When the temperature hits the high-thirties and early-forties, Dear Boy and I migrate to the shopping centre, where the air-conditioning means we can leave the house and go for a walk without melting into the footpath. Some days I've done laps, steaming around the other red-faced folks with the pram and handing over cracker after cracker to keep him amused. Other days, we've wandered, letting Dear Boy take the lead and zip between the Australian Geographic shop's floor piano and the weird mirrored sculptures as many times as he wants. I lose track of the number of times I tell him to watch where he's going, to watch out for the people, to face the way he's walking - but it's a nice way to kill some time and beat the heat and cabin fever.
We inevitably end up at one of the three coin-operated rides. They swap them out quite regularly to keep the kids excited but there were tears when his beloved Thomas the Tank Engine ride was replaced by a three-person Wiggles number. Dear Boy loves these things - he loves running his hands over the smooth shiny surfaces and climbing into the seats and back out again; he loves steering wheels and flashing buttons; he loves talking to me about the characters.
He does not like when they move. Not at all. He will sit quite happily in a little car or digger or train for half an hour, chatting and toot-tooting and driving off into the sunset but he'll leap out at the first sign of motion. We've fed quite a few $2 coins into these these to then sit on the side-lines and watch them whizz round or judder unattended. Now I don't even offer because he'll say no.
He's also not particularly fond of sharing (what two-year-old is?). He loves to venture from one car to the next and back again, but he's learning that he needs to take turns and let the other kids play as well either consecutively or concurrently. I'm strict about him not pushing the other kids away, and empathetic when his little face crumples as I peel him away when his turn is over. I try to be fair about the amount of time that he plays, giving him just a few minutes when another child is waiting for a turn.
Unfortunately, I've found these kinds of courtesies are rarely returned by other parents. People with the $2 coin seem to think they own these machines. Perhaps they do technically "lease" them but if my kid is occupying a seat, surely there are squatters rights we could claim?
A few parents are lovely and ask if Dear Boy wants to ride with their child, to share the experience on their dime. I'm happy to let him try, but it generally ends with me running alongside trying to jerk his legs out from under a joystick or steering wheel as he whimpers. Other parents don't bother and just throw their child and money in without another thought to whether my kid is seated safely. I've even had a few set the machine in motion then disappear into a shop, leaving behind a mystified toddler or child.
This last weekend my boy was enjoying his promised clamber over the Wiggles' toot-toot chugga-chugga Big Red Car (and Plane and Boat) after our grocery shop. He was investigating a propeller when a mother deposited her two children into the car and plane and an unrelated grandmother, seeing a free ride was in the offing, thrust her infant into the boat. Dear Boy, clinging to the outside of the plane, was perplexed. Where just seconds before he'd been happily playing, now he was being ejected without his usual minute's warning to give him time to do his roll-call and say goodbye. The plane's new pilot peeled my son's fingers from the door and pushed him away. Her mother just looked on as Dear Boy looked to me for an explanation and a cuddle.
A bargain was struck between the mother and grandmother and the ride started. Without my boy. Without asking either of us. Without checking to see if he was far enough away. Without waiting for their turn. And then more coins were slotted in and the ride kept spinning while we waited, round and round while my Dear Boy sobbed.
Eventually we left because these are not the lessons we want our boy to learn. We don't want him to see that money beats manners. We don't want him to see that grown-ups can be arseholes and they're well on their way to teaching their kids to be arseholes too. We don't want him to see that a lot of things just aren't fair. Not yet anyway. Not when we're trying to teach him manners and to not be an arsehole and to be fair.
There are just too many parents like these in the many playgrounds we inhabit they days. I need to brush up on my confrontation and negotiation skills so my boy can eventually learn to deal with them too.