Do you remember how your childhood seemed to last forever? All those long hours of learning to do wheelies, blowing the perfect Hubba Bubba bubble, smoking fags…Days and days of hide and seek and kickstone and people daring you to do things like climb trees and jump off the roof of the shed. Ah, the things we destroyed! The bones we shattered! Wasn’t it FUN?
Actually, we were bored to death, but that was ok. We learned that boredom was our friend. Now, boredom is a complete no no. In the age of technology and the Internet, a bored kid is a NIGHTMARE KID. The cry of ‘What can I do?’ whenever they have a spare millisecond can be heard all around the house. In answer to the question ‘what can I do?’, we all shout: ‘You’ve got a room full of toys, go and play with them!’ And they look at you like you just asked them to clean the bogs in a Siberian prison camp. Modern kids have no idea how to cope with it at all.
So in order to make sure they’re not bored, we give ourselves tons of boredom and stress by taking them to loads of activities. Yes, your kid has full diary that would rival Obama’s, and we end up being their lowly personal assistants, drivers and jacket holders. Ballet, tennis, rugby, football, gymnastics, Cubs, Scouts, Brownies, Tae Kwon Bloody Do – we dash from one to another, yelling ‘WE’RE LATE PUT YOUR SHOES ON! – and although THEY have a good time, personally I would rather be a fluffer on a porn movie than be at a leisure centre at 9am on a Saturday morning.
Take swimming, for example. Going swimming on my own is great. I can glide through the water and clear my head while burning a few calories at the same time. Bliss.
But when you take kids swimming, it’s hell with chlorine in it. The whole dry to wet to dry business is a nightmare. Peeling off slimy, soggy swimming costumes, trying to get them ready as they clown around in the tiny 3ft by 3ft changing room, being forced to go down a creaky municipal water slide into a frothing bath full of floating sticking plasters – it’s torture. And if you manage to get through the interminable drying process without killing each other, one of your children will probably loudly ask why Mummy has got a hairy front bottom just as That Hot Dad From School walks past. ARRRRRRGH.
Football is even worse. Sweaty airtex? Check. An all-weather pitch full of insane testosterone-fuelled 5 year olds who bite like Suarez? Check. Freezing your tits off? CHECK. In America, they call them Soccer Moms, which sounds quite exciting. But there’s nothing exciting or glamorous about standing in the rain needing a coffee for an hour while your kid gets systematically kicked in the shins.
Gymnastics is also heavy going. Every Wednesday for about three years, my child has been going to a fusty gym until half seven at night to do forward rolls on a crash mat, and although it’s cost about a million pounds, I have yet to see any evidence that he can even do a cartwheel. (In fact, the last time he tried to do a cartwheel, he looked like a crab having a heart attack and nearly knocked over the telly.)
And then there’s the whole Cubs/Brownies/Beavers/Rainbows thing. The price of the uniforms alone is enough to make you want to hit Baden-Powell with a tent peg mallet. When he thought of this stuff, times were very different. It was all about getting some fresh air and helping some old people. Now it’s about gathering in a church hall, eating sweets, dancing round a mushroom, saying your Brownie promise to an owl and praying. Where are the bivouacs? The Bob a Jobs? The tearful phone calls from the countryside asking to come home? My friend’s daughter is a Guide and she actually got a badge for Eating Sweets.
But you take them. Even though extra curricular activities are expensive and you seem to spend all your time hurrying up to get there, and waiting for hours until they finish. And even though you seem to live in council leisure centres, hanging around the vending machine, wondering what happened to your free time. They like it, it’s good to learn new things, so you sign them up for yet another judo lesson at a really awkward time on a Tuesday.
But part of me really wants to turf them all out into the garden and leave them to their own devices. Then they can learn the things that really matter, like building a den, tying their sister to a tree, whistling and setting fire to old mattresses. I mean, we turned out ok.