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.


Ready? Set? Deploy!

So resiliency training is a big deal, and the National Guard has taken the time, at least in Oklahoma, to address family readiness and the importance of support for their soldiers.
Since Sept. 11, 2011, 19 Oklahoma National Guardsmen have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to a press release from the Oklahoma National Guard. In that same time frame, 16 have committed suicide. Interestingly enough, five of those persons had never been deployed–it was family or relational problems that prefaced their acts (or as he likes to say, resiliency training is the number one cause of suicides”). So, what family or relational problems would do to someone while deployed?
I read through some of the resiliency training points.
I’m starting to understand now why couples in dating relationships break up before deployments. There’s a whole lot of advice on what married couples with children should do, and I’m sure the military probably doesn’t want to endorse any other sort of arrangements among couples. However, the world is a different place today than it was yesterday, and certainly different than it was years ago.
People in love may not be married. They may not have children. They may not even live together. But does that make a connection to a deploying soldier or his or her spouse any less significant? It’s easy to glance over throngs of young men dating girls with their panties oozing to wait for their man as silly, fleeting phases, and just say they don’t know anything about life, but these are the men and women whose relationships end with a suicide pact. It’s important to them.
While he and I would never agree to such a ridiculous thing, nor do I find our relationship silly, the relationship we have is important to us.
Here’s the layout of “us.”
We’re both divorced. He has a 4-year-old daughter with his ex-wife, and I have a 1-year-old son with a man who came after my divorce. We met online, when I;m not sure if he was, but I wasn’t looking for a life-long lover. We sent emails, then texts, then talked on the phone, then met in person. From there, we tried to spend every moment together that was possible. Practically every single night for months and months, we were together. Before he left, we discussed the possibility of moving in together when he returned.
I was 26 at the time. He’s 31.
We are far from a young, silly, high-school love struck couple of teens wanting to blindly follow love wherever it would take us. Although, I think there might be some sort of benefit to blindly following pure, untainted love in to a war zone.    You don’t question what being apart from his child will do to his well being. You don’t wonder if your child will remember this person when he returns. You don’t worry about anything but how you will survive the time apart. That must be refreshing.
School came, and the time apart was difficult. I spent a lot of time in denial about the upcoming deployment, and I didn’t ask to talk about it like I should have before it was too late. The stress started building and building. So I would find myself waiting until my intensity level was up to 11, bracing for 12, and just having explosions of thoughts, worries and feelings.
I wasn’t communicating effectively. He was pulling away even further. I can still go from happy, to angry, to depressed, to lonely and back to happy in less than an hour as I try to wade through the bullshit that is pre-deployment.
He broke up with me, stating he found himself fighting to stay in the relationship and simply couldn’t be in one with anyone at the moment. He later (too long later) clarified that he felt wrong asking me to wait around for a man especially when we weren’t dependent on the other, married or lived together–which are all the situations the military addresses for family readiness.
So back to the resiliency training. There’s all this great advice for spending time with your children (but we don’t have children together) and ensuring a parent’s transition to being a single parent (which I already am) will be easier. But there’s absolutely nothing there to help me better understand and prepare for this situation, nor is there anything to help him turn the love of a good partner into an asset rather than a hindrance.
What’s happening, is he is being, somewhat forced to try and squeeze in all this quality time with multiple individuals without any of that time overlapping.
For “normal” families (I just threw up in my mouth a little), taking individual time for each child is no biggie. It could be simply letting your significant other and a child camp out in the back yard a night, or playing video games after work until 2 a.m. or taking him or her to the movies. Your man or woman is still close by. You’re still together under the same roof (unless you camp outside, of course). But not for the military girlfriend.
I have time allotted to me. Anything beyond that time is dedicated to his daughter, as it should be. But I can’t say it doesn’t hurt my feelings to know he’s just a short drive away when he’s been hundreds of miles away for months and I cannot go to him. I cannot be under the same roof. Especially when that distance is going to climb into the thousands of miles range in a short time. Such a short time. Way too short of a time.
You start questioning whether your allotted time was good enough. Is he’s even thinking of you anymore? Does he just need some time with the little one, free from distraction, or is his unbridled passion fading again? Did he just need some time together for physical intimacy? Is that what I’m here for? What AM I here for?
I’ll tell you why I’M here….love, quite simply.
I’ve made a lot of dumb mistakes, a lot of them involving men, in my life. When I was married, I didn’t recognize how we were smothering and enabling each other. I freaked out afterward and sought the attention of anyone who would give it to me, got pregnant by a guy who was not anywhere near ready to be a parent, and tried to do the FWB thing (why does anyone still believe this is a good idea?). By the time I met him, I was burned down and worn the hell out.
He did nothing but restore my faith in love, men, family, the freakin’ universe.
I have never met someone who makes me laugh like he does. I have never met anyone who makes me want to be a better person the way he does. There’s this boarder line creepy, direct link between our brains. He’s a good man. An excellent father. And just an all-around fantastic human being.
Weeks after our official separation, we decided to make some changes and give it another go. I couldn’t be happier.
The point of all this mess of words, I suppose, is that there isn’t a clear answer to the question, “He’s getting deployed, what do I do now?” I live in a world where answers are asked, sought, found and re-produced as tools for others to use. I’ve tried and tried to seek out the answer to the question, “How do I do this?” and it simply doesn’t work that way.
How can the military expect families to prepare when they aren’t even acknowledging the fact that families don’t look the way they used to? No wonder these men and women believe it’s better to not take a partner’s heart in their duffels. It’s a heavy burden to carry, especially when the agency sending you away doesn’t even recognize someone special to you as someone that “matters” in any real sense of the word.