Apparently, I Suck at Play Time Etiquette

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May 2014

May 2014

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.

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!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Ha ha!! I would be the same as you – people are too uptight! Well, Mark will be a relaxed, easy going little thing who has fully developed all of his schematic understanding because you are relaxed and have allowed him to explore messy things!! How could anyone think a lady with a child of her own might be in someway dangerous?

    • Well, I don’t want to blow her cover, but she might just be an undercover agent who immigrated to Canada, married a Chinese guy and had a baby to look perfectly inconspicuous while her truth intentions are to collect DNA from other people’s kids for the DGSE while their mothers are taking a bathroom break.
      In other words: I have no idea. I guess I would be a bad parent too, leaving my kid with another parent for a moment while I’m in the john. I guess if I was that distrustful, I couldn’t even let my kid see other humans before it comes of age.

      • Gosh, my cover is blown. Again. 😆

        I just hate dragging a kid to the bathroom, first because they touch everyone and some bathrooms are gross and second because… well, we all spend enough time with our kids to deserve a pee break.

    • I don’t know… sometime I wonder if I’m doing the right thing because I seem to be missing *something*, like a mysterious parenting etiquette book.

    • I’m just wondering whether it was just this mom, whether it’s a North American thing or whether it’s just taboo in the parenting world in general.

  2. I don’t see anything wrong with either of the things you did! If the first mother found your offer weird, she only had to decline politely, and I can’t imagine the bookshop would have toys so messy that letting 2 kids touch them for a couple of minutes would cause a huge amount of harm. I feel a bit sorry for the kids of these neurotic, uptight people – just goes to show that it’s not only Parisians who can be rude to strangers at times!

  3. Rude… here sand is everywhere, mark would adore it and no need to manage with other parents stucked in the play ground 😉 michoco discovered playgrounds on february in france and he adored it. I didn’t care about other parents because I was too concentrated looking at michoco’s beauty and smartness !!! But true that it can be a bit annoying…

    • I think I wish I could have made friends at the playground, i.e. other moms in the area. We just don’t seem to be able to connect.

  4. Martin Penwald on

    Rule #1 : Don’t interact with people
    Rule #2 : DON’T interact with people
    Rule #3 : If interaction is needed, refer to rule #1.

    Asocial, me ? Noooooo …
    Maybe you can’t connect with other moms because you don’t wear the same kind of clothes than them, a appearence issue. I don’t know if there are tacit rules about that.

    • Seriously, I hear you. We talked about it before, I’m not that social myself. My ideal setting is hostels: you are surrounded by people, you can have an occasional friendly chat BUT people mind their own business.

      I became more social with Mark, because I had to. From day one, people commented on him, not because he is special but because people like kids and babies.

  5. There’s a playground 50m from our place (bouncy rubber ground, no sand) and I’ve taken couchsurfers’ kids to play there with Portuguese kids in the neighbourhood. The playground seems to be a bonding place. The adults are totally unfazed by foreigners, even if we can’t communicate with each other.

    It’s been a decade, but I distinctly remember frequenting Vancouver-area playgrounds with my nieces and nephew when they were little, and I recall it being a much friendlier experience. Is Ottawa a frigid parenting bubble?

    • My mom met many other parents at the playground when I was a kid. Even if I wasn’t always friendly with their kids (I mean, we played together as toddlers, growing up we sometime took different paths) I thought I’d meet people this way as well. Doesn’t seem to work. Maybe it’s just my area, maybe it’s an Ottawa thing.

  6. It was when my kids turned about three that they were able to sit and play nicely at the park without constant supervision (and could also make it up and down the slide on their own). So as long as there wasn’t a crowd of older kids I needed to keep watch for, I could actually sit and read a book. It was EXHILARATING. Your day is coming!

    Also: would totally have left my kids with you at the train table.

  7. Hi Zhu…I have read your blog before, but never left a comment… But today I’ve laughed a lot with this post and the other one “middle name Guilty”! I thought that it was just me with that awkward feeling that every mom has an instruction book that I haven’t received yet!
    My girl is 5 and still need me there… sorry to say!
    Glad to read you!

    • Hi Ille,

      Thank you for taking the time to say “hi”! Okay, so I’m not the only one who hasn’t received the instruction book. Phew. It would be useful, wouldn’t it!

      Do you also get weird comments from strangers regarding your girl? Like unwanted advice?

  8. Psssh you don’t look like a child abductor ! Some parents can be over-protective. I agree with you about playgrounds though. I dislike them ! especially with all that sand and crazy kids running around and screaming their heads off (whoa im such a model mom lol ). But i guess they are necessary evil, right?

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