At one o’clock the three of us sit down at a table just outside the kitchen and enjoy a cuppa. I have a mug of coffee, our leader, Tina, has a mug of tea, and our fellow helper, Anne, has tea in a tea-cup, poured
from a proper tea-pot. What style!
We need our cuppa because we have spent the last half an hour setting out the hall in preparation for the weekly Mother &
Toddler Group. This involves lugging large amounts of equipment stacked in an out-building and erecting it in places determined by our leader. It is my first (and probably my last) time helping with the Mother and Toddler Group and the equipment store is like
an Aladdin’s Cave to me. There’s a proper play kitchen, with stove and saucepans, realistic looking plastic food and an ironing board! There’s a garden, with flowers and pots and green stumpy things which I think are supposed to be trees.
There are two prams, over-occupied by any number of dolls in various states of undress. There’s a slide, a couple of bicycles, a ride-along horse with a mangy mane, a table for jigsaws, a collection of books for the quiet corner, several lumpy
bean bags and – best of all – a sand pit.
Anne thinks it is not a good idea to have the sand pit out as the sand will go everywhere. This seems to me to be a self-fulfilling prophecy but
our Leader, who is a Person After My Own Heart, says that the mums had specifically asked for the sand pit to be put out and if we wait for better weather and a chance to pay outside we might wait forever. We will stand the sand pit on a tarpaulin to
catch the overflow. Anne gives her a Don’t Say I Didn’t tell You look.
As a newcomer I have to be told where everything needs to go. There’s
a ring of chairs around a soft play area created for the babies, a track for toy cars, tables and chairs for the mid-afternoon break when the mums can get together and chat to each other while their off-spring fight over the biscuits. It all takes time –
and the short break at one o’clock, before the doors open at 1.15 p.m. is a welcome breather. It also gives our Leader a chance to give me my instructions for the afternoon which mainly consist of “being around”, making the afternoon refreshments
and washing up afterwards, then transporting all the equipment back into the store at the end of the session. I promise to do my best.
The Mums and Babes are arriving
and lining up at the Sign-In desk. The charge is £1.20 per family, including refreshments, which seems like a bargain to me. Particularly with Use of Sandpit thrown in. Certainly there are plenty of takers coming through the doors.
There are five babies in the Baby Corner. Four little girls sit sweetly playing while one rumbustious boy rolls and wriggles and kicks his companions. He reminds me of someone I know.
In the sandpit a lad in a rather fetching check fedora asks me to help with his building scheme. I admire his hat and he tells me he has three more at home which he wears in turn. I can’t remember developing a fashion sense at the age of three. In
fact, I can’t remember developing a fashion sense, period. I look at my building partner with renewed admiration.
You see, here is my problem. I am no good
at watching children play. I just have to join in.
Some years ago I accompanied the Eldest of the Darling Daughters when it was her turn to help out at her
daughter’s Brownie pack meeting. Brown Owl said that the E of the DDs would be known as “Star” for the evening, while I would be known as “Star 2”. We all divided into groups to play a game a bit like Charades which
involved watching the other groups acting out a TV programme, book, or film and guessing what it was. Anyway, the first group acted out their chosen programme and, well, it was SO obvious what it was! Tracey Beaker, no less. I was SO excited that I just
shouted out the answer. There was no way any of the other groups were going to beat us.
Brown Owl was icy in her condemnation: “This game isn’t really
meant for you, Star 2,” she pointed out.
Oh, the shame of it!