Monday, June 2, 2008

The Rules of Play

My daughter loves the great outdoors. At least five times a day, she brings me both my shoes from their place by the door and tells me that she wants to go out. She pulls on her stroller and tugs on her own shoes while pointing the door. "More, More," she says, using her catch-all command for just about anything she wants.

Because the area outside my house is essentially a third world trash heap full of old underwear, rusty nails and broken glass (I am not kidding), we usually have to stroll to one of the many parks in our area when Sam starts jonesin' for a fix of the fresh stuff.

Because of this, we go to at least one park at least once a day. As a relatively new mom, I must say the learning curve in regard to park etiquette is surprisingly steep. Do I have to say hi to the other moms? Are toys fair game even if kids bring their own? Can my kid play with the buckles on another kid's stroller? How much time can Sam swing if another kids is waiting? These are some of the myriad dilemmas that often arise during our time in the park.

Who knew such a natural part of childhood could feel so unnatural? These rules are not posted. We have to go with our gut instinct. Yesterday, a 2-year-old Swedish child was taunting my child in her native language while holding the ball Sam so coveted at arms distance. Everytime Sam would get near, the child would snatch it away and say "Mine" (I assume that is what she was saying, anyway). Yes, the ball was hers. And yes, her father scolded her in Icelandic (or Danish or whatever) several times. That was hard to miss. But this kid was not sharing. And seeing my poor baby, her arms outstretched, crying, "ball, ball," made me so sad. And so very, very angry.

When we brought a football to the park last week, I understood that the other kids would play with it. We got it back in the end. No harm, no foul. Same with the doll stroller Sam tried to steal last week (and now she has her own at home to obsess over). Toys are fair game. So, how do we handle a situation where a child will not share and is being cruel to our child? I wanted to scold her, but um, I am guessing that is not my place.

The week before, Sam and I went to a toddler park where a very obnoxious seven-year-old boy chucked a wad of wood chips in Sam's direction. I was so angry, I actually feared I might curse at him should he do it again. It was all I could do not to grab the little sh#t and start pounding him. I might have felt differently if he were a toddler like my child, but he was just a hop, skip and a jump from juvenile hall.

In retrospect, I probably should have hit him. Someone clearly needed to.

Then there is the whole issue of playground friendliness. Typical conversation:

Me: "Oh, hello"
Other parent: "How old is she?"
Me: "16 months--and yours?"
Other parent: "Same."

Long, awkward pause deciding whether to say more. And then:

me: "He is so cute."
OP: "So is she."

Long pause.

Me: "ok, see you later."

It's not that I don't like these people, it's just that I find kid talk to be a bit boring at times. I already have friends to compare war wounds with so meeting new people at the park seems a bit forced. And then of course, there are always the mommies who know eachother well and like to sit in judgement of the newbies, assessing the snacks we bring, the sunscreen we do (or do not) apply, the hats our kids don. These are the moms I loathe and who make going to the park feel more like a jaunt back to junior high than a fun springtime activity.

Where is the love?

I say someone needs to come up with a list of park etiquette rules, a sort of Emily Post for Urban Parents. These rules can be posted at all local parks and the hospital can hand them out after births. This would eliminate all the confusion that seems so rampant.

Perhaps I will get to work on them now.


Stephanie said...

I'm in no position to come up with official ettiquette, but maybe this will put you a bit at ease. That 2 year old Swedish child was probably not intentionally being mean. I used to teach 2 & 3 year olds in a nursery school setting and they don't really know how to share yet. I think when they "play" together it's actually called side by side independent play. It's a stage, as they say. Oddly enough, I've dated men that have never progressed beyond this stage of development. :)

Lis Garrett said...

We don't often go to the park anymore, but when Hannah was Sam's age, I was there to play with her. I didn't care much about interacting with the other parents, although I think that was more a product of being shy vs truly not wanting to interact (I'm working on being more social).

I agree with Stephanie, though. Young children are so egocentric, they don't understand the "rules" of play. It's really not one children intentionally trying to antagonize another. It's just how they are.

And speaking of the boy who threw woodchips at Sam (or in her direction?), it sounds like something my six-year-old son might do. It's not that he intends to harm other children; in fact, he is quite loving. But children of all ages, even a six or seven year old, show moments of impulsivity. I'm not making excuses for that child, but my own has real "issues" for which we have been seeking help since he was 15 months old. I would hate for another parent to misinterpret his social disorder for simple rotten behavior (although it happens ALL the time).

Kristi said...

I've had so many conversations with other moms just like the one you described.

More than kids' bad behavior, I really dislike parents who don't step in to teach their children what's acceptable and not acceptable (or aren't paying enough attention to their kids to notice the behavior in the first place), and I don't think this can start too early. When Isabella steals someone's toy at a playgroup or at the library, I gently take it away from her and give it back to the appropriate child.

My Wombinations said...

Interesting comments. As for the young girl, I agree that sharing is a bit much to ask of a 2-year-old, but it is also not ok to be so proprietary over a toy that parents know other kids will covet. I say either do not bring toys to the playground or accept that, as the parent, you will have to intervene and force some sharing.

As for the seven-year-old, Lis's comment is very interesting, however this child almost hit Sam square in the head with a big piece of wood. If he has behavioral issues, then he should not be in the park, especially not the toddler section (marked for three and under) when he was clearly well over that age. If he has issues, that is sad, but it is not ok for his parents to subject my child to his issues.