When is a park not a park? When it's hosting a 'private party.' Visiting a local park for a bit of a play and some morning tea, Alex's eyes lit up when he spied a jumping castle set up on some grass. To the side of the jumping castle was a group of people milling around doing vaguely social things like eating and drinking, a few kids in tow. Your basic Christmas meet-up scenario.
Alex ran over to the jumping castle and asked a man standing in front of it how much it was for a go. He told Alex to go and ask one of the ladies in the nearby group. There were only a few kids on the thing, so I thought, they'll probably let him have a 5 minute go and then off we go, every one's happy.
Alas, this is where the story turns sour. A woman smugly informed me that the jumping castle was for their "private party" and no, we could not have a go. Actually, she informed Alex of that fact as he was the one who had asked for a turn. (Maybe she wasn't smug but this is a retrospective account and I'm so annoyed that she looks smug from where I'm sitting right now.)
"But at least you asked," she continued, "we've had to get kids off there this morning who just walked up and got on without asking!" Imagine that, I thought, kids getting on an unattended jumping castle in a public park!
"Thank you!" she trilled, indicating we should get lost now. Alex expressed his disappointment with a bit of a whinge but was otherwise impressively stoic for a three-year-old. We headed towards the regular playground instead, (the one marked with a sign, 'for the plebs').
Unfortunately most of the play equipment at the park had been set on fire by vandals and resembled a scene from Apocalype Now so no joy there either. I offered Alex a consolation piece of watermelon. He threw me a withering look (but took the watermelon).
Next thing later a Santa turned up in a company ute. "Look, there's Santa!" Alex called, his hopes rising once more. Unbelievably, one of the mums from the 'private party' group overheard Alex's exclamation and turned around to shout back, "Not for you!" (This time there was no mistaking the smugness). It was one time in my life that I was truly too shocked to respond.
Of course, with the arrival of Santa all the kids who'd been on the jumping castle vacated it to mob the red-suited guy, leaving the castle mocking us in its emptiness. It was all I could do not to smuggle Alex on to it and tell him to go for his life. Picturing the potential ensuing mama-biff (which I did actually picture in a fair amount of detail - I'd take my earrings off if I wore any, and yank that pony tail to the ground if she had one) I took the lover-not-fighter route and stayed where I was.
I know when I'm beat by a bad-vibe park. Alex knew it too. There was nothing for it but to raise the white flag. Contraband jumping castle on one side, ashy remnants of a choo-choo train on the other, we two forlorn figures trudged glumly back to the car. Good times.