That strange little void when your kids get bigger and you don't need to push them on the swings.
A diary entry I wrote four years ago but never got around to publishing.
One day in late May I find myself in the neighbourhood park with my four-year-old. My older son has gone off to play with one of his friends, so my burden has been halved.
It's stiflingly hot. I've spent the day cycling across town from one lesson to the next. The timing of my final class gives me a narrow window to pick up some snacks, race across town and get to school in time for the bell, but the prospect of spending the next couple of hours entertaining a cantankerous four-year-old in a mosquito-infested park isn't exactly appealing.
To my delight, though, he quickly latches on to a friend from school, and they soon disappear into the far reaches of the park, where a wooden playhouse provides the perfect hiding place for inquisitive four-year-olds. Their numbers soon swell and I, for the first time in nearly ten years, find myself at the park without the constant badgering of a demanding child. And the mosquitos are mercifully quiet today as well.
Usually arrival at the park stimulates a stream of unreasonable and often contradictory demands. Come and play football daddy. Come and look at the ants daddy. I'm hungry. I'm thirsty. Can we go home? I don't want to go home. Scapa la kaka [I need a poo]. Push me faster daddy. Slower daddy. Higher daddy. Stop. Don't stop. Go. Come. Run. Look.
Today. I'm surplus. No demands, no tears, no tantrums, nothing. My son is playing happily with the other kids. Are my boys finally growing up? Am I now redundant?
I had long harvested an image of being able to read the newspaper while my kids occupy themselves at the park (I blame Shirley Hughes for this unrealistic utopian vision), and I usually always have some reading material with me, which generally doesn't get read.
Today I have nothing. I curse myself. I have a rare moment of peace and tranquillity in the park, but I've got absolutely nothing to do. My phone, which is usually a constant if unsatisfying distraction, is dead. I castigate myself for such idleness, for not making better use of this rare moment of freedom.
Reasoning with myself, I decide to savour this rare moment of tranquility to practice some mindfulness. To meditate. To absorb the joy of children at play. To observe their funny little games, to cherish their laughter, their joy.
That lasts about three minutes.
I wonder if he'll even notice if I run to the edicola across the road.
No, I couldn’t leave him alone in the park. He'd notice immediately I was gone. Worse, something might happen. He could fall off the monkey climber. Another child might hit him. He could get stung by a Calabrone.
Another five minutes spent shuffling about on the bench and my mind’s made up. I’m going.
I surreptitiously shuffle towards the gate and dart across the road so he doesn't notice my absence.
Usually a minefield of cheap toys, sugary sweets and unwanted comics, without children the edicola across the road from the park is a mind-blowing grotto of possibilities.
The wide floor-to-ceiling racks of magazines, newspapers and graphic novels are slightly overwhelming. I can't decide. A travel mag - with a special feature on Sicily, this summer’s holiday destination? A newspaper? Don't think I can stomach more speculation about political events in Rome. Football?
The minutes pass.
I'm paralysed by infinite choice.
How long have I been here? Five minutes? Ten minutes. It's impossible to say.
Finally, I'm drawn to a magazine with a picture of a beaded adventurer in beanie cap and snow glasses - I think it must be an antidote to the heat. "Survival & Reporter" it's called, the jarring syntax of which leaves me somewhat perplexed.
I read the headlines on the front page: "La Neve", "Winter Training Course (Finlandia 2018)", "Survival in Europa". "Come Sopravvivere nel Bosco" [How to survive in the forest]. I'm sold. I quickly pick up a bottle of iced peach tea, exchange a few pleasantries with the newsagent and run back across the road to the park, the magazine tucked under my arm.
To much relief, I realise that he's still playing in the wooden playhouse, completely oblivious to the fact that he'd been abandoned, if only for a few minutes.
I find a shady spot, guzzle down some ice-cool tea and read about how to dig a survival refuge in the snow.
After a few moments, my son scampers towards me. "Where you went daddy?" [Like his older brother, he hasn't yet learned that in English we use an auxiliary verb when asking a question].
The little bugger, he doesn't miss a thing.
"Nowhere Sebo", I reassure him. "Do you want some tea?"
Richard Hough writes about history, football, wine, whisky, culture + travel and is currently working on a trilogy about wartime Verona.