I know that those of us who are parents can be a bit painful to our friends without kids.

They want to catch up with us at lunch, but we can’t do lunch because that’s when our toddler has their nap. Or they want to go out at night, but we can’t stay out late because we’re paying a babysitter by the hour.

Sometimes it can feel like we expect everything to revolve around our kids.

I remember how that feels – when you don’t have kids, but everyone else expects you to make your plans around their children.  But what I want to talk about today is at the other end of the spectrum.

Here’s what I want to say:  It’s not a crime to be a kid.  Kids have as much right to be in the world as anybody else. 

I started thinking about this when my usually mild-mannered sister had a run-in with a senior gentleman while borrowing books from the local library.  Her kids were swiping the books under the scanner one by one, and being children, they were probably a little slower than an adult might be, but they weren’t causing any trouble (for once!).

Suddenly the man behind them said, “Come on then, get out of the way.”

Shocked she turned around and said, “I’m sorry, we haven’t actually finished yet.”  Then he said, “This isn’t a playground you know.”  When she explained that she was just teaching her kids how to do it, he said, “Well go back to kindergarten then,” and stormed off.

The implication is that children don’t really have a right to be in the library and that they should only be in a playground or a kindergarten.

Personally, I think borrowing books from the library is a sign of good parenting, but for whatever reason, this gentleman seemed to think it was infringing on his rights.

Fortunately, nothing like that has ever happened to me, but I have sometimes been on the receiving end of some subtle comments that I didn’t quite know how to take. A week or so ago, my sister and I did a charity walk from Cammeray to Balmoral Beach with our kids.  (It’s quite a long way for a 2 year old, a 4 year old and a 5 year old to walk, so I was pretty proud of them.)  After the walk we caught the bus back to where the car was parked.  Between us, we had two prams, a baby and 3 kids so it took us a while to get off the bus and as we did so an older gentleman, rolled his eyes and said, ‘What an expedition!’

He may not have meant anything by it, but it made me feel like there was something illegal about going out with children on a bus.

Playing in the water park at Darling Harbour.
Photo by C. Roe

After all that exercise we stopped for coffee and cake at Cammeray Stockland. For those who haven’t been there, it’s a nice little shopping centre built around an open piazza.  In the middle of the piazza there’s a low fountain pool, at ground level with just a few inches of water in it.  These days there are lots of parks with water features that kids are allowed to play in, like Bicentennial Park at Homebush or Newington Armoury or the new Water Park at Darling Harbour.  So we thought this was something they’d built for the kids and we were happily letting them splash around in it.  It was only when it was time to leave that we noticed a tiny little engraved plaque that said ‘Standing in the fountain is prohibited.”

To me, that is like putting a big pile of cupcakes in the middle of a room but not letting the children eat one.  Or teasing a dog with a juicy bone, but not letting them have it. 

It’s just not very considerate of children.  There are lots of ways they could have made that fountain less appealing to kids if they didn’t want them to play in it – they could have raised or lowered it so it wasn’t right on ground level, they could have put a Perspex fence round it, or made it deeper.

Whoever built that fountain has totally forgotten what it’s like to be a kid – how lovely it is to splash around in something like that.

Especially when there was absolutely nothing else in the space for children to play in!

I’m not saying that everything should be built or created to cater for children, but just that kids have as much right as anybody else to use the library or ride the bus or to be in a public square.  So just as we consider the needs of disabled people or the elderly when we design public spaces… we should also consider the needs of children.  They’re legitimate members of society.

 After all, not everybody will be an adult.   Not everybody will make it to old age.  But everybody on the planet was once a child.