For the last year, Pip's Littlun has had quite an action-packed weekly schedule. Places like Sure Start and the local library have had things for him to be getting on with most days, socialising with other toddlers his age and doing various noisy and/or messy group activities. He's also had pretty-much weekly visits to the indoor adventure playground, and swimming when Pip has a friend with a day off who can hang onto the tot in the changing room (I don't count for that, being female).
Except we've run up against a little bit of a problem. Most of these social/activity groups are only run during term-time when the older children of the parents - and in some cases, of the people who organise the groups - are safely out of the way at school. In the school holidays, the groups are suspended. It makes sense I suppose. If you have a six year old, you can't include them into a toddlers group and you can't leave them at home. However, it means that Littlun's diary has rapidly emptied.
The adventure playground is effectively Term Time Only too. Technically we could take Littlun there, but in the school holidays it is (understandably) overrun with great big mean tough bruisers of seven or eight years old. As the "big" kids play equipment fills up, they start to investigate the other stuff, and a lot of them have the sort of parents who read the sign saying "This Area Is For Under-4's Only!" as having a little disclaimer underneath saying "oh, and your child too, obviously. Don't bother keeping an eye on him."*
Furthermore, the main "swimming friend" has a girlfriend who works at a college, so once term-time ends, he has other things to occupy his day off.
And finally, the one Sure Start group that isn't listed as Term Time Only is restricted to under-2's, and as of this autumn Littlun no longer falls into that category.
Of course, the Term Time Only problem cropped up in the summer holidays too. But summer was different. We found a list of the locations of all the council-owned playgrounds in the area to visit. There was the beach to go to as well. It was easy for Pip to pop Littlun into the pushchair or the backpack and take him for a walk into town or similar, seeing whatever there was to see along the way. And there were things like our trip to the zoo. Sadly, these activities to not lend themselves well to a cold, wet British winter. Strolling around a lovely green park on a beautiful warm summer's afternoon while the toddler runs about laughing his head off with other kids simply is not the same as shuddering with cold standing on an empty field hoping the rain will hold off while the toddler slips over on the mud.
But that's just it. The parks are empty. All those kids, they must be somewhere, must be doing something. They can't all be watching TV. What are they doing? Where have they gone? How are their parents keeping them entertained?
Pip and I are fast running out of ideas. And because Pip is a single father rather than a mother, a lot of the usual parenting channels are effectively cut off to him. He went to a father and child playgroup at Sure Start once or twice, but it was mostly non-resident fathers, and the only bit of help he gleaned from any of them apparently was that if he was to sign up to a website like mumsnet then as a single father he would get chatted up in seconds by single mums on the lookout for a man who likes kids... which I'm sure is interesting but not exactly what we're looking for here. We are considering setting up an account in my name and him using it pretending to be me pretending to be Littlun's mum, but frankly that could get just far too confusing.
So, I throw the question of entertaining a two-year-old in the Christmas holidays open to the floor. Any ideas?
* I wish I could read the invisible signs. Like "please take a ticket and wait for your number to be called" has "unless it's you, in which case go and give the security guard some verbal abuse." Or "please use the antiseptic hand gel on entering this ward" which has "except you, because even though you haven't washed your hands all day you have extra-special skin that can't possibly harbour germs of any kind." And of course "Disabled parking spaces, blue badges must be displayed" "unless you're only going to be ten minutes, or it's raining, or you're running late..." but that's another post.