Monday, April 12, 2010

Open Letter: Playground Etiquette

Dear Parent (or Supervising Adult) of the Annoying Child on the Playground,

It's spring time. And the snow is long gone and the flowers are blooming and the sun is out and air is warm. And as parents, you know what this lovely spring weather is a harbinger for. Yes. Our children having spring fever and acting like unruly crack-heads. I do not enjoy watching them fight with each other or argue with me about wearing tank tops and flip-flops to school in April or skitter around my house as if there were actual ants in their actual pants. So I do what any good mother would do. I take them to the playground.

I love the playground. Because first of all, free fun. I am all about the free fun. If it's free and fun and near my house, you'd best believe we're going. A lot. And that includes every playground within a 20 minute drive. But unlike say, the library, at the playground there's also fresh air and exercise. The panacea for bad behavior.

But, people, there are rules. Even for little spring-fever-crack-heads on the swings. And you're the grown-up so you should know that already. And by my estimation, 90% of the time the problem is not the little crackhead waving around an enormous stick, but the adult that is supposed to be watching them. So just in case you didn't realize that we live in a society where there are rules that govern our behavior, I will share some of them with you.

Here are Lydia's Guidelines for Playground Etiquette, but like I said - you should know all this stuff already.

Mulch Throwers. All children like to throw mulch. However, when mulch goes air-born it gets into hair that must then be washed, even if it was just washed the night before. Or into eyes which hurts like a bastard and is scary.  And also results in ear-splitting screaming and crying which is extremely annoying. So, it's easy. Don't let your kid throw mulch. If you see them throwing mulch, tell them to stop.

Outside Voice vs. Ear-Splitting Keening. All kids like to run and all kids like to make too much noise. If your child is just running around hollering gleefully, being a noisy little bugger, using his/her outside voice, I say rock on. That's what the playground is for. But it can cross a line. A line that starts with all the parents and dogs within a quarter mile involuntarily cringing and ends with them collapsed dead on the ground, with blood trickling out of their ears. From the high-pitched squeal of your child's unnecessary screaming. Don't act like you don't know exactly what I'm talking about. When it was my kid, I made her stop. When it's your kid - for the love of GOD, make. them. stop. screaming.

The Swings. I hate the swings. We come to the playground to play. Not to sit on our arses getting pushed by mommy. Run around, have fun and wear yourselves out so you will go to bed early and I can have my t-box a half an hour sooner. That's why we're here. But all kids love the swings. And often, there are more kids than swings and that means sharing. Since some kids don't like sharing, little buggers (and their mothers) will stalk the swings like they're waiting for a table at a crowded restaurant and they are starving. And the four year old happily learning to pump his legs? Well, he's already finished eating and his check is on the table.

So rather than risk a swing-related dispute, I say set some rules. This ensures that your kids don't spend the whole time on the swings with you, annoyed, pushing them while you get the stink eye from little Suzy and her mom for not sharing. I have a "four push" rule. Why four? I don't know. I think because Hawk always yells: "MOMMA! Push me four times!" So I just set it as my limit.  Then I count 25 swings and then they must get off. That's it. Four pushes. Twenty five swings. You're done.

Also, teach your child not to walk in front of the swings.  Or else they will get hurt.  Like kicked hard in the head and knocked down hurt.  If your child is little, you have to both tell them to be careful and run a Tom-and-Jerry-style defense to protect them.  If however, by the age of seven, your child hasn't yet figured out not to walk in front of the swings...  Well, we call that 'natural selection'.

Sticks and Stones and Branches. My son Hawk enjoys nothing more than a good light saber battle with large sticks, followed by an injury and quick trip to the emergency room. He adores sticks and big rocks and especially the branches that always seem to litter the sides of the playgrounds we frequent. (How do they even get there?)

If I see my child with a stick or a tree limb, I tell him to put it down. He almost always obeys me, but it is hard for him because mommy is the worst and sticks are awesome. Now if it is your child that is running around the playground with a tree branch, please tell that child to stop. Why? If you really need to ask why then you might want to seek immediate medical attention because you have clearly suffered a traumatic brain injury. From being repeatedly whacked in the head with a tree branch. That you allow your child to play with.

Stop Texting Before Something Bad Happens. There are always kids at the playground who may as well be there all by themselves. Or actually worse - the kid is there with someone whose attention they really want to get. And since this person is too distracted or checked out to give them positive attention, the little buggers will take what they can get. They can be mommies (sometimes even me - gasp!), but sometimes they're not.  Need some examples?

On the weekends, you see lots of kids with their dads. It is often clear that this is Daddy's post-divorce custodial weekend and the playground seemed like a better idea than being trapped in his new, Ikea-furnished two bedroom apartment with completely wild children. I can certainly relate. Divorced Daddies fall into one of two categories* -  I will focus on the d-bag variety. He stands on the periphery, so absorbed in his Blackberry or iPhone, that he would not notice if his kids were abducted by a bad man in a scary clown suit. But he might just notice every skinny woman in spandex who jogs by.  Nice parenting, dude.

Then you have another useless sack of hair: mom's stupid boyfriend. This guy stands as far away as he can from the actual playground - clearly bored, sighing and rolling his eyes, and obviously wishing he were anywhere else, while chain smoking Newports. Then you have the over-entitled, surly, adolescent babysitter, who also stands as far away as she can from the actual playground - clearly bored, sighing and rolling her eyes, and obviously wishing she were anywhere else, while texting non-stop (and earning $10 an hour).

If you see one of these idiots, prepare yourself for the fact that the little kiddos in their care may act up. Or decide that they like you a lot and try and come home with you. Or beg you for fruit roll-ups and a juice box because no one thought to bring them a snack.  And if one of these little buggers brings a tree branch near the monkey bars or throws some mulch - can you really blame them?

The Mommy Code. If I'm standing near the slide and a little guy gets scared and needs help down, I'll help him. You'd help him, too. If I see some big kids being rough or wild near a little kid, I'll say: "Hey dudes! Remember there are little guys around, OK?" So why is it there are some people who will see a kid fall off a swing and just stand there, dispassionately observing, like "Hmmm... Interesting... It fell down and now it cries..." Seriously? You're a mom. Do the right thing, woman.

Are we clear now? Do we all understand Playground Etiquette? Because it's not hard. Just pay attention to your kids. You don't have to hover (in fact, please don't hover), just watch them and make sure they're playing nice and having fun. And enjoy the fact that they're getting fresh air and wearing themselves out. And that they're not watching TV or playing Wii.  And if they're tired enough, they may just go to sleep early.  And think of all the free fun you can have if that happens.  I do so dearly love free fun.

Kthanksbye,

Lydia

*Note: There is an awesome variety of Divorced Daddy. He starts a game of Tag or Hide and Seek so fun that every kid on the playground joins in and they are all running and playing and laughing and Daddy is a rock star and his kids are thrilled to be with him and all the mommies sit on the bench, sipping their Venti Iced Ralph Macchios, thinking about how terrific and cute this man is and how his ex-wife must really be sorry and do you think he's single because I have a lot of really hot single friends. Divorced Dads, you want to be this guy. Please put the Blackberries down.

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30 comments:

  1. LOL! love the "it fell down and now it cries", reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs, "it rubs the lotion..."
    Funny stuff!

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  2. A few weeks ago I was at the playground with my son, and not 5 minutes later the crackberry addicted divorced dad shows up with his kids. One looked to be 6 and the younger child was around 2 years old.

    He tells the 6 year old to watch her little brother, yeah we all know how absolutely responsible 6 year olds can be and it was pretty clear she was annoyed with her little brother anyways.

    I was sitting on the bench eating lunch with my son, so the divorced dad kiddos start playing and the 2 year old climbs to the top of the very large tower to play with the car steering wheel.

    At this point I realize dad and older sister is not watching so I pick my son up and start walking over to the tower. It was like slow motion watching this kid fall and no matter how fast I moved he was falling faster.

    Course he hits the ground and I go over to comfort him, cause yeah he fell about 5 feet onto the ground. Five minutes later I and I finally yell at the jackoff who still hasn't noticed his kid crying to come over.

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  3. Oh God. I remember playground fiascos from my nannying days. Some parents are CRACK HEADS. (yes literally, but also figuratively.) Maybe we can start a movement to post these rules at every public playground?

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  4. Can I just add, put the phone down, you JACKHOLE. Aim your eyes somewhere else and watch your kid! Don't let your kid slug or push my kid around and DON'T even dare to get mad when I tell your kid to stop hitting or pushing mine! You don't want me to square up, believe me!

    I love this blog. :-)

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  5. Or the spandex covered moms who are too busy trying to outdo the other moms to notice her kid whacking the other mom's kid with said stick. Going over to comfort kid who was hit and gently admonish kid with stick -neither of which are yours - when spandomom finally notices,and yells at you not to discipline her kid. Sigh

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  6. My child is 3....a little tall for his age, but still only 3 yrs old. And he wants me to follow along behind him...HIS idea. So I get an up close view of how kids treat him. (he's non-verbal, but still a child at the park, wanting to have some FUN).

    I get so tired of the older RUDE kids that think nothing of pushing past a little kid as if he's a yield sign they refuse to see. We have seen this in a number of locations. Indoor playgrounds, bouncy houses, parks, outdoor playgrounds, etc.

    Please parents....teach your kids some manners. Teach them to WAIT and let the little kid do his thing (go down the slide, climb up the ladder, etc). The child might be a little slower than you (the older kid), but he can do it. He climbs very well, just a little slower than you. The little kid was on the ladder or steps before you, don't push past him. Show some manners. There's no need to be in such a rush that you push a little kid aside. I'm a couple feet away & I see what you do.

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  7. Holy COW, can we POST THIS at the playground???? I taught daycare for 13 years and every TIME I am at the park, I feel like a Regulator again, watching every child and feeling compelled to NIP IT, only I don't want to be the Bossy B*^&h who told someone's kid not to throw the mulch! So I take it as long as I can, while cursing society and Blackberries in my head, until my almost-two-year-old gets hurt and I have to take him kicking and screaming back to the car. Watch your kids, People!!! This list also applies to Chuck E Cheese where I break out in hives bc of the kids, not just running amuck and having fun, but who are following the teachings of Lord Of The Flies.

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  8. I recently had a mulch experience... my daughter joined in with a boy who was throwing mulch onto the bottom of a slide, I told her to knock it off, the mother/grandmother/court appointed guardian of the other kid told me that they weren't hurting anyone... Ah,excuse me?? Mulch in the eyeball? Worry about what your own kid is doing???

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  9. The Big kids (and by big, I mean like 12 or older) that show up sans parents and terrorize the smaller kids by being wild on playground equipment much too small for them are my pet peeve. I actually have a little churning of the stomach when I see them approaching. I am not afraid to shut them down though and defend the younger kids, which being in the South usually those kids will back down if they've had any kind of raising what so ever.... if not, I stopped caring if people think I'm crazy alooooong time ago.... like 3 kids ago.... so I will set them straight in a heartbeat.

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  10. So with you on the mulch and inattentiveness. And with the above poster who wants kids to have manners with little ones (your boy can play with mine... they LOVE playing with littler kids!!!). Though I've met plenty who don't have ANY manners, much less with little kids.
    I have to admit that mine love sticks, and I let them play with them. However, they do know that the sticks are NOT swords/lightsabers. Usually they are guns instead. :/

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  11. LOL~ Thanks for a Monday Morning Laugh.

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  12. There's the just total arsehole dad too. We met him on the playground on Saturday. He had taken his 18 month old, did the crackberry thing for a while, then the little one fell and totally ate mulch. His response? "Shut up, quit your crying" Umm, seriously? My GF whipped out a napkin and was all "here, let me help" and got the mulch out of his little mouth (he had cut his poor little gums!) all while "dad" stood there like a moron, then took the kid home without even saying thank you. ugh.

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  13. Another one: If my kid picks up a stick and I'm getting the first breath of a word out to tell them to stop, don't come yelling before I get the chance. I realize you were too busy texting to pay attention to your kid five minutes ago but you don't have to overcompensate by taking care of mine too. I got this. (And I got you by the hair if you say one more word to my child.)

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  14. The moms who hover... I call them Helicopter Moms (or dads)
    -Lisa

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  15. Love the note at the end!

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  16. wonderful as always Lydia
    These should indeed be posted, but those of us who are the parents of the 18 month old who climbs to the top of the 17 ft high play structure all.by.themselves have got to hover somewhere nearby :)

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  17. Amen, sisters...AMEN! And for the love of god, please stop your child from walking UP the slide, because when Rocket-Man comes flying down and takes your monkey out, I'm not gonna be sorry because YOU didn't stop him in the first place.

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  18. We have the ear-splitters in the yard behind us, so we don't need to go anywhere for the torture. How would we ever know it's spring without "The Screamers"? Seriously, they sound like they're being murdered, but then you look over into their yard to make sure they are okay, and you just see 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 little girls fighting with eachother.
    One time the 3 year old was standing out on her back porch crying and carrying on, and I thought she was locked out, so I drove around the block to tell her mother that the child accidentally got locked out back. Do you know what she said? She said, "she's just having a tantrum and we make her go outside so we don't have to hear it". Oh, so now it's okay to make your neighbors listen to it? What a &%#@*%!

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  19. What about the young nannies that sit and talk to each other while their young charges wander around in dirty diapers asking every other mother to push them on the swings...

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  20. You forgot to add that slides are for sliding down and ladders are for climbing up, not the opposite. This flows nicely with 'sharing' and 'taking turns' because the kid who thinks they need to slide down the slide and then climb back up it causes an hour-long wait for the slide or gets pounded by the kid behind him.

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  21. I was at, what my kids and I call the "hurt" park- everytime we go, someone gets hurts. An ER visit to glue a forehead, a couple of pulled groin muscles (yep, makes it REAL easy to keep your little boys hands out of his pants then!!), skinned knees, etc.....

    This time, however, I saw my oldest throwing rocks- I had him in my sights, Rt 44 Dr. Pepper in my hand- I was going in....... Failed to see the 2 poles sticking out of the ground, fell face first over them when both shins hit them- I assume I looked like a tree- TIMBER!! The next thing I knew I was on my back, did NOT spill ANY Dr. Pepper and a useless dad sat on the wall, not 3 feet away from me, WITH his legs CROSSED and said "wow, that looked like it hurt" Never once offered to help me up or anything.......... Guess who was throwing rocks with my son....yep- his kid!

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  22. Fantastic post! Love the dispassionate observation part. It actually sounded JUST like my ex ...

    Also, just my two cents that Dads don't have to be divorced to take their kids to the playground, of course MY Cap'n is the second variety - the AWESOME dad!

    xo

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  23. Please don't forget the mom/dad who stand there and watch their MUCH older children terrorize little kids and when someone politely (stop acting like a little d-bag in training)tells them to stop the parents go all mid-evil on your ass....um or that random someone :)

    Oh can I add one more rule...stairs are for going up and slides are for coming down....my kids love to climb up slides too but I tell them to cut it out....especially when there are little kids there

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  24. Love the rules!
    As I am fuming from today
    With my super ninja nanny skills I caught a 1 y/o who's mom was chatting 15 feet away who fell from a height of five feet. The baby giggled and thought it was great fun my heart basically stopped!
    Her Mom grumbled rolled her eyes and said to her friend omg she just touched my kid! No thank you for saving her kid from a possible broken limb or head injury nope a eye roll and a omg?!?!
    I bit off half my tongue!
    Apparently a broken baby is better than one touched by a stranger!

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  25. If however, by the age of seven, your child hasn't yet figured out not to walk in front of the swings... Well, we call that 'natural selection'....

    LMAO!! :)

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  26. "Natural selection" - love it.

    I was pleasantly surprised the other day, when an older brother (kid was like 8 or 9) told his little sister (who saw my 2 yr old daughter heading for a toy and made a beeline for the same toy), "Hey, let the little girl go first, you've already had your turn." I was very impressed, told him "Thank you", and made sure my daughter didn't overextend her turn on the toy. His parents were sitting off to the side, watching attentively, but since they had instilled such good manners into their kids (or their son anyway), no intervention was needed.

    Then there's the super obnoxious kid who follows you around like the plague and jumps in front of your child to "show" them how everything is done first. Followed by their Helicopter Mommy who thinks everything they do is hilarious and talks about how they just "love making friends".

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  27. My favorite is when parents bring toys to the park and are amazed when another 3-year-old also wants to play with them.

    1. If you're a parent worth your salt you know all children want the "other" toys, even if they have toys with them.
    2. It's a playground. As far as a toddler can tell everything within the fence is fair game to be shared, play on or play with.
    3. Do not EVER correct my child (or any child rather) for asking to share. Nothing makes my blood boil than when a mom says something loudly like "Oh sweetie. He probably doesn't know those are your toys. Maybe his mom didn't bring him any." Tread lightly, lady. Tread lightly. I will point out that these are usually the same moms who are on cell phones most of the time they are there and have actually brought the toys to discourage the child from playing on and actual play structure. It's basically going "to the park" without really "going to the park." When I bring toys, I assume most, if not all, will not make it back.
    4. This is a PERFECT opportunity to teach pre-school aged children sharing. Why would any one shoot that down?

    This is a wonderful article. Thank you for posting and letting me vent!

    P.S. My kid is a mulch-thrower, I admit it. We're working on it. It's a process.

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  28. I am a childless, middle-aged woman. My backyard abuts the city park. I get it. I get the outdoor voices until the blood-curdling screams begin. I get that my friends with young kids only come to visit me to take advantage of the park's playground. But is there some genetic defect that compels children to send buckets of pea gravel down the metal slicky-slide? With all that is holy, STOP! If they only did it once, okay. I'm a tolerant sort. But 8 hours a day, every weekend? And don't get me started on the little girl birthday parties, with professional DJs. Nothing I love more than hearing your little princess and 30 of her BFFs doing the karyoke version of "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy". No one seems to understand that this is a wildly inappropriate song for 10-year-olds to be singing. Just sayin'.

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  29. Guess I should stop taking my kid to the playground on the weekend aka my days off. Didn't know it was for moms only.

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  30. I took my sons, who are 6 and 8, to the school playground to practice shooting free throws. They each had their own ball. There are four basketball hoops in that playground. Within minutes, a young kid (probably 5 years old) approaches my youngest and asks to play basketball. My son replied that he didn't know him, that he did not want to play a game, that he wanted to just shoot free throws. The other kid went to his mommy, who was occupied with chatting with other moms, said something and came right back. He got on my son's face and said my son had to play with him. I was watching how my son would handle himself. He re-stated politely that he didn't know him, he was not a friend, and that he didn't want to play with him. The kid got on his face, bothering him again, and proceeded to take his ball away. I did not want to force my son to play with someone he didn't know, and I was not about to become responsible for this kid should he get hurt while his mom is not watching him. I decided to not be confrontational and told my kids that we're leaving. So we left. I felt bad that my kids didn't get to play. Looking back, I feel I should have said something to the kid to stop bothering my son. I was somewhat afraid of the boy throwing a tantrum because in his eyes the problem was my son not sharing his ball. I also didn't want an argument. Reading your article made me want to set my foot down, speak up and stand by my son, who wasn't bothering anyone. I will now be more firm with other people's kids who play unattended.

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