The irresistible trap of mini-golf parenting

The irresistible trap of mini-golf parenting

I challenge you to play mini-golf with a child and not give them tips on their game. Like singing the chorus to Informer by Snow, or saying no to an arancini ball, it’s impossible.

My brother and I, who would both like to think of ourselves as relaxed, non-obsessive dads, recently played a round with our four boys, and by the third hole we had both fallen into the irresistible trap of mini-golf parenting.

The problem is little children suck at mini-golf. They hold the club around the wrong way, they constantly forget if they are left, right or one handed, they swing wildly and aggressively with absolute disregard for Newton’s Second Law of Motion, they mix their grips up so their hands are crossed over like they’re in a straight-jacket, they push the ball along like they are brooming leaves, they constantly stand directly in front of each other, they take absolute liberties with the ‘club-head away from the edge’ rule, and sometimes it just seems they have completely forgotten the basic premise of the game. They suck.

And an adult can only abide such mini-golfing atrocities for so long.

We restrained ourselves for three holes but eventually a supportive parent seeks to correct and improve via unsolicited feedback; in a gentle and constructive manner of course.

“Hey, maybe look at the ball while you are swinging aggressively in its direction.”

“Have you thought about pointing the club away from your foot?”

“Weren’t you right-handed a minute ago?”

“Woah, probably would be easier to hit the ball if your hands weren’t crossed over like an octopus.”

“Why are you standing on top of the concrete Statue of Liberty?”

“Isn’t the hole that way?”

“Did you not see your cousin standing directly in front of you as you were bringing your club head back like a champion wood chopper?”

“Did you not see your cousin bringing back his club head like a champion wood chopper? Why are you standing directly in front of him?”

“Do you remember the basic objective of this game?”

“Do any of you care about your handicaps?”

We told ourselves the feedback was for them, not us. They would certainly enjoy themselves more if they played a little better, right? Then they would have more fun! Yes, fun is the objective. There is no chance any of them are going to join the Vegas mini-golf tour with its lucrative powdered orange juice endorsements and its all-you-can-eat frankfurter buffets, right? So what else is there but fun?

Well, they did not appreciate our feedback.

By the 5th hole they were grumbling and telling us to be quiet and by the 7th we had a full mini-golf mutiny on our hands.

“Yes I prefer playing with one hand!”

“No I don’t want to line up my club head perpendicular to my shoulders!”

“You’re not a mini-golf professional anyway so what do you know?!”

“You are the worst dads we have ever had!”

etc etc

To avoid a complete walk off we agreed to withhold our constructive feedback for the rest of the round, and for the most part we did. We focused on our own scores and passively watched them bumbling around the course; spanking their balls onto the footpath, brooming this way and that for 12s on par 2s, periodically whacking each other in the shins, helicoptering their clubs around single-handed, playing holes backwards and some of them not at all. Not once did any of them even attempt one of the 7 classic putting grips as laid out in the PGA handbook.

Their scores were atrocious and barely warranted tallying. But I must admit they did appear to be having a lot of fun.

So, now I can’t shake the slightly uneasy feeling that my mini-golf feedback may not in fact be confined to the hallowed astro-turf greens of the Holey Moley links. It is decidedly possible that we are constantly dispensing enthusiastic, perhaps over-earnest advice that is at best unnecessary, and at worst unwanted. It is possible we are diminishing their fun.

It seems unreasonable and unfair that parenting should be so complicated, that even our best-intentioned efforts could prove counter-productive. So what are us parents to do?

I think, in fact, that simply being there on the mini-golf fairway with them is the best our children can hope for, and the most we should expect of ourselves. And if they choose a lifetime of mini-golf mediocrity, and they never get to taste the sweetness of a free frankfurter buffet, then that is their misguided choice to make.

Mini-golf mutiny
A rugba league road trip with a 5 year old

A rugba league road trip with a 5 year old

I don’t know why I support the Canberra Raiders, I think it’s a childhood disease of the blood. Objectively, there is not much to like about this life choice: disappointment, cold fingers and luminescent colours that look good with nothing. But I do, and I fear I have passed this disease onto my five year old. And like all genetic family quirks that we hand down, I feel a confused combination of shame, regret and elation.

Monty’s first Raiders game was about a month ago. We sat in the sun, the Raiders scored constantly, there were flame throwers, a big horn going off all the time, the lady behind us gave Monty a voucher for free chips, green wigs and fairy floss. We even had an ice cream. This was an inauthentic experience and, I fear, a desperately dangerous manner in which to commence a relationship with the ‘Green Machine’.

So last week when I was discussing the possibility of travelling to Parramatta for the Qualifying Final Monty’s ears pricked up. “Ooh is that rugba league dad?” he asked, using the correct pronunciation, “the Green Machine? I’d like to come!” Well, what can you say to that? I asked Milo if he too would like to come. He looked at us both with a smirk that said enjoy yourself losers, replied “No” and returned to his book.

So off we went; a bright Friday afternoon full of promise. We packed light to remain nimble – 12 Dr Seuss books, the educational boardgame ‘Sum Swamp’, two soft blankets, three stuffed toys (Slothy, Grogu and Blue Bear), A3 paper in a variety of colours, and two lime green jumpers.

We arrived mid-afternoon at a salubrious purveyor of temporary accommodation in central Parramatta, our dwelling for the evening. I will protect the modesty of this establishment by withholding its name but certainly crimes have been committed there; both reported and un-reported. As we opened the door we were greeted with what I initially thought to be the whiff of stale cigarettes, but then soon after more accurately identified as stale urine. All of the various door and drawer handles came loose when you pulled gently on them, the beds were so concave you could play that marble game where it spins around and around endlessly, we had a beautiful view of the carpark and I wouldn’t even let Monty set foot in the bathroom. But he loved it.

“Ooh I love our hotel dad. I think this is the best hotel we have been in. Oh, my bed’s better because I have a beautiful view out the window (NB. of the carpark) but yours is better because you are in front of the TV etc etc.” Which of course goes to show, all of life’s rich experiences are deeply contextual.

We played some hide and seek, which is stressful when you don’t want your child to touch any of the soft furnishings. I terminated the game after I tried to hide under the ‘desk’ and it collapsed – like when you have half assembled some IKEA furniture using only the dowels – and we struck out to find food and rugba league.

After a quick meal on Church Street we joined the various lime and yellow tributaries that were flowing together to form a stream towards the stadium. Monty was well below the surface of this stream and clung tight to my hand. The sun was dropping and soon Monty, with his unique perspective, noticed the giant fruit bats that inhabit the skies of Sydney every evening in the warmer months, swooping and gliding. Captivated, he began to count as they drifted past, eyes glued to the sky, and the next time he looked down we were standing at the foot of the gleaming, disco-lit stadium. “woah – this is different to Canberra Stadium dad!” he exclaimed. Umm, yup.

We navigated our way up the stairs and through the cavernous walkways, Monty skipping ahead to explore and steal views of the grass and the lights. Eventually we arrived at our seats and I quickly realised a key flaw in my planning. I had purchased seats in the front row, which also happened to be directly behind a television camera. Monty could not see over the barrier without assistance, and even then the camera obscured 90% of our view. We were banking on multiple tries in the left corner, I mean right in the corner, to ensure we had a view of anything. Parramatta was running our direction in the first half, and those who happened to watch the game will know that we got our wish.

As we approached half time Monty, who had been on my lap for an hour or more, was less sitting on and more clinging to me. He looked somewhat overstimulated, and I could see he was starting to tune into the general restlessness of the great green mass that swayed around us. “It’s a bit noisy dad.” he said. I agreed and asked whether he would like to go home at half time. After a moment of consideration he agreed that might be a good idea because afterall we could still watch it on TV, or maybe Hey Duggy (which he charmingly calls Hey Doggy), or maybe read Dr Seuss.

So as half time arrived I levered us up out of our seat, enjoying the exquisite sensation of blood once again flowing unencumbered through my femoral arteries, and picked our way through the crowd. Around us middle aged men had taken to their feet, looking down forlornly, self consciously smoothing their jumpers with their hands as they wondered if lime green was, in fact, as flattering as they had always believed it to be.

The bats had evidently arrived where they were going, so the skies were clear as were strolled back to our luxurious dwelling. Only once were we the recipient of drive-by yelling “better luck next year!”, but I sensed at least a sprinkling of genuine sympathy to it; I think that’s what you get when you are accompanied by a little green person with angelic blonde ringlets.

Back at the hotel I was not surprised to learn we only had three television stations, and none of them were showing the rugba league. Probably for the best. So instead we watched Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom (I am 100% sure the first time it has ever been enjoyed in that room), read some Dr Seuss, brushed teeth (I brought the toothbrush to him) and fell very swiftly to sleep.

A rugba league roadtrip for the ages.

A somewhat obscured view
A small fire and some very kneady pizza dough

A small fire and some very kneady pizza dough

We recently purchased a small outdoor pizza oven as we thought it would add authentic, interesting, interactive culinary experiences to our children’s lives, and delicious pizzas to ours. So far, after one attempt, we have achieved a small fire and three ‘accidental calzones’.

I started mid-afternoon on Friday; Milo still at school, Monty my little pizza padawan. We rode the Flame Bike to the IGA to purchase an array of authentic ingredients that cost vastly more than our usual Friday night pizzas. We assembled homemade passata from scratch; Monty harvesting the pathetic miniscule basil remnants that had survived the winter and chopping it up. We prepared our pizza dough by hand (more or less) according to the recipe. I say ‘prepared’ but it was more like we coaxed it gently to life; the recipe was full of evocative words like ‘breathing’, ‘resting’, ‘springing’, ‘growing’. The dough was highly temperamental and moved forward strictly according to its own desires and timeframes. It would not be rushed.

Perhaps it was because the dough had seized my initiative, but while it slowly luxuriated I became disgruntled and lost interest in the instructions. This was a mistake.

I woke it from its slumber after 45 minutes. Jeepers – does it really need an hour of R&R before I can cook it? Yes apparently.

I broke the temperamental mass up into a few roughly similar-sized amoeba-looking globules and wondered how I was supposed to know how much dough each pizza might need. Does it matter? Maybe it doesn’t matter? I would easily have been able to answer this had I flipped the page. Yes it matters, very much. In fact one must deploy a small weigh scale to ensure consistency. The phrase roughly similar sized amoeba-shaped globules does not feature in the instructions. I know this now. The exactly weighed pieces of dough are in fact to be formed into precise and identical ‘doughballs’ – the dough is ‘balled’ to use a verb that has been fabricated from a perfectly good noun. The ball is to be smooth and stretched, and light and dense and balloon like and sealed and matte and shiny. Oh also one must ‘prove’ the dough after balling, and some higher end recipes even call for a pre-ball and post-ball proving. I knew nothing of any of this then, and having now read the instructions I continue to know nothing of any of this.

My other quite significant oversight was buying exactly 1kg of flour as the recipe called for, such that I had none for scattering or dusting or rolling or tossing or sprinkling or balling or proving. Again, I wondered if such flamboyant flour activities were a nice to have. I decided, yes, probably non-essential, and continued on smooshing my unweighed, undusted, completely unproven, unstretched and unloved masses of unballed pizza dough around our entirely utilitarian, jack-of-all-trades, non-artisanal, not-fit-for-purpose wooden chopping board.

Satisfied with my smooshing, I levered up the ugly masses and deposited them on separate plates for the boys to load up with non-conventional topping combinations. In hindsight I do recall noting how sticky and unwieldy these masses were at this point, and how rather unleverable they had become. I ignored my nagging sense of impending catastrophe and, well, cracked on. Of all the brainless choices I made which, when laid end to end, could have only had ‘small pizza fire’ as their outcome, smearing the sticky dough puddles onto ceramic plates with ridges around the outside and then allowing them to be drowned in passata, pineapple, salami, mozzarella, more mozzarella, more mozzarella, pineapple, was among the most brainless.

Well, the rest of this story is obvious so I won’t labour it. With the boys literally skipping, and hugging, and dancing right behind me I started with Milo’s. Of course, undusted, unproven and dangerously over its design weight, Milo’s pizza had no interest in separating itself from its comfortable plate. The instructions called for me to ‘confidently’ slide the ‘pizza peel’ (big paddle thing) underneath the dough. I think the only positive thing I can say about my dough was that it could smell fear. My confident peeling therefore made no difference whatsoever and I soon had a heaped pile of coagulated dough and eclectic pizza toppings perched precariously on the edge of the peel, tangled and not at all happy with their cohabitation.

I had shielded the unfolding pizza atrocity from the boys with my body, so they continued to skip and salivate. With a resigned shrug of my shoulders, I looked back once more at my beaming children and pushed the heaped mass into the fiery jaws of our pizza oven, with great, inconsequential, confidence.

The sticky mass clung onto the front of the 400 degree pizza stone like a cat into a carrier, tumbled over itself a little and then immediately burst into flames. Now I was on the clock. What is the optimum time for a quasi-pizza-ball to be on fire in order to minimise salami incineration and maximise the percentage of vaguely-cooked dough? I went with about 45 seconds, then desperately scraped the assimilated Borg-like memory-of-pizza out of the oven and presented it to Milo. Having repeated this terrifying process twice more we all sat down together to eat.

These two delightful children ate with gusto, only rejecting the truly charred, and stopping to compliment the moderately charred.

“You know,” said Milo between bites “some pizzas are really fancy, you know? But I love this one, it might be my favourite ever. It’s like, because you have no idea what you are doing, it’s not fancy at all, and that’s great.”

Which proves, that although most of the time parenting is like being whacked unsympathetically in the face with a damp hessian bag full of onions, once in a while… just once in a while, it is the loveliest and most uplifting pursuit you can spend your days and years pursuing.

The moderately charred