Jen Hogan: Value of pure fun cannot be underestimated in the lives of children

The simple things we took for granted for so long, bringing joy back into our lives again

I hate the dark evenings. I’d hibernate for the winter if I could – waking up for Christmas of course – but hiding away for the rest of the shorter days. So, while the clocks going back meant that I had an extra hour of sleep (one of the upsides of not having a baby or toddler in the house anymore) and the clock in my car was correct for the first time in six months, there was still a bit of a “meh” feeling as I watched the evenings draw in ever more quickly.

“Grandad will be happy,” one of the littles said, as he looked out at the dark skies and slanting rain. “He loves the miserable, dark, dank days,” his brother continued with the precision of a child well rehearsed in teasing his grandfather over something he’d said once. But it’s true, their grandad loves the winter, and their nana too. I remain convinced it has to be about the timing of the festive season rather than anyone enjoying shorter days and bad weather, but they insist to the contrary.

Children need that joy. Joy and fun for the pure heck of it. It's why I was concerned when talk turned to children curbing their activities

Still, nothing like circumstances to remind you of your good fortune. It’s coming up to the self-dubbed favourite child’s birthday, the one who decided he couldn’t wait for his planned C-section date, causing a middle of the night panic and an emergency section to boot. In fairness to him, it’s possibly the only time in his life that this particular child has created any drama.

Last year, on his birthday, we were in Level 5 lockdown. So we celebrated his special day in the middle aisles of Aldi. He had it in his head that he'd like to go to the shops for his birthday – yes that is the levels of desperation children were reaching last winter. Of course, he meant a toy shop but, you know, pandemics and lockdowns and all that sort of stuff. So Aldi it was, to see what sort of Christmas goodies they had on sale.

This year, he’ll be giving the middle supermarket aisles a wide berth. And though the pandemic is not over, he can look forward to a trip to the cinema with a couple of his friends. The simple things we took for granted for so long, bringing joy back into our lives again.

Children need that joy. Joy and fun for the pure heck of it. It’s why I was concerned when talk turned to children curbing their activities. There are constant reminders that we are still in a pandemic. Children have not forgotten. Parents have not forgotten. Life is still not normal. But activities and playdates are important for all sorts of reasons – including fitness, co-ordination skills, life skills confidence, finding a tribe, social development, emotional development and fun. Pure fun, the value of which cannot be underestimated in the lives of children, especially after almost two years of pandemic living. We all have to play our part, and engage in life as safely as we can – but there is more than Covid to consider for our children.

And in that time spent wishing our days away, those pesky kids kept growing at a faster pace than time seemed to pass

We went out for dinner recently. All nine of us, in the one place and even at the one table for the first time since the pandemic began. Some of that is down to the fact that previous restrictions stopped us sitting together, even though we all lived in the same house. The other part is down to the challenges of trying to organise anything for a date or time where everyone is available. Such are the joys of having a family spread across all the different age groups.

While it’s a very different experience to dining out with the older kids alone, now that there are no babies or toddlers in the house, the prospect of eating out with all my family at once no longer fills me with dread. And sure only one of the kids fell flat out on his back, on to the floor mid-main course, having swung rather over enthusiastically on the chair – so we’ll take that as a win.

These are the moments I savour – us all being together I mean, rather than the predictable dramatics. And perhaps more so since the pandemic arrived on our shores. The restrictions made me wish away far too much of our lives, looking to brighter days and “meaningful” occasions when relatives didn’t feel too fearful to meet up, no matter whether we were allowed or not. And in that time spent wishing our days away, those pesky kids kept growing at a faster pace than time seemed to pass.

Another birthday, another reminder, but this time it’s a little easier to live in the moments. Simple joys, enjoyed safely, means I won’t even wish those shorter evenings away.

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