Today Zara and I are meeting a fellow stay-at-home dad buddy of mine, Jerred, and his sons at the Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park. By now, I’m pretty comfortable carting Zara around in the sling, so a relatively long Tube ride doesn’t stir up as much anxiety as it used to – and I have rice cakes.
We get to Hyde Park in good time and head in. As we enter, a friendly looking dog comes bounding over. Before I know it, it’s springing up at Zara, sniffing around the sling and getting my back up. It does it again, getting way too close for comfort, but still the owner doesn’t come over to pull it away. By the time it jumps up at us for a third time, the owner still nowhere in sight, I’ve had enough. I stick my leg out and push the dog away.
Suddenly, a woman comes running over. At last. But to my absolute disbelief she starts shouting at me for “kicking” her dog. She calls me cruel and storms away. I can’t believe it. I have a dog. If my dog ran over and jumped up at a stranger’s baby I’d pull it away instantly, apologise profusely and slink away with my tail between my legs, hoping that the angry parent wouldn’t take things any further.
Before entering the playground, still in a state of shock, I ask the woman working at the gate if there’s anything I can do about the incident. Between breaths I tell her my story and she listens with a comforting amount of incredulity. She tells me to leave it. “Some dog owners are crazy,” she says. “God will judge them,” she adds. Funny, but I don’t think I want to take it quite that far. By the time Jerred and his two kids meet us I’ve calmed down. A coffee helps. And then we’re in the playground.
It’s an awesome little space. Fenced in, so Jerred can let his older son wander around reasonably freely – mostly on the bustling pirate castle in the centre of the playground. The rest of us stroll around, checking out what the play area has to offer. We try out the metal chimes and musical hopscotch, which reminds me of that piano-jumping scene in Big. But Zara takes a while to warm up.
I try her out on the swings but she’s unsure. It’s her first time. Eventually, to my relief, I ease her into the seat again and she starts to let go. As she swings back and forth she starts to smile and really enjoy the ride, pointing at everything in sight; “Der! Der! Der!”
By now she’s totally into it, exploring the park as I run behind her, working hard to keep up. We revisit the sensory trail, peek through the tunnel under the hill and hit the swings again like old pros. And when Jerred and his kids leave Zara and I walk over to the giant pond, point at every bird in sight and head back to the station. We had a shaky start, but by the end she’s smiling from ear to ear.