Thursday, June 18, 2009

Playground Politics

We love our local playgrounds, even if we do have to hike about a mile to get there!

Stella and I spend a good deal of our time at the local playgrounds, now that the weather is marginally nicer. (Meaning we have about one sunny day per week lately.)

The playground is an interesting mix of personalities -- both parents and kids. And since I spend most of my day chasing Stella, making sure she doesn't fall off equipment or get bulldozed by five-year-old Tasmanian devils, I don't really get to meet and mingle as I should. Which means I've come up with nicknames for the motley crew I observe. Let me share a few:

Cellphone mom

There is a mom about my age with a son about Stella's age. Whereas Stella is still merely cruising and mainly crawling, her son is fully toddling, even sprinting. As the careful mother that she is, she follows him around the jungle gym, up the stairs, across the bridge, down the slide. However, the entire time she does this, a cellphone is glued to her ear and she is busy making what sound like business deals. I have seen her catch her son before he takes a scary tumble, never missing a beat of her negotiations. Sometimes I even wonder if the person on the other end knows she's a parent.

Recently, her boy slid down the slide, only to be snatched up by an annoying seven year old girl who began to vigorously shake the poor kid. (I can call her annoying because she wouldn't keep her kid-diseased paws off Stella - stroking her face and hands and hair and saying she looked like a doll. I politely told her she wasn't a doll, and therefore shouldn't be touched. Finally I had to take Stella away from this girl, all the while searching for a Cabbage Patch Kid to throw in her direction as a decoy.) It was mildly amusing, in that schadenfreude kind of a way, to watch the mom run around to her son and annoya-kid while trying to sound cool and professional on the phone.

Judgmental Mom

There is a mom with a daughter who exemplifies gentle parenting. Her daughter is so quiet you don't even notice she's there, politely following all the playground rules and gently making friends. Her mother simply beams at her daughter in a way that screams, "look what I did -- I am the perfect mother."

Well, that's fine. I enjoy being around perfect parents in the hope that might rub off, if only a bit, on me.

What's not fine is that every single time I'm around this mom, and I mean EVERY SINGLE TIME, Stella throws one of her def con 5 tantrums -- arched back, smacking herself in the face, screaming at the top of her lungs, wanting desperately to smash her head against the concrete (she would if I let her -- she has -- so I must hold her to keep from it). These tantrums can be the result of teething discomfort, hunger, or frustration that she can't walk yet, even though she really wants to. These tantrums, I can guaran-damn-tee you (as my mom would say), are not because I've been mean to her or yelled at her or been indulgent with her or parented poorly enough to merit a call to children's services.

But try telling that to her. I sit holding my screaming daughter, my eyes sometimes filling with tears, attempting different ways of responding depending on which parenting book is in my bag, but usually I just have to ride it out and distract her once it's done. All the while, Judgmental Mom glares at me and Stella, sometimes going so far as to gently shake her blond head in disbelief. (I guess it doesn't help that my main means of coping with such turmoil is to make weird jokes, saying things like "I promise I'll pay you five million dollars when you graduate if you stop" to Stella or proclaiming that she learned this type of behavior while we were living in Park Slope.)

Now that summer's here (if only in theory), I've considered bringing a water gun so I can gently spray her in the face the next time she does it. This works on the cats!

Comparison Dad

I've seen a major influx of stay-at-home dads recently. I don't know if it's the economy or what, but more and more fathers are joining our ranks, pushing strollers, wearing Ergos, toting bananas and sippy cups.

This is a wonderful sign of the times, and one that's well overdue I think. However, that said, there is one dad at our local playground who makes me long for traditional gender roles.

His daughter is exactly Stella's age and adorable. Sweet but sassy, energetic and quick to laughter, she and Stella get along splendidly.

But while the girls giggle and coo, Comparison Dad asks questions. Lots of questions.

"Is she walking yet? What does she eat? You don't give her snacks do you? Does she sleep well? Does she listen when you say 'no?' Have you got her on a good schedule? She's down to one nap now, right? Do you do regular play dates?"

I respond politely and honestly, which inevitably leads to a lecture. I've been told about sleep training, getting her to work with my schedule, making sure she only eats three square meals a day with no snacks, making sure she knows her boundaries, etc. It doesn't phase him that I have a masters in childhood education and might know a thing or two about how kids tick. As much as he probably misses the middle management job he once had, he also seems happy being the CEO of his daughter's life.

Flirtatious Dad

This is actually a composite character. I guess stay-at-home dads get a wee bit bored with this life, because I've seen a fair amount of them be pretty darn flirtatious with the stay-at-home moms. Playground pickup lines, though, usually involve complimenting a Maclaren or inquiring about some new organic toddler snack. In their defense, they may be divorced. I don't know. But since we don't watch TV during the day, this is my form of soap opera fun.

Well, that's a good start. I'm sure I'll think of more names to add to my playground list. Of course I'm not mentioning the legion of incredibly cool parents who are fun to talk to and helpful. That sort of positivity is just boring.


Holly said...

I love your introduction to the playground parents and their behaviors in that habitat! It sounds like it will be quite an adventure to become part of that world.

rachel leah said...

There is a Mom I know who is crazy competitive and LOVES to lecture me. It does not seem to bother her that she is a first time parent, too. I have decided to find it funny...but it can be annoying. The only thing that saves our conversation is she is super competitive but my kid is always one skill ahead so his "progress" causes her to question her techniques.