The Casual Father: Witching hour is best avoided

Casual Father

Casual Father - Credit: Archant

With people rushing to make the most of the few scraps of good weather we have left this summer, barbecue invitations have been coming in thick and fast.

But as with any social engagment we have gone to since Elizabeth was born 10 months ago, taking a child along gives it a different slant.

Previously, planning to go to a barbecue meant the wife fretting about what to wear while I was more interested in who was going to drive home.

These days, we are most concerned with whether we’ve remembered enough spare nappies and how the journey there and back will fit into Elizabeth’s nap schedule.

However, my eyes lit up as we arrived at our friends’ gathering last week to see how child friendly they had made their back garden.

Scores of toys scattered around under a gazebo, small slides, a doll’s house, and a paddling pool for the little ones to cool off on a warm day.

It seemed like the perfect scenario for me to dump Elizabeth somewhere among the entertainment and sit back with a cold beer in the sunshine.

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Unfortunately, and as I am gradually learning, that never seems to be possible.

The garden quickly filled up with children, all of whom were older than Elizabeth, and the wife spent the early part of the shindig trying to shepherd her through the excitable toddler carnage.

While making myself scarce and pretending to help my hosting friend Simon with barbecuing duties, I soon got a glare that said ‘Your turn’.

Things were going ok on my watch until one of the kids decided they wanted to get into the paddling pool, at which point they all wanted to get in.

The pool was reasonably sized but the toddlers seemed unconcerned with the rules of regular swimming baths as they splashed, dived and bombed in.

Poor Elizabeth’s time in the water was short-lived and she was soon howling after one of children, my godson, landed particularly close to her with a huge grin on his face. At least there was no heavy petting.

As the clock turned to 5pm, the kids began to squabble, fight, and generally play up. “It’s witching hour,” declared Simon, referring to the crazy time before bedtime.

For most of that hour I was camped out in the kitchen, deliberately taking an age to make Elizabeth’s bottle to avoid the tears and tantrums.

The wife, who doesn’t miss much, was soon on to me as she and other guests acted as referees to the witching hour action, which, if nothing else, was entertaining.

“Is that bottle ready yet?” asked the wife through gritted teeth. “Now coming,” I replied as a fire truck flew across my feet followed by two kids sprinting after it.

“Not sure I’m looking forward to Elizabeth turning into a witch,” I say to the wife on the car journey home.

“I wouldn’t worry about her,” is her reply, “it’s me you’ve got to worry about if you keep dodging childcare.”