My ten-year-old boy sobs theatrically on the threshold of the front door. “I hate going to the park,” he says. “You’re acting,” my husband retorts harshly with a dismissive flick of his hand. He’s a good actor - he actually won the school talent show judged by Davina Mcall, Olly Mears, and a man from JLS, for writing and performing a stand up comedy routine. He’s not usually tearful or difficult or stubborn in any way. The sobbing becomes disturbing, really quite authentic. He definitely looks pale-faced and tired, he had a disturbing dream last night about being eaten alive.
He has been stuck on a maths homework problem for an hour and has refused help. We want him to take a break, but he has now dropped to his knees wailing “get off me, leave me alone. I hate walking.” The Australians are approaching wearing tall, silly hats and holding packs of beer. “We have to go,” I stage whisper to my husband. We need to walk away before they witness this excruciating scene. “You’ve hit a wall,” my husband keeps repeating over and over again. “You need fresh air.” He takes the boy forcefully by the arm, and we set off, a desperate and suspicious looking trio.
We pass a woman who looks at us struggling with our son, then reaches for her mobile. I imagine she is ringing the police. We walk on, breathing in car fumes and bus diesel, towards the park that used to have rats running around the muddy banks of its pond. “It’s difficult being a child,” I explain to my husband, who is fuming, ‘it’s hard to be so powerless.”
We pass our special needs neighbour, the only one who refuses to attend the annual street parties and the hearty family who invite other families over for weekend lunch and then go to the park to have netball tournaments. They glance at us with a mixture of pity and horror.
The wine merchant (who has recently added French cheese to his window display) grimaces in sympathy as we walk past. The rain stops. We march round the park, there are a few dog-walkers escorting giant dogs, but otherwise the park is deserted. I wonder where we have gone wrong, and fantasise about joining a parenting class. In a moment of madness, I suggest that we get a dog. The boy perks up for a moment before descending into dark gloom again, demanding to be taken home. Is this brittle and determined negativity is a foretaste of teenage years? Or will I look back on this day in the park, and think it was a piece of cake?