Once upon a time, i.e. last year, I used to love taking Mark to the park. He was just learning to crawl and he would happily explore the soccer field while I read the news on my BlackBerry, then I’ll push him in the swing for a bit. Mark was still a Velcro baby and the park was a way for me to get a small break from carrying him.
This year, I’m taking detours when we go out for walks so that Mark doesn’t spot the many playgrounds dotting the neighborhood.
I’m not a bad mother, I swear.
But I fucking hate going to the playground.
First, there is the sand issue. See, all the play structures are in a huge sandbox. And Mark loves sand—well, mostly loves eating it and throwing it. I thought he would outgrow this phase but he never did. The French Brittany rocks and the Chinese Gobi desert dust must be in his genes. So not only I have to shadow Mark to make sure he doesn’t blind himself or other kids, but he brings back half of the sandbox on his clothes and in his hair.
Second, I’m sorry to say that watching a kid play is extremely boring, even if it’s your kid. When he takes a break from throwing sand, Mark tries to climb the slide in reverse, on which there is invariably a kid trying to, well, slide down. Or he wants to ride the spring animal and then two seconds later, he wants to get off it. He hides in the little house and then throws some more sand. He runs around, falls, cries, runs around and repeats the routine all over again. Then he spots a dog and we have to go say “hi”. I don’t even like dogs, some look really mean (folks, you need to insure your pet, just in case!).
Then, there are the parents. See, kids don’t come alone. Canadians are reasonable people—as much as I’m sure most of us would rather be somewhere else, we are standing behind our offspring.
There is the president of the neighborhood association, a tall, thin and somewhat awkward guy who takes his responsibilities very seriously. In his mind, he is the ruler of the free world. He is always trying to engage people to start a food drive, launch a “clean up the neighborhood” campaign or host a garage sale. In theory, I’m all for it. In practice, I avoid him because I’ll get to yesterday’s dishes before I commit to a weekend of picking up discarded Timmies cup in the ‘hood.
There are the professional mommies, who ended up at the playground after a full entertaining day with their “best friend”, aka their kid. They explain how amazing it was this morning when little Stacy said “pee pee” and—guess what!—made a big poo poo in the potty. They hand out organic home-made peanut-free gluten-free sugar-free nutritious snacks. Meanwhile, Mark is eating sand by the fistful. Hey, at least I’m pretty sure they are no needles in the sandbox.
Okay, I’m just being cynical. But it’s hard to connect with other parents. I tried. And I failed.
I think I suck at play time etiquette.
Case in point: a few weeks ago, on another rainy day, we ended up at Chapters—the bookstore has a play area for kids. There was a mother with two little girls around 5 or 6 years old, and the kids bonded over the train set as I chatted a bit with the mom. Fifteen minutes later, the mom announced that she had to use the “little girl’s room”, so would the girls please be nice and go with her. Of course, her daughters didn’t want to leave and protested vehemently. The mother insisted. It went back and forth for a few minutes.
“Look,” I eventually said. “I’m going to be here a bit longer with Mark. If you want to run to the restroom, I’ll be happy to keep an eye on your girls.”
I don’t know why I said that. Oh, wait, I do—because I’ve been there, alone with Mark, needing to use the bathroom and trying to find a way to get a few minutes of privacy.
The look on the mother’s face immediately told me I had made a major etiquette faux pas.
“I would never leave my children with a stranger,” she snapped. “Come on girls, let’s go! No offense,” she added as an afterthought as she grabbed her kids and walked away.
Would I have left Mark with a stranger to go use the bathroom? I have left him outside the bathroom stall for a minute or two, talking to him while peeing (yay, multitasking!) to make sure he wouldn’t wander out (he usually just tries to open the stall’s door anyway). The women’s daughters were much older than Mark—5 or 6 years old—and at this age, I was walking back from school alone (a short walk with no street to cross) so I assumed it was okay to offer. Well, apparently it wasn’t.
I made other “mistakes” like this with parents. One time, at Chapters again, Mark played with something called “Sands Alive”, a supposedly mess-free play material that looks like sand but feels gooey and soft, a bit like play dough. I had never seen that before and I found it really cool. Mark and I were squishing the demo “sand” when two kids, around 8 or 9, stood behind us, intrigued. “Hey guys,” I said. “Wanna touch the weird sand? It’s super gooey!”
We made room for them and all squished it, agreeing on the gooeyness. Suddenly, the mother of the kids showed up. “I didn’t know this thing!” I said. “It’s cool, eh?”
“I DID know it,” she snapped. “It’s not mess-free at all.” “I don’t want you guys to play with it,” she added, dragging her boys away.
Okay, so apparently I suck at play time etiquette. I basically look like a child abductor and I entice kids with products their parents don’t want.
See why I don’t want to go to the park? You can’t take me anywhere!