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Lucy Mangan: ‘I Still Don’t Understand The Secret Network Of Toddler Activities'

When it comes to planning family days out, you need tips from other mums, says Lucy Mangan


‘Shouldn’t we know about this stuff by now?’ says my husband, as we sit one Friday evening with the prospect of a weekend that needs to contain some form of family activity bearing down on us. We never have any idea what to do with our toddler or where to take him for a fun morning, afternoon or – if we’ve had enough sleep and taken the right stimulants – day out.

I always imagined that, by this point (he’s two and a half), I would be alert to all the hidden delights our locality (or, failing that, a half hour train trip to what my mother still calls ‘That there London’) has to offer. I thought it would be like parenthood’s answer to Diagon Alley springing up and a new aspect of our leafy suburb would stand suddenly revealed.

Where once I saw clothes shops, peaceful cafés and bookshops, I would now see soft play centres, Tumbling Tot classes, petting zoos, nature trails, arts and crafty things where he could play with glue and glitter without giving me a stroke, or… or… or other things I can’t describe because I cannot yet even conceive of them.

'I'll have to fake a nature trail in the garden instead'

The internet is surprisingly unhelpful when it comes to finding new things to do and places to go. They have to reach a certain size and prominence before they turn up in those sketchy searches we do late at night (when we’d sell our souls to have been asleep for three hours already). Or in the chaos of a Saturday morning (when we’d sell our souls to be able to go back to bed for another three hours).

And, even then, they always turn out to be unsuitable in some way. No parking. The only section suitable for your child’s age group closed for repairs. No café.

 So, you need the know-how, the hot tips, the secret leaflets passed among other parents to get you to the good, reliable, fully-accessible stuff. And I don’t know anyone. I don’t know how I’ve managed to fail so spectacularly at this.

I thought I was being really gregarious, even though the enforced socialising required by parenting has been one of the most stressful things about the whole endeavour to a constitutional hermit like myself. But, obviously, I set the bar too low. And, in doing so, I have deprived my child of endless opportunities for joyful, creative and exuberant play.

Is it too late? Is it like school, where if you don’t get in with the popular gang at the beginning, you’re a social outcast from then on? Do we have to move and start again somewhere I can feign enthusiasm more effectively? Oh I’m so tired, I’ll just fake a nature trail in the garden tomorrow. That’ll do.

To read Lucy Mangan's monthly column, subscribe to Mother & Baby magazine here

Lucy’s new book Charlie's Chocolate Factory: the Complete Story of Willy Wonka, the Golden Ticket and Roald Dahl's Greatest Creation is out on September 4th.

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