Playground Politics

The playground is a microcosm of society on display, clearly evincing that the reptilian part of our brain reigns undisturbed. The word "mine" echoes its angst across swings, see-saws and slippery dips. It's the rule of the land in the sandpit, a place where I spend good chunk of my time (innumerable times my friends have replied with concerned questions as to my mental health when I have made this statement, understanding a metaphorical meaning, which such ready acceptance of a somewhat disastrous description of my life has made me somewhat question my life choices).

When my elder son first started trampling all over the playground, I saw him as an extension of myself and would be embarrassed every time I felt his antics displayed a keen lack of manners. If he ran up to a kid and stole his truck, I would charge myself with larceny, take the truck from my screaming toddler and return it to its proper owner, mumbling apologies and lecturing my son on sharing. Later I realized that he had to negotiate the jungle of the playground alone. I would observe passively unless a crisis ensued. If he took a toy from the sandpit that belonged to someone else (denoted usually by a black marker in all caps as an indubitable result of previous kidnappings) I allowed him to play until he got bored or the owner returned. However, I drew the line at him taking the toys from someone's hands. If he did this, we would return it immediately, my son crying his name in the possessive form to no avail while I remained conflicted, distressed that sharing was something not yet learnt while satisfied at the proper use of the possessive case (my son continues to refer to himself by name, shying away from pronouns). Sharing is a tough discipline for a two year old.

Over time, my more passive turn seems to have worked. My son now spots a toy of interest and immediately looks over at me for direction (as customary, the toy of interest is usually of interest to a third party and loses all appeal as soon as such third party is attracted to another object). Slowly but surely we are make inroads into a proper etiquette...

We've also had the issue of bringing our toys to the pit and having other kids sweep them away leading to a distressed deluge. Dealing with other people's kids requires a certain diplomacy. Usually I wait, knowing the flustered parent would return the toy with the usual apology and admonish their kid (this is standard sandpit etiquette). Sometimes the parent, for whatever reason, fails to bring the toy back. My son looks to me for direction through streaming tears and I know I have to address this somehow because if I let other kids trod all over him, how is he to better his behaviour? So I troller over and nonchalantly ask the kid where they got the truck from in a delicate diplomatic maneuvere to wry the toy from them without unleashing screams in protest. I must admit that when leaving the playground and rounding up the defectors, I've had to be less diplomatic in my efforts and have been the cause of many a toddler tear to my wringing embarrassment.

Other parents in the playground adopt similar diplomatic fronts. When our kids play or even argue, we silently observe, sometimes admittedly checking our phones (and in my case streaming over the subject lines and refusing to read wok emails), akin to dog owners that make intermittent stops while their dog inspects the derrière of another, expertly avoiding eye contact during the entire encounter.

Then there are the swings. We are usually in the playground during peak time and must wait to use the swings. The concept of waiting is nearly as difficult for a toddler to grasp as the concept of sharing. As I mollify my son through various efforts at distraction, I also venture to a safe border from which I can vulture onto the next open swing (a decade living in NYC has made me quite efficient in swooping up space as soon as it opens as well as aiding its freedom by ever so subtly - or so I like to believe -protruding my presence onto their possessed parcel to nudge them on their way). Ending swing time when observing high demand must be accompanied by the promise of more fun activity such as the slippery dip, playing with a ball or a return to the sandpit (where indubitably there will be toy construction equipment which I would venture to describe and incorrigibly mistake and be corrected by an exasperated three year old to the amusement of my son).

Playground antics now continue with a baby strapped to my chest....


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