Ellie and the 4 boys spent a very enjoyable hour playing, without a care in the world. Ellie’s earlier inhibitions completely forgotten, she was having the most fun that she’d had in a very long time, and soon came to the conclusion in her own mind that she wanted to stay a kid forever, and never wanted to grow up. ‘Adulting’ was boring, always having to watch what you were doing, worrying about what others thought of you. Here, in the playground, she could just be herself, and she absolutely loved it.
As she watched them play, Lesley was transported back to years earlier when a much younger Ellie had been in her class at school. She’s always been carefree back then, playing easily with anybody and everybody, and on more than one occasion even the teachers had been drawn into one of her make believe game at playtime. One of the proudest and most satisfying aspects of being a teacher, she mused to herself, was seeing your charges grow, find their independence and spread their winds. But, on the other hand, it was also the saddest part, seeing them lose that childhood innocence, starting to take on adult worries and responsibilities and ultimately growing up. Bittersweet is how she could best describe it. “Penny for them.” Graham had noticed her thoughtful, pensive expression, and was curious about what was on her mind.
“Oh, it’s nothing much love. Washing them playing like that just got me to thinking, that’s all. I remember your Ellie when she was younger than the lads are now, playing just like this. It warms my heart to see the beautiful, confident young lady that she’s growing into, but at the same time it’s so lovely to see her letting go of it all for a short time, and just being herself.
“Isn’t it just! You know, she’s not played like this for far too long, too damn self conscious and worried about being grown up. I’ve tried telling her to enjoy it whilst she can, and this is the first time I’ve ever known her to do exactly that. In fact, it’s probably the first time she’s done anything I’ve told her, haha.”
The pair shared a look, and then promptly burst out laughing!
“You know Les, I really don’t know how you teachers do it. Being such a part of so many kids lives, and then having to let them go. It’s bad enough with your own, our Ellie is growing up so fast and changing in so many ways, but I know I have to let her become her own woman, and I’m so very proud of who she is becoming. It’s killing me to let my little girl go though, there’s no way I could ever do that with dozens of kids as you must have to.
Squeezing Graham’s hand gently, and looking him straight in the eye, Lesley blinked back a stray tear that had threatened to fall. “That’s almost exactly what I was thinking…you could have read my mind. Normally when they move on, we don’t get another glimpse into their lives and how they are doing. Very occasionally our paths will cross again when they are adults, and it’s so lovely to see what they’ve done with their lives, but this little insight into Ellie just a couple of short years later is fascinating, and so very precious. It must have been fate that our paths crossed today, and I’m so glad that they did.”
“You know, we should really make a move if we’ve going to catch that movie”, Graham had been so moved by Lesley’s little speech, and had to look away from her whilst he wiped his own eyes, embarrassed to cry in front of her, and changing the subject quickly.
“Let them play, there’s another screening an hour later, so it’s not the end of the world. And I don’t know about you, but I’m quite enjoying just having a little moment.”
Graham could only nod, still a little choked up. They both returned to their own thoughts for a while, as the children played, struggling to reconcile the feelings that were growing inside each of them.
Some time later, they were jolted back to reality by the sound of a shout coming from the other side of the play area. It was a boys voice, although at this distance they struggled to make out which of them it was. Then, before either could react, they noticed Ellie grab young Ben’s hand a run frantically towards the gate at the opposite end to where they were sitting.
Raising an eyebrow, Graham glanced at Lesley, and they both instinctively scooped up the various bags and jackets which had been left scattered around where they say and made their way over to where the other 3 boys were still playing on the climbing frame.
“Jack, where’s Ellie gone with Ben?” Lesley called over to her son, who was hanging from the monkey bars.
“Oh, he needed a wee like really, really badly Mum. I think he was going to wee himself, so they ran to the toilets.”
“Silly boy! I told him to go before we left the restaurant.” Graham chunnered in an annoyed sounding voice.
Placing a calming hand on his shoulder, Lesley reminded him that Ben was only young, and sometimes playing was far more important than going to the toilet, until it was almost too late and you had to make a mad dash for it.
“You know, it’s probably not a bad idea to make a quick pit stop though, how about we all head over that way and meet them there? Don’t worry boys, there will be time to come back for another play later, but we should all probably pay a visit before we go in to watch the movie anyway. Especially if we’re going to be buying some drinks and snacks to take in with us.”
The group made their way over to the nearest toilets, at a slightly more sedate pace than Ellie and Ben, with the 3 boys only protesting slightly, and soon quieting down at the mention of treats. There they found Ellie, doing her best to calm down a distraught Ben, who clearly hadn’t made it and had been caught short a few steps away from the bathroom door.
“Oh, bless her.” Lesley said in an undertone to Graham, as she heard the young girl using her own accident earlier in the day to try and comfort Ben, explaining to him that sometimes accidents happen even when you’re a teenager, and maybe even sometimes adults may not get there in time too. “That’s so sweet, I know how mortified she was by what had happened, but she’s put that aside to try and help Ben. You should be so proud of her Graham, such a lovely thoughtful young lady.”
Graham felt a lump rising in his throat. Lesley was right, he was absolutely bursting with pride, and that had completely overridden the frustration he had felt towards Ben.
“Would it be a really silly question to ask whether you’ve got any more spare clothes with you Les? These pair have already soaked one set on that blasted ride, so I’m all out.” He raised his eyes in exasperation, preparing to make the long trek back over to the gift shop once more, and already feeling an intense pain in his wallet at the prospect.
“Sorry Graham, even I’m not that prepared! Possibly a pair of undies, if we’re lucky – I don’t know whether the boys needed to change theirs after the ride or not, but they’re already wearing their spare shorts I’m afraid.”
Blushing a little, Graham admitted that Sam was already actually wearing Jack’s spare underpants, his own having gotten wet and his Dad not having the foresight to bring spares.
“Well, it’s not ideal, and they’ll probably be a little big, but Tom has some spares with him too. And I guess, just for now, he could put Ellie’s hoodie on? That would be plenty long enough to cover him down to the knees, so nobody would know that he wasn’t wearing any shorts underneath it?”
Having a hurried whispered conversation with Ben, and then turning to ask Ellie whether she was warm enough to go without her hoodie, which had been tied around her waist anyway as she’d got so warm running about, Graham gave a grateful and appreciative nod, and then grabbing the pants from Lesley he took his young son into the bathroom to help hm get sorted out, whilst the others took advantage of the opportunity to empty their own bladders, and Ellie sat on the floor outside, rapidly replying to messages before the group disappeared into the darkness of the 4D cinema.4
Audio Version of Chapter