I have been jilted. We walked to the park together merrily, holding hands and chatting about what we would do when we got here.
But now I find myself standing on my own against the fence, while my daughter and her new BFF (whose name we have not yet established) whisper conspiratorially under the slide.
This used to be the day I dreamed of. To be one of the parents sitting at the picnic tables sipping coffee, rather than breaking my back pushing swings.
How I loathed the monotony of being called to join in every ride, over and over, day after day. Forced to hover protectively as unsteady legs attempted to climb steps that were too far apart for them to reach.
But the first time we got here and she ran off to play with some bright young thing and left me shivering in the shade alone, I couldn’t help feeling I had been given the cold shoulder.
When there is a super cool five-year-old with flashing wellies and a glittery unicorn jumper organising a group giggling session on the roundabout – I fade into the background.
And so I play spectator, leaning against the railings awkwardly as I watch a game of which I have no comprehension of the rules.
Resolving myself to the part of spare tyre, I pick up a coffee on route, only to be left draining tepid dregs by the time we get to the playground.
Taking a book is futile. For despite being left out, my responsibilities require me to observe from a health, safety and etiquette point of view, and intervene accordingly. Skimming a few paragraphs furtively in between monitoring perilous climbs, refereeing shoving at the top of slides and discouraging the collecting of litter, mean I just have to reread the same pages later. And should I be drawn in by a cliff-hanger plot device, I risk her making a break for it through the gate in pursuit of a new friend, cuddly dog or ice cream van.
Perhaps I should try headphones. Can anyone recommend any good podcasts?
The obvious solution is to come to the park in packs, so that we square parents can keep each other company, while the cool kids have their fun. But it’s not always possible for your Parklife to go hand-in-hand with your social calendar, and you find yourself desperately scanning the crowds for another lone ranger to strike up conversation with.
I am reduced to lurking alone in the shadows, kicking at stones and picking at my fingernails, longing to be invited to play on the seesaw. A gooseberry.
As a child I came to the park and hung around on the monkey bars trying to make friends with like-minded souls. As a teenager I skulked under the trees passing round a single, sucked cigarette and sipping alcopops, hoping one of the boys would come and talk to me. Now as a parent here I am again – an outsider looking on.
As Joni Mitchell sang, I’m captive on the carousel of time, watching the children go up and down, and round and round. I can’t go back, I can only look behind from where we came. When I was allowed to join in the game.