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.

He’s Lovin’ It; I’m Lovin’ It

Whether it’s an ex, another helping of pasta salad or a third or fourth glass of wine, everyone knowingly indulges in self-destructive behavior.

mcdonalds

McDonald’s, once viewed as a harmless treat every now-and-again, has become one of the more reprehensible acts of self-destruction in the modern world we can’t seem to quit. We all know the “food” is really just calories wrapped in preservatives, coloring and mysterious fillers. We know it has little to no nutritional value and hell, it might even give us cancer, but they keep popping up in gas stations and mega Wal Marts across the country.

And we keep lining up to pay poverty prices for the most scrumptious, salty sin imaginable.

I often ask myself “How does McDonald’s stay in business, seriously?” Ever since Supersize Me, how could any self-respecting human being pay money to shove 650 calories known as a Quarter Pounder (or Royale with cheese, depending on your pop-culture health) down their gullet?

At least cigarette smokers can blame their destructive habits on addiction-inducing chemicals in the tobacco.

So, naturally, the parent in me vows to steer my youngster away from the tasty allure of probably the best french fries on the planet (or freedom fries, depending on how much you hate Democrats). That is, until my last visit this weekend.

I was driving to the grocery store for a quick item Sunday, and my almost-three-year-old was quietly riding in the backseat. We drove past McDonald’s, and he exclaimed, “I, I need somethin’ eat.”

It was 12:45 p.m., and he really didn’t eat much of anything for breakfast (just call me Mom of the Year), so I figured a quick snack was in order. I asked him what he wanted, and he just pointed out the window saying, “That!”

“You want to eat McDonald’s?”

“YEEEEAAAAH! ‘Donald’s!”

The joy, the elation seeped through those two words like special sauce between a sesame seed bun and a hamburger-ish patty. It was sweeter than anything I’d ever heard come from Cullen’s venom-spitting mouth.

He really wanted to go to McDonald’s.

As I moved into the right lane to head for our new destination, I started another journey down memory lane. I recalled afternoon lunches with my mother, sometimes accompanied by an aunt, cousin or my grandmother.

I remembered long road trips with my siblings, during which my father would stop and buy a bag of cheeseburgers to nosh with our ice-chest filled with sides and drinks. Birthday parties (why doesn’t anyone do THAT anymore?), outdated playground equipment, paper ketchup cups, Ronald freakin’ McDonald, chicken nuggets with sweet-and-sour sauce that have tasted the exact same for two decades now. One McDonald’s in the town where I lived in Canada had a massive ball pit and play area filled with tree tunnels and a carousel in the basement.

And now, I could thank McDonald’s for that sugary-sweet squeal I just heard from my own son in the backseat. I could thank McDonald’s for the smile to end all smiles when he realized a Mario Kart toy was in his immediate future. I could also thank McDonald’s for yet another dimple in my thigh, but whatever.

This is why people continue buying and consuming the crap they sell… it’s a collective experience of joy. The food is manufactured to taste good, better than anything real could ever taste, so it’s only natural for warm, fuzzy feelings to reverberate in our minds every time we see the golden arches. If you happened to spend quality time there with your mom, or aunt or grandma while eating salt-covered sin, those fuzzies are sure to be amplified.

Parents are supposed to watch out for their kids, to guide them into making better life choices than we once did, but it’s also our job to sacrifice personal comfort for their own. So, I’ll continue paying $6.41 for atomic sludge and say 15 hail Marys afterward if it means my son can have more squeals of elation and memories of his mother eating the exact same chicken nuggets she did 20 years ago.