Playing and worrying about playing.

Spent the day in central Bristol today with my four year old son. I’m always very observant of his play, my reactions and my play that is in response to him. We started off in Clifton and at his request, played on the travelaters in Clifton Down Shopping centre. ‘This is brilliant fun’ I thought. ‘We’ll probably get told off soon, but for now its great’. My son, B loved trying to walk in the wrong direction. I found myself really bound to the rules of shopping centres, and although I didn’t stop him, it took a while for me to relax. ‘Is this OK?’ ‘Will we get told off?’ ‘Will people see me as a bad parent?’ These were questions that bounced around my head throughout our day.

Next we hit the RWA where a 100 year old ‘Bristol Scout’ aeroplane was stationed for the day. I was popping in to see Hugh Thomas from My Future My Choice– a brilliant Bristol organisation who create educational resources. Today Hugh was running a workshop building model aeroplanes.

We had a wonderfully playful encounter at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, during the Pliosaurus! exhibition. Doris, the life-size pliosaurus had a wound on her flipper and B wanted to help her. We mentioned this to a volunteer. “Wait here” she said and promptly disappeared, returning with a doctors kit and lab coats! The set was new and they had obviously been waiting for this opportunity. Another volunteer joined us with felt for bandages and we and lots of other children were quickly playing dinosaur vet games. It was a brilliant response and really made the exhibition for me and B. Well done that team.

We found ourselves at College Green shortly after where B, seeing the ‘moat’ and fountain by the council house wanted a paddle. Back came my worries. ” Is this OK?” I accepted that of course it should be. “If a 4 year old can’t then…”. B then invited me in and I really held back. It took a while for me to accept this was totally OK and we had a great time splashing and playing. I couldn’t completely relax, but on entering Millennium Square later, I remembered that Bristol has many water spaces to play in- it was simply that we were the only ones in front of the council house! I hope that children (and parents) at National Play Day tomorrow paddle to their hearts desire! I was confused by and am still finding my stance as dad, citizen, playmate and playful person.

Onto At-Bristol next for their What If….? Festival. We had a great time looking around the exhibits. Highlights included dressing up as a bee; eating mealworms and ‘cricket flour falafel; Luke Jerrom’s beautiful and at points, heart wrenching Glass Microbiology; and building a den from inflatable seats in the central gallery. I’m really looking forward to events for ‘What if’- in particular  playing with robots on Friday.

It’s an interesting conundrum playing as a parent in public spaces. I want to be as playful as possible and engage on the same level but his safety only allows me to do that to a certain degree. I’m really aware of my own rules, concerns and anxieties about the rules of play in public when I’m with B. I don’t have these worries when I’m on my own or with peers and don’t worry when we’re playing in our own spaces. My role and my identity create clashing feelings and I’m aware that self awareness bubbles up far more than it should. Ongoing work there……