“Daddy, can we go to the playground?”
“Not now, we’ll go later.”
“Daddy, now it’s later. Can we go to the playground now?”
I once heard that for children “later” doesn’t mean “not now”; it means “never”. And I must admit that sometimes as a parent this is how I mean it when I say it. And sometimes my daughters know this and make efforts to make sure that things do actually happen for which I really should commend them.
But sometimes the division between “now”,”later” and “never” is better defined.
Last summer we went to London, and somewhere along the way the girls managed to get hold of helium filled balloons. These are unwieldy at the best of times, but put them in the hands of young children in the center of one of the world’s major cities and you’ve got more trouble than balloon in your hands.
It was not an easy time. After hearing lots of reports about cretinous acid attacks I was fully prepared with several bottles of water in a back pack. You know how backpacks are – they seem to be invisible to people who stand behind you and who keep bumping into it or knocking it. Ironic really, given that contrary to the belief that I have eyes in the back of my head, I don’t, so I can’t see the backpack behind me whereas it’s fully in the line of sight of everyone behind me.
So I’m carrying at least 5kg on a hot summer’s day, trying to walk through heaving crowds of tourists along the bank of the River Thames towards London Bridge where my youngest wishes to confirm that it’s not falling down. Time dilation occurs and what should take 10 mins takes 45. Shoulders were killing me from the weight, and now I had balloons wafted in front of my face.
“Daddy, look at this!”
To put it bluntly, it was still a balloon and there wasn’t much to be seeing apart from Tower Bridge.
“Sweetie, don’t show me your balloon now. We’ll always have it, so why don’t you show it to me later back at the hotel. Now we’re here on London Bridge. Let’s enjoy it and look at the nice view now and we’ll play with your balloon later.”
“Do you promise we’ll play with it later, Daddy?”
“Yes, I promise.”
It was a promise that destined to be broken. Moments later the wind tugged it out of her little hand, and it flew off to become one with the London skyline. And that’s when it hit me: the balloon was in the now, and until it falls down, London Bridge will always be with us for a later time.