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Image / Editorial

Dad tales: ‘I took my toddler to a spectacular Christmas lights show – and she barely batted an eye’

by Laurence Mackin
16th Dec 2019

I thought we’d be tripping the light fantastic around Dublin Zoo, but our daughter was left cold…

Like nearly every other parent in Dublin, I booked tickets to bring the fam to Wild Lights at Dublin Zoo. For those who don’t know, this is a night-time experience involving huge installations made out of what appears to be paper, silk, lights and wire. This year’s theme was stories, myths and legends, which meant beautiful big installations on fairytales and more Irish-focused work, featuring among others the shapeshifting Children of Lir, the Dundalk destroyer Cuchulainn, and the Kildare colossus Fionn MacCumhaill.

The latter was battling a dragon, which I took to be a bit of cultural mingling with English folklore. It turns out that MacCumhaill absolutely did fight a dragon, called Áillen. He played the harp and sang beautifully, but also burned Tara to the ground every Samhain, which doesn’t come as a surprise given his background. MacCumhaill eventually killed him, which is how he was put in charge of na Fianna in the first place, and it is also how Fianna Fail selected their leaders right up until the 1950s.

But back to the zoo, where we arrived at 5.30pm on a freezing cold night to trundle around the expansive installations. I was convinced my daughter would love it, and for many people it’s become something of a Christmas institution, like pantos and visiting Santa and all those other things that as a new parent I am trying to avoid as long as I can. (“Oh she’s too young to understand really,” I can see myself saying fondly about a dozen years from now, while my teenage daughter fumes beside me at her lost childhood.)

Wild Lights has all those things children love: giant hordes of people making loads of noise, packed in with all the charm of an airport security line; numerous available foods made entirely of sugar and spice and all things nice; giant installations that you move under and around, from a pirate ship half-sunk in the water, to a multicoloured archway that had the children ooohing and aaahing and the parents fondly recalling that time they took acid and got lost in the woods.

I was sure I was on to a winner as my daughter is easily pleased. Her favourite toys at the moment are some plastic boxes that she sorts small coins through. She’ll sit there moving small change from one to the other, like some sort of better-dressed Bob Cratchit for what seems like entire minutes (anyone with children will recognise the Christmas miracle that is this lengthy attention span). As I’ve written in this column before, she really likes walking around holding one shoe. She goes mental when you mention the bath, and goes charging off up the stairs to hop in for a scrub and a splash. As I said: easily amused. So I thought this Wild Lights lark would blow her tiny mind.

Not. A. Bit of it.

The night was Baltic so between blankets and coats, she was packed in tighter than a prop in scrum. Perhaps the blood was being cut off the bit of her brain that can fake fascination. As we battled the crowds and went from station to station – all the way debating the benefits of a one-way system and a ban on selfies – her levels of interest veered between “not arsed and aloof” and “mildly amused”.

At one point, she did reach out a little gloved-up hand to try and touch a technicolour badger. (I think that’s what it was but then that could be the flashbacks talking.) It was right near the end, at an installation based around the tree of life and the book of extinction. On one side are a number of animals that no longer exist, and on the other are a bunch of more familiar creatures who are walking towards it, about to cross the Rubicon. Herself may have been unmoved but this last bit nearly undid me – especially when I thought that this may be the only way she’ll ever see some of these creatures, in a zoo or otherwise.

Parenting tip no 6: ski suits 

I recently invested in, well I’m not sure what you would call it. It’s a red ski suit type affair. One leg is fully closed, and a zip runs up the other all the way to the neck. I’ve checked with HR and I’m not allowed wear it to work, so I bought one for my daughter (discounted for €30 in the Regatta Outlet in the Ilac Center, ifyoumustknow). Because it covers her almost entirely, with the addition of some to-die-for wellies, she can charge around muddy playgrounds and jump about in puddles to her little heart’s content – and all without destroying whatever actually tasteful outfit her mum has put on her. It’s warm and waterproof, and when I put it on her, she looks like she’s just parachuted in from 1985 with a mission to charm. Now she refuses to take it off, or drags it out of a bag when she decides that she wants to leave the house, regardless of the time or weather. As the rest of IMAGE.ie’s correspondents might say, this is an investment piece worth investigating, darlings.

Read more: ‘I’ve discovered the secret to keeping a toddler entertained’

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Read more: I have a daughter and now I cry at movies, ads, music and matches.