Now I’m an adult (of sorts), I’d assumed the days of worrying about the rules of the playground were behind me. Along with wedgies, communal showers and trying to inhale without coughing.
How naïve I was. Since having children, I find myself back in the same scenario, although admittedly no one has hauled the waistband of my boxer shorts above my shoulders (yet). Worse, the rules have changed. As many parents know, managing people with little regard for their own safety until faced with immediate peril requires significant levels of concentration, premonition and caffeine, as well as the ability to cross a wobbly bridge in milliseconds.
Often it lulls you into a false sense of security too. Like when your older child kindly offers to help the younger one join them in climbing something just a little bit beyond their capabilities. How sweet, you think. What lovely brothers. How nice to see them getting on so well. What hope it gives me for a future where they just do stuff together while I sit down on a bench and actually talk to my wife.
Shit, Nathan! Where did Dylan go? Oh, that’s right, he’s legged it up the rest of the climbing frame while little bro has dropped like a stone from 6 feet high. Thank God for modern-day, spongy playground floors.
There’s also my fellow parents to consider. On my Wednesdays off, I’m usually the only dad in the playground, still a surprisingly common experience in most places we visit during the week. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Mums do it better. Most mums I encounter in playgrounds tend to gather in groups chatting with each other while their children play. They exude a kind of calm control that I just can’t achieve. So, when I barrel nosily into the area with scooters flying, bag undone, kids in different directions, etc. I look pretty inept.
Kids are like moths. My attitude in a playground is if you can’t beat them, join them. The trouble is, when other children get wind of a youngster being tipped upside down, spun on a roundabout or chased through a tunnel, they tend to flock over for a piece of the action too. Thus, I spend most of the time lifting various nameless kids on and off equipment or helping bury their feet in fox piss encrusted sand. All while their parent happily chats to their mates.
It can be intimidating. Stepping into this still female-dominated environment (during the week) can make you self-conscious. I’ve even seen women check their watch as I step through the gates, confirming it is indeed still business working hours. The other day, a grandma (or ‘mature mum’ – I didn’t ask, I’m not crazy) actually screamed when I had the temerity to push Nathan above head height on a swing. Yes, he leant forward a bit, but really, a full-blooded scream? I may have a Y chromosome but I have no plans to send my child flying into a wall. I promise.
There are never enough swings. If I was a playground planner (what a job that would be!), I’d dedicate at least 70% of the area to swings. Two just isn’t enough. Every kid wants to go on them and every kid hates waiting. The result is a festival of placation. Both for the parent trying to coax their child off the swing and for the one whose son or daughter is on the sidelines preparing to take matters into their own hands. It’s a situation that’s even given rise to a kind of code.
Parent 1: No, someone is on the swing, so you’ll have to wait your turn (a little more loudly than necessary).
Translation: I may appear to have done it politely and as if I was trying to teach my child about waiting. However, I’ve now made it perfectly clear to you, Parent 2, that my child wants to get on that swing. Start preparing your kid for disembarkation before this shit gets real.
I’m sure there are plenty more but I shan’t bore you with them now. Hopefully some of this sounds familiar. Perhaps most of it doesn’t. All of it is largely my fault. But I guess one thing we can all agree on as parents is this: the days of playground protocol are not as far behind us as we thought.