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.