Growing up, I didn't go to a lot of playgrounds, probably because my mom didn't feel like taking four young children when we had a backyard with a swing set and neighborhood kids to play with. And because I wasn't familiar with playgrounds, they always held an air of excitement. So when I had kids of my own, I took them. While they're not
exciting for me anymore, they're a useful parenting resource. Not only do they allow kids to meet new people and burn energy, the parents you meet at the playground can end up being priceless sources of knowledge, entertainment, and solidarity: you know, all the things one needs when they're trying to raise tiny humans.
Certainly, not every parent you meet at the playground is going to be a winner.
Some of them will be weirdos. Some of them will straight-up suck. And while I believe we should try to treat everyone graciously (you never know what kind of day someone is having), I also think it's OK to know when a connection just isn't going to happen. But there are other people you'll meet who are low-key kind of awesome, even if your interaction is minimal or brief. Other times you can wind up having full-scale friendship-level conversations with someone you just met. What I like most about playground parents is that we all get it. We know how all-consuming and difficult and joyful parenting can be. We know what it is to be in the thick of it. That's not always our reality, so finding a moment where that's just an established truth can be nice.
The parents you meet at the playground will be a mixed bag, to be sure, but you can bet your you-know-what that from time to time you'll meet some real gems, including but certainly not limited to the following:
I have met moms at the playground and, before I even knew their names, knew what type of
vaginal tearing they experienced in childbirth. Fortunately, I am not a particularly squeamish person. Maybe that's why these moms find themselves drawn to me: they know I can provide a safe space to spill their guts on subjects like, well, spilling your guts. Motherhood, not just birth, is so physical and body-focused in a way most of adult life isn't, so sometimes need to be able to talk it through with someone who understands.
This is the mom who
always has whatever you need or somehow forgot. An extra bottle of water. A snack. A diaper. A hair tie. A spit-up towel. A toy both your kids can play with. You name it and she can Mary Poppins it out of her bag. I'm eternally grateful for every one of these witchy women. And, certainly, there will be times when you are the conjuring mom who can help someone out. It's a delicate balance and never-ending cycle of sisterhood.
It's very popular for people to hate on the cellphone mom —you know, the one who spends her time at the playground on a bench scrolling through Instagram and texting. I, however, do not hate on her. Or hate her. Or feel anything other than a very real fondness for her. Scroll on, mama! You've earned this time!
She's not "missing out" on quality time with her children, people. There's a pretty good chance she's been having "quality time" with her children all day and that's why she's brought them to the playground in the first place. The kids are playing, she's handling things. So again, I ask: what is the damn problem?
Let a lady live, for goodness sake.
One thing that impressed me about most of the playgrounds I've visited is that everyone there is a parent, so naturally everyone is just kind of keeping an eye on
all the kids. Like, yeah, you're focused primarily on your own, but you're kind of keeping an eye on everyone, making sure everything is OK and everyone is being safe. And sometimes, one of those parents will swoop in and get your kid out a predicament that conspired in the .45 seconds you had your back turned.
And, as with the Conjuring Mom, sometimes you need her and sometimes you
This is the mom that seems to be having a genuinely good time playing alongside her kids. Some people like to hate on this mom, too, because she's "making everyone else look bad" or whatever. But you know what? LET FUN MOM LIVE, YOU GUYS! Maybe her time with her kids is limited and she really wants to dive in. Maybe she naturally has a lot of energy. Maybe she's just a goofball and likes playing Cinderella Tag or whatever weird game their kid has invented. It's cool. She's not invalidating anything you're doing. Let her be and smile at her wacky antics.
This is the mom who, somehow, knows everyone and absolutely
everything that's going on for the next month.
"Oh, did you hear about the Strawberry and Bunny Festival that's happening on the playing field of the middle school a town over next weekend? I'll send you a link!"
"Oh, did you sign her up for the Tumbling Tikes class through the Rec Center? I think there are three spaces left. Registration closes in four days and the fee is $50 for six weeks. You're going to want to call Eleanor at Parks and Rec. Here's her number."
"Oh, you're having difficulty nursing? Let me give you my friend Jane's number! She runs a lactation support group every Wednesday."
How are you so on top of literally everything that's going on? Where do you learn all this information? Teach me your ways.
The Stay-At-Home Dad Who Just Wants To Talk
For a confluence of mostly really crappy reasons,
stay-at-home dads are pretty rare. As a result, they face all of the same issues stay-at-home moms face (isolation, burn out, etc.) but have an even smaller support network. On the occasions when I've seen stay-at-home dads and their kids on the playground, they're generally less likely to join in a conversation with the moms. Yet, nine times out of 10, when I say hello, they latch on to conversation like it's a door floating among the wreckage of the Titanic. Everyone adult needs to talk to another adult sometimes. Kids are cute, but it takes a while for them to become even halfway decent conversationalists.
They have come to the playground with their spreadsheets and cellphone and files and they are
somehow managing to do it all. I stand in awe of these folks, because this is so not me. I'm not an unorganized garbage person or anything, but I do not have the wherewithal to juggle everything they're juggling, and I salute them for their fortitude and ability to multitask.
The Mom Who Obviously Shares All Your Political Opinions But You're Trying To Establish That Connection Naturally
A lot of the times I feel like you just kind of know — they have a look or a vibe or a way of speaking that you just recognize. But you slowly float some things by them and watch their reaction. You'll mention Trump.
You'll talk about the Women's March. You'll bring up Black Lives Matter. You'll ask if they heard the latest about the Border Wall debate. Generally, whenever I've done this, my initial guess of "they seem like they're on my level" turns out to be correct, and that's always a nice feeling. It's like in Fight Club when you see someone on the street with a black eye and you just knowingly nod to each other.
The Six-Degrees-Of-Separation Parent
I feel like there's always one. You find some sort of tenuous connection and through a series of "Oh, do you know...?"questions figure out at least one person you have in common, and it's always really weird but fun. This doesn't just happen in
small communities, either.
The "How The Hell Is Your Outfit So Amazing" Mom
There was this nanny who used to go to the same playground and
omg she had it going on. I don't know how every outfit was so impeccably chic (maybe because she was French?) but she brought it every damn day and I could only bask in her glory. And it's not like she wasn't running around with the kids like the rest of us; she just managed to look amazing while doing it and in a way I could barely fathom.
On a weekend this isn't a big deal. But during the week it's like "Wait... how are
both of you here right now? Did you both call in? Do you work unusual hours? Are you independently wealthy? What is this? I'm impressed and confused."
The Parent Who Gets It Just When You Need Someone To Get It
Not every trip to the playground is going to be a revelation, but sometimes you run into someone who says just the right thing at the right time to keep you going. Because other parents know what's up, and the playground is a good place to be reminded that we're not alone in this.