This is Max’s favourite game. He points at things. You tell him what they are. Max knows what these things are already, however this seems to be immaterial to his enjoyment of the game. Max is three.
To be fair, I’m not sure he did know that one; he is English after all. My wife, who’s been watching BBC’s Wonders of the Universe, pitches in.
“The sun is a star, like the ones you see at night.”
“Yes,” I say, beginning to lose enthusiasm for the game, “and one day the sun will burn itself out and we’ll all die.”
Max snorts with laughter although his parents are presumably wishing they’d sat me up front in the car instead of next to their impressionable child. We’re on our way to the seaside town of Maldon – a chance for my wife to catch up with old friends and for me to show off my blossoming parenting skills. It seems I’ve reached that age where weekends involve less drink, disorder and debauchery and more toddlers, tantrums and well, whatever it is they do in Maldon.
What they do in Maldon, it seems, is take their children to the seaside. I knew population growth was a problem, but I had no idea that East Essex was its epicentre. Everywhere you look there’s an ice-cream smudged urchin roaring its hot little face off. Tiny imps weave in and around us on wheels of varying size and number. There are kids in prams, kids on scooters, kids on bikes and kids on rollerblades. (When did rollerblading come back? I thought we all agreed that was a terrible idea circa 1993 and that we should never speak of it again.) What’s more, every single one of them is being dutifully followed around by a doting parent, cooing and clucking over their spawn’s every slack-jawed gurgle. Not Max and his parents though – they’re lovely.
How hard can this parenting lark be? You just follow a child around, nod sadly at other parents and try not to get arrested.
For inexplicable reasons Max is rather fond of me and has attached himself to my side like a limpet. Maybe it’s because I teach him the brutal realities of our cosmos. Or maybe it’s because I’ve promised to show him how to start a fire when we get back to his parents’ house. Either way, Max’s esteem has emboldened me and I start to believe I might not be totally out of my depth. I mean, how hard can this parenting lark be? You just follow a child around, nod sadly at other parents and try not to get arrested. Inspired by this realisation I decide to accompany Max into the giant, ship-shaped playground while the others eat their lunch.
This was a mistake.
Timber walls rise high above my head supporting gangways on either side teeming with hostile forces. I feel like C-3PO entering the Ewok village, except instead of being treated like a deity I’m regarded with open suspicion – followed by outright aggression. A swarm of tiny trainers lay siege to my shins to cries of hysterical delight. The savages don’t just attack me, either. Quite often they turn on their own. I suggest to one pocket-sized brute that he shouldn’t throw sand at the others and he looks at me with such cold, black eyes that I thought he was going to nut me.
Eventually I retreat to the outskirts and watch from a safer distance. My shins might be out of harms way, but my nerves are shot. How can innocent, little Max be expected to survive such a barbaric world? Why are those gangways so high? That slippery slide looked a bit slippery. And what if he gets his head stuck in a rope ladder? I suppose by the time your child has learnt to climb stuff you’ve given up trying to stop them snuffing themselves. The world is so full of heavy objects just waiting to come toppling down on their bowl cuts that all you can do is cross your fingers and hope they dodge the heaviest ones
To my eternal gratitude Max survives and we go looking for the others.
“What’s that?” he says pointing at a picnic table.
“That’s your mummy and daddy” I say, relief written all over my face.
Got a comment on Stuart's column? Leave it below. Read all of our male columnist's posts here.
Picture credit: Getty Images