The camera never lies, huh? Then mine’s the exception that proves the rule.
See these kids? See this homemade craft class? Idyllic, right? WRONG. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
It was cold. The day was stretching out empty in front of us. We were cocky. My friend had an amazing idea: a dinosaur hunt.
We’d make dinosaurs out of old cereal packets and the kids would decorate them with left over wrapping paper. Then we’d make ‘dinosaur eggs’ (cornflake cakes), the kids would stir the mix and dollop bits into an egg box before we left them to set.
Then, in the afternoon, we’d hide the cardboard dinosaurs around the local park and when the kids found them, they could trade them in for a dinosaur egg.
It was, I still maintain, an INSPIRED idea. So many different activities, lots of different skills, shed loads of fun, bit of time inside, bit of time outside… What could go wrong?
Well maybe I don’t need to tell you. Because maybe you’re one of the many amazing women I’ve met during the last fortnight who whip up creative, thrifty fun all the time (I’m working on a database of these heroines for the blog, by the way). Or maybe you’d just never be daft enough to try and do this all yourself. Either way: kudos.
Because let me tell you, it was BLOODY exhausting. Any idea how much time was spent with the kids actually engaged in the activity we’d designed versus the amount of time we put into planning and tidying up? Well, I can’t tell you. Because I was too busy flinging myself around to tot it up. But I’d estimate about 5:1 – five parts prep and tidy to one part engaged kids.
Don’t get me wrong: the kids LOVED sitting at the table and decorating. For five minutes. And they loved stirring the mixture. Maybe for sixty seconds. And they would have loved the dinosaur hunt, if it hadn’t been so cold that our noses were at critical risk from frostbite.
And all the time, I was thinking: if I’d paid £2.50 to go to the toy library, I could have saved myself a whole lot of bloody bother.
Actually, this is one of the things I feel most ambivalent about stopping (along with shopping for second hand things and supporting charity shops – more on this later).
Not the soft-play centres or expensive classes, but the great local playgroups and toy libraries that charge to attend, but not a fortune. And they do such a great job. They bring communities together and (I cannot stress this enough) they clear up the crap that you and your gorgeous progeny leave your in wake.
For us, our project relies entirely on the huge crowd of friends Johnny has of his own age. We can have them round for activities, head out to museums and woods with them. If we didn’t have that circle – if none of my friends had had kids at roughly the same time, or I lived in a less friendly neighbourhood – I’m not sure cutting back on ‘paid-for’ activities would be doable.
Kids need company and parents have a human right to get together to trade horror stories. Local play centres and their ilk go on valiently providing all that and more despite dire financial straits. In fact, I wouldn’t have met the kids in these pictures if I hadn’t been going to the local toy library last year.
But look, it wasn’t a total failure. It was a great, erm… experience. I learnt a lot and parts of it were a grand success. Bits of it were great fun for all of us: kids and adults. I think, (although my memory of the whole thing is hazy) that those parts were more fun that the average playgroup.
Oh, and if I had a cleaner, I’d be well up for doing the whole thing again. Or, since that’s already in the realm of total fantasy, an extra six hours in every day, a warmer climate and a topless man servant (What? It couldn’t hurt morale, could it?)
[Eagle eyed readers will spot the suspicious juice bottle in J's hand in the pic above. It's filled with tap water! I promise!]