Jack is the eldest of my children. All three were born in the same timeless fog of sleep deprived, milk encrusted chaos (17 months between him and the next one, four academic years between them all), so the poor boy was expected to do all the classic, big brother stuff – push the baby on the swing, feed the toddler, help mammy with the washing etc., while he was really just a baby himself. As the eldest, he was also the one who we practised our parenting skills on and the one who bore the brunt of our ineptitude, but also one who got away with the most. By the time the younger ones were trying it on, us greenhorn parents had been weathered into shrewd, cynical, eagle eyed bastards.
My favourite example of this is what happened the day Jack and his baby brother were playing with the fire engines. The boys had two toy fire engines, a red metal Tonka (British) one and a much bigger, yellow plastic (American) one. I walked into the room one day to see Jack swing the yellow fire engine around his head and land a resounding thwack on the baby. I snatched the little one up, who admittedly seemed more surprised than hurt, and hissed “Why on earth did you hit him with the yellow fire engine?”. Jack looked at me as if the answer was perfectly obvious and very reasonably told me “Because I couldn’t find the red one”. I knew it was wrong of me and I should be castigating him for his violent behaviour, but all I could do was roar with laughter.
One of the things Jack and Tom used to particularly enjoy when they were toddlers was going to the playground at Llyn Llech Owain country park. There was a good playground with a huge circular climbing frame, the centre of which had a net which kids could climb up or fall down into. It slightly resembled a web, so my two insectophile boys loved to pretend to be spiders in this web. I’m not sure that they ever caught, wrapped in silk and then ate any smaller children, but it’s the thought that counts.
Llyn Llech Owain also had a huge lake with a restful, picturesque walk, pushchair friendly duck-boards and a nice cafe. We spent a fair bit of time up there in the pre-school days of parental fire-fighting, when every day was a battle to survive until bedtime. So when Jack suggested we lunch there, I was delighted to agree. It’s somewhere we both have positive memories of now that the constant tiredness and bewilderment of early parenthood have softened.
25 March 2015
The Spider Park – Llyn Llech Owain, Carmarthenshire
Food at the Spider Park is a bit hit and miss these days. The cafe is adequate and cheap, but as both our first choices were unavailable, it was fortunate that neither of us was in gourmand mode and that the food was simply fuel which we impatiently shovelled in so that we could get the main event – the park.
There were no children in the playground which was fortunate as it meant we were able to wander around it at leisure. We were disappointed to see that the spider web climbing frame had been replaced with a much safer but more boring piece of play furniture, but Jack was delighted to find that the zip-line was still there. He ran towards it and launched himself into mid-air, but then suddenly realised that as he is considerably taller than he was when he last did this, there was good chance he was going to land in an ignominious heap. I helped by taking a photo.
We then went for a walk around the lake and admired the additional paths and bird watching hides which have been installed since back in the day. We dutifully went and sat in one for a few minutes, watched a mallard balefully paddle around till it caught sight of us and then hid itself in the reed bed, presumably joining all the other birds who were busy playing an expert level game of hide and seek. We agreed that we were hopeless bird watchers and wandered back to the duck-boards to look for amphibians.
When he was younger, Jack kept lizards and was very fond of all things reptile and amphibian with the result that we once went on a ‘newt recognition course’. Seriously, this is the sort of thing they don’t tell you about in the baby books but which you somehow get caught up in as a parent.
The newt course was brilliant as it turned out. We saw both common types of newt, but also grass snakes, adders and best of all, toads. It was spring, and the toads’ thoughts had clearly turned to the predictable, as they were ardently trying to mate with, well, anything. Not just any other toad, or even anything with a pulse, just anything. Toad mating involves the male holding on tight to their partner for hours, and making a very loud, indignant squeak if anyone or thing attempts to dislodge them. The sound they make is comical, especially if they are vociferously proclaiming their right to mate with a stone, a twig or a tennis ball. We were charmed and entertained by them and all the other animals we got close to that day, and it was delightful to walk around in the spring sunshine with Jack and remember them.
While walking Jack gave me a nice fact – the sphagnum moss we were walking on has a brilliant way to disseminate its seeds – it spits them out with literally the most force ever found on earth – 36,000G and creates vortex rings to help disseminate them. It sounds like Star Trek but it’s fact. I love a good fact and this is a beauty. I also love a good laugh, which by now, what with disconsolate ducks, amorous amphibians and high speed moss was becoming a continuous giggle. My iPhone inadvertently provided the apex of this for us when I asked Siri, the speech recognition programme on iPhone, to find the way to a local furniture shop called ‘Arthur Llewellyn Jenkins’. Jack just smiled and shook his head, as I said it and we were both helpless with laughter by the time Siri said “Did you mean ‘Are there, are there, in junkets’ Tracey? Would you like me to look that up?”.
On the way home, I played Jack the CD of the song I’ve just learnt on the guitar and immediately remembered why I value his musical opinion so much. Unlike most people, he really listened. When it had finished, his comments demonstrated that he had got to the heart of it immediately and reminded me that he is probably the most truly musical person I know. He squanders his gift carelessly – doesn’t practise for weeks on end, plays video game theme tunes when he should be practising scales and improvises around absolutely everything with no respect whatsoever – boogie-woogie Bach, jazz Beethoven, anything and everything. But his music is always melodic, rhythmic and expressive – I would give a lot to be able to produce any one of those three, but as I am his mum, I don’t need to bother with jealousy, I can just be really proud that this is my boy.