, the dad and I got talking. We’ve met up with them a couple of times since. This week, Little Bear was sitting on his swing listening to familiar noises coming from the mum of the only other baby there. They were Swedish noises. Pappa got talking (about the babies of course, great conversation pieces) and now we have some Swedish speaking friends in the neighbourhood.
I’ve sat down on my own in a lot of cafes across the city to enjoy a coffee whilst reading on my laptop. No-one ever talks to you. Of course not, we’re in London, not the countryside (or Paris where everyone seems to want to voice their opinions to strangers). Everyone minds their own business.
No longer so with Little Bear in tow. Especially other parents who spot the little troll running around my legs and trying to bite my finger (on the weekend you’ll see a lot more dads out, often as a family, but on the week-days, it’s almost exclusively mums). Nearly every time we sit down for lunch or break when out, the chatting will start (normally when one of the tots tries to attack the other one, steal their toy, or start playing peak-a-boo with the stranger).
Who would have thought pre-baby, that there’s a vast day-time community of parents who come out in force and readily start chatting to each other with their buggies and little people. Minding your own business like a good Londoner becomes a lot harder when you have a teddy-bear like accessory following you around. Having a baby in London, you start to realise just how many sides the city has to it.
I'm Dave, dad of Little Bear. Also known as 'Pappa' to the little man as we try and bring out his Swedish roots