Playground Politics

The playground is a microcosm of our society and it is quite astonishing to see how staunchly children interpellate our social mores. 

"Mine! Mine!" the rallying cry of our property centred culture is intermittently heard throughout the playground. 

I believe the proper etiquette respecting toys is that if they are not played with, they are fair game while you are in the playground, but they should be returned to where you found them upon leaving or earlier, upon request. I find it useful to arrive at the playground with toys, because this draws children to my own, who are particularly social, and forces them to share. Of course, this also forces me to plod around the playground at times in search of kidnappees, where on occasion I've had to negotiate tough terms for their release. I learnt early on the primacy of returning with all our party, or at least the vast majority of it, for my toddler has an acute accounting ability (forget what we bring to the playground - I stand flabbergasted and somewhat disconcerted that he can account for all his toys at home and knows exactly who gave what to him, so for example, he would not merely describe one of his puzzles to be the "road construction puzzle" but add its origin, "the one deka {grandpa} gave me" et al, as if he had drafted a Magna Carta of his room's possessions to which he could easily refer).

Some parents, for reasons that escape my logic, follow a different code respecting toys at the playground and attempt to gate their possessions by emblazoning their children's nomenclature on them as if it this provides indelible protection, to be respected by the rampaging toddlers in the sandpit. Yet the natural law of the sandpit tends to prevail and toys do not enjoy solace for long as little hands conquer them as captives to their imagination. It is difficult to suppress laughter when a wearied parent points to their lettered alarm and waxes hysterical over the trespass of their forgotten toys by adventurous, imaginative and none the least, illiterate toddlers. If, for whatever reason, perhaps a heightened anxiety over the loss of a particular toy or the gain of unwanted germs, they are so concerned that no child plays with their kids' toys, perhaps they should not leave them alone or even, take them to the playground.

A simple way to ensure your kids have toys they can play with, is to bring them with you. This also draws the attention of the other kids, which I find a benefit, even if at times, this may result in the kidnapping of members of our party. Most parents understand that wresting a toy from a toddler is a no go and instruct their kids as to this rule, and, as I do, intervene when its transgressed. Fortunately for me, I have not had to do this for my older son for a long time now, I believe he was still crawling when I had to discipline his penchant for piracy in the sands of the sandpit. My younger son is more interested in flinging himself onto the most dangerous escapade for toy piracy to be an issue and my primary concern is to leave the playground with all his appendages intact. 

L, my elder son, is a social butterfly, to say the least and when we arrive to a playground he prances to other kids to play with them. At first he would demand their audience, "hey kids! come play with me!" and after some gentle persuasion by his mother that this may not be the most effective strategy and a butchery of le bon ton, his latest tactic has been to say "excuse me, may I play with you?" which has my full blessing and to which he receives mixed responses to say the least. Some kids stare befuddled at this request before resuming their previous activity without gratifying my quixotic son with an answer to which he has learnt to simply repeat his request. My heart is pinched every time he so politely asks children to play with him and punched when he is ignored or refused. Yet, most children let him play and the ones that don't (usually older boys) are to a large extent worn down by his attrition. I try not to intervene because I know he needs to learn how to negotiate the predatory social jungle but I earnestly record what goes on, so that I may later divulge what I perceive is good advice for social negotiation. I don't want him to be discouraged by refusal, yet I also do not wish him to pester people that for reasons alien to me, are not besotted by his enigmatic personality and the constellations within his resplendent eyes (ah, a mother's love). Human relations, after all, are travails of trial and error. 

If he comes to the playground armed with toys, he becomes much more interesting and rather than running around in search of company, it comes to him. It has also taught him to share his toys. He likes to dispense his toys as if he were handing out largesse and enjoys having other kids play with his toys, whether or not they are playing with him, until it is time to leave, and to account. 

Some parents, albeit and thankfully few and far between, also for reasons that I suppose must have to do with a too keen concern over germs upon their gems, do not wish their kids to fraternize on the playground to the evident distress of their imprisoned progeny. Why bring a kid to where there are others only to prevent them from enjoying their company? I’ve watched parents attempt to separate kids that are playing well together, so that they can segregate their kid/s to play solitary games that seed a sorrow that will indubitably later aid the pockets of their therapists. 

Our playground excursions are always a careful choreography of playing together, whether we’re racing cars down the slide, going down together or taking turns or seeing how much sand our shoes can swallow as dump trucks and cement mixers construct cities in the desert plains, and being apart for which I employ sideline supervision. This invariably involves panic as in the shatter of a second I lose sight of my son - a muted moment of torment before he reappears over a ledge and shrieks in delight down a slide.  Recently I’ve endeavored on a project to have him answer his name and respond “over here!”, which has yet to come to a conclusion. 

There is always the trepidation of allowing my kids to tread onto the next step. The first slide down on their own. The first circuit through the jungle gym. The other day, L wanted to go down the toboggan slide by himself, expertly picking a fine piece of cardboard to accompany his derrière down. I was concerned, but I decided, after reasoning that any injury would be impermanent and teach an invaluable lesson in carefulness, to let him go. I was somewhat stupefied at his finesse. While I fractured a climb and weaved in and out of vertigo, L scuttled up expertly and descended with delight. Again and again. This ignited desire like wildfire in my younger son, a wild child to no end, who began to nimbly scuttle up with a ferocious agility. I stumbled behind, drenched with worry. They don’t grow up, they spring forth in bolts through blinks.

I’ve had to intervene at intervals when I see my kids about to venture upon a dangerous activity or entwined within evident social acrimony. When an aggressive kid decides to target my ducklings, I swoop in from my perch and take them away, albeit I worry whether I came too soon. After all, how are they ever to resolve conflict if we end it for them? Do we not form fools if we protect them from their folly? While it is better to learn a painful lesson from a book than through experience, muscles remember in a way pages cannot persuade. 

Parents must appear a spectacle on the playground. Akin to dog owners who expertly ignore each other as their dogs sniff parts most intimate, and who on the rare occasion address the other canine and on the rarer occasion, the other owner and so merely to comment on their pet, parents lurk around their kids in the playground, part paying attention to their kids, part audience to their phones, ignoring each other with finesse, on the rare occasions asking how old the other parent’s child is. 

Working on east coast time, I take my kids earlier to the park most days when nannies number far more than parents. They like to socialize amongst each other, engaged in a lively banter as their charges play, occasionally taking a few choice pictures for their parents so that they may claim they were keenly concentrating on their activities. 

Kids are perfect exemplars of the law of inertia. Engaged in activities at home, they resist going to the playground and once there, they loathe to leave. I admit I’ve resorted to cheap tricks to effect an exist from the playground. I offer snacks in the stroller. I bribe with promises of rationed screen time at home. And sometimes, after my efforts prove fruitless, I employ force. I always wonder how no one questions my authority in taking my children away when they join in mutiny and scream their resistance as if I am kidnapping them from their kin.

My playground adventures have affected my garb. I used to admittedly have a stentorian sartorial style with a particular penchant for pelleterria
 which suited the flat topography of New York but which the torment of the nebulous city's terrain, coupled with trotting about after my toddlers whipped from my whimsy and now I plod around in jeans, a windbreaker and sneakers to the inner grumblings of my fashionista and the gratitude of my muscular-skeletal system.

The problem of the playground and soon, preschool and school, is that you can only shield your kids to a certain extent. We don’t have any toy guns, but they are in abundance on the playground. My son heard boys running around shouting “bang, bang” and then employed this tactic against his younger brother to my dismay. Yet we can’t keep our children secluded and protected in a castle of our own making for it is bound to be vitreous and prone to shatter. All we can do is influence their aspect to better understand what they see. Better to teach your kids to swim than fence your pool. 


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