Parents: Stop Taking Your Kids to the Park

I’m really getting tired of seeing kids at the park.

I promise I don’t hate children (all the time), so perhaps I should re-phrase.

I’m really getting tired of seeing kids ALONE at the park. Wait, wait… still not right. I pride myself on being one of the few mothers in this fear-infected society who refuses to believe kids can’t go to the park by themselves. One more time:

I’m really tired of seeing lonely children at the park.

I’m tired of being asked to push other people’s 4-year-olds on the swings. I’m tired of being asked for money from random youngsters when the ice-cream truck drives by. I’m tired of bringing extra toys on excursions so everyone can be included when they see us having fun. I’m tired of seeing the pain in my son’s eyes when he realizes that, yet again, he has to share his “mom-time” with a stranger.

I promise I don’t hate children. I’m starting to hate parents who just take their kids to the park simply to be ignored.

Parenting is hard. There are no easy answers, lots of tears, fears, frustrations, regrets, and worst of all, judgement. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to judge my struggle through this gauntlet of motherhood, so I fervently try to avoid my Librian instincts in this area.

You can be sure, however, that when I’m at the park playing with your child while you text and scroll on your phone… in your car… 20 feet away… for an hour… I’m fucking judging you.

For the past three years, my son and I have taken countless trips to the park. Toddlers have this thing for being insane when they don’t play. I have literally watched him climb on a stool and jump from it about 35 times in a row. There was no “game” or objective. He just wanted to climb and jump. Nonstop. Period.

I feel a little bit guilty sometimes that he doesn’t get to have all my attention, not because I want him growing up a pompous, spoiled brat, but because that is all he wants. He doesn’t really care about brand name clothes (yet) or new toys (eehhh to some degree) or seeing the newest movie in theaters.

He wants me. I am his world, and he wants to be in it all the time. He wants me to race, and jump and climb and play with him. Nonstop. Period.

So do all the other children I find milling about on park playgrounds as their mothers and fathers disappear into screen land. Most of the time, all they want is attention from the adults in their lives. From the looks of it, they aren’t getting any.

I took Cullen to the park this weekend around 9 a.m., ya know, before the fires of Hell completely erupted onto the Oklahoma prairie. There was one car in the parking lot and one child seated at the base of a slide, literally staring blankly and dangling his legs over the already-warmed landscape. He had mentally cast his line out onto the wood chips and was just watching the bobber. Waiting for a catch.

This young man, probably around seven, became our best friend from the moment we disrupted his ennui. We tossed a ball up and down slides, pretended to “have lunch” at the playground’s cafe (one of Cullen’s favorites), wiggled through tunnels, drove a pirate ship and made ourselves dizzy in the tire swing. He told me about his upcoming trip to his dad’s house and his school.

All as his mother watched from her SUV, occasionally shouting time warnings from a cracked window.

Even though the exuberance of these two boys was breezy and invigorating, I was hot. Sure it was 90 degrees out, but I my blood was boiling. Didn’t this woman know my son and I had a special morning planned for just the two of us? Was she okay with her son playing with a complete stranger? Wasn’t she ashamed that this stranger was being a much better park entertainer than she? Why did she even bring him here if she wasn’t even going to get out of the fucking car?

This wasn’t the first time this had happened, either. I’ve found myself caring for kids of all ages at different times with similar circumstances.

My self-righteous fire subsided when this young man offered to share his water with me and my son. I saw the absolute pleasure in his face as he ran back to his mother’s SUV to regale her with stories about the rapid-fire adventures we’d had on an uneventful Saturday morning. I realized this young man had set aside his “big boy” attitude many have toward toddlers (no big kids want to be bothered by babies) in order to feel like he was part of the fun. What a great example for my son to follow in the future.

I also thought about the example I’d set for my own child and realized the lesson he’d learned was far more important than him having every turn on the swings: Sometimes we have to put others above ourselves because it’s the right thing to do for everyone, not just the self.

There’s a lot of truth to the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and I understand more and more that every adult can play a positive role in every child’s life– parent or not. If we understood that, as a whole, we are improved by taking on our fair share of the work, perhaps we wouldn’t be so fragmented and individualistic.

It just gets hard to pick up the slack for those who don’t seem to make an effort at all… who have absolutely no interest in raising the standard for us all through small acts of giving. A little piece of the light dies each time a giver feels taken advantage of, and that fire of self-righteousness grows. I know it’s best to take one for the team. I know it’s really “for the keeeeeds,” because it’s not their fault their parents would rather play fantasy football or watch Netflix than take a stab at the monkey bars (and later wonder why their child doesn’t respect them enough).

I admit it: I judged that woman on her cell phone, and I will probably judge the next one.

Next time, though, I’ll just remind myself that by showing a little more love to everyone and sharing a little more attention with those that aren’t “mine,” I’m investing in a brighter future for us all. It doesn’t really matter who does the work, as long as the task is accomplished. There’s no point in punishing the innocent.

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ANOTHER blog about #Ferguson

Kim Kardashian didn’t break the Internet; Protestors in Ferguson did.

Around 7 p.m. Monday, every Facebook feed in the United States of America was fully engulfed with rants, jokes or snippets about the grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer for fatally shooting Michael Brown. By Tuesday morning, five of the top 10 trending tags on Twitter were related to the #Ferguson protests, and Internet was thick with a cloud of photos, blogs and news stories about the unrest.

“Yeah, sure, go ahead and ruin businesses in your town. THAT makes sense.”

“We have to stop pretending like race DOESN’T matter in this country.”

“Dancing With the Stars was interrupted. #rageface”

“If you don’t want to die, don’t punch a cop in the face!”

These are all valid commentaries, save for anger about a television show– sorry, a terrible television show. I can understand rage in the event the LOST season finale was cut short. Honestly, I’m a little pleased to see it all considering how complacent everyone has become in this country. Most of the time, issues that have little to no direct, measurable impact on our lives are filed away into the “don’t give a shit” file, but I guarantee you, discussions around the Thanksgiving tables this year might involve something more substantive than football.

The reason why people of all colors, all social standings, professions and sexes are compelled to say something, I believe, is because Ferguson is a microcosm of a nationwide problem. Men being shot and/or killed by overzealous, perhaps even overly aggressive police, is nothing unique to that community. It happens all the time, all over the country. I’ve had to cover it many times right here in Oklahoma:
http://www.swoknews.com/misc-columns/daniel-martin-autopsy-report-radio-transmissions
http://archive.lawton-constitution.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Search&Key=TLC/2008/09/29/1/Ar00101.xml&CollName=TLC_APA3&DOCID=298635&PageLabelPrint=1A&skin=LawtonConstitution&AW=1416932688766&AppName=2&sPublication=TLC&sScopeID=DR&sSorting=Score%2cdesc&sQuery=Marcell%20Johnson&rEntityType=&sSearchInAll=false&sDateFrom=%2530%2531%2f%2530%2531%2f%2532%2530%2530%2537&sDateTo=%2531%2531%2f%2533%2530%2f%2532%2530%2530%2538&dc:creator=&PageLabel=&dc:publisher=&ViewMode=GIF

http://www.swoknews.com/local/report-sheds-light-death-man-local-police-custody

But what is unique about Ferguson is that the resulting protests justified the anxiety that Americans have had since entire neighborhoods were shut down during the search for the Boston marathon bombing suspect (BTW, whatever happened to THAT guy?)

It confirmed to us that there is an thick, blue line separating “us” from “them,” with the “them” being law enforcement officers. The complex love/hate, need/despise relationship between citizens and police has been festering for some time, but as the populous embraces the idea that people can kill anyone who they deem to be “up to no good,” a threat or simply a “scary thug,” the disconnect has deepened.

On one hand, citizens need police to maintain order and help the wheels of justice turn. They are the people who come when your husband beats you up, again. They are the ones that gather the evidence that puts away your nephew’s murderer. They are the ones that walk into the darkest places of humanity in an effort to bring some light.

Not all police officers are terrible people.

But what we’re seeing now is officers who look more like soldiers than law enforcement– Paramilitary gear, assault rifles in hand, literally rolling fucking tanks into the streets… in Boston and now Missouri. No police force should be equipped with a tank. Period. And in Ferguson, we’ve gone one step further… the National Guard is put on standby to suppress citizens?

Don’t get me wrong, I know that a violent, unruly mob can’t exactly be talked down with listening words. I can’t even pretend I have an appropriate suggestion about how police should or shouldn’t diffuse the anger. I just know that Americans are feeling more and more trapped within their own boarders; That we feel as though the police state is worsening, and the only retort is “Well, don’t break the law.”

Breaking the law isn’t an excuse to fire 12 shots at an unarmed man. Breaking the law isn’t an excuse to shoot a man you KNEW was armed nine times in front of his own wife… on his own property… when he called to report he was the victim of a crime. “Reaching” into a pocket isn’t a reason for police to make a kill shot following a traffic stop, simply because the perpetrator was a “known thug.”

What happened to people being given a chance to be innocent until they’re proven guilty? Now, most “thugs” and “badguys” have a day in court posthumously with tangled tales of their existence woven into elaborate representations by attorneys. The social response seems to be shrugged shoulders and a crude comment about how people should know better than to raise their voice or eyebrows, hell even breathe the wrong way around police officers.

Essentially, Americans have accepted the socially-constructed notion that “some people just deserve to die because they don’t follow the rules.” Americans have internalized the concept that justice is somehow a tradeoff– police have difficult and dangerous jobs so sometimes people are going to accidentally die– and we look the other way.

Police may not actually be guilty of murdering individuals when they get trigger-happy. They are also victims of a fear-mongering, told every day that they won’t come home to their families if they don’t shoot first and ask questions later. Their jobs are, in fact, quite dangerous, and many officers have successfully disarmed, shot or detained very dangerous people. Those cases don’t seem to resonate with the public as much.

But change is obviously needed. There is a perception that the police can shoot and kill citizens with little to no reason and without consequence. An officer may be fired, yes, but there is nothing that would keep him or her from working at another jurisdiction, especially since police band together and rally to protect their own. Until there becomes some way to hold police officers responsible for making a mistake, maybe not with an indictment (criminal allegations still must have a factual basis), or law enforcement make serious efforts to show they understand and want to correct (NOT rolling tanks into the streets) the misery in Missouri will only become more venomous.