I will willingly admit that I am a bit of a “helicopter parent” – as the mother of an overly friendly three year old who enjoys talking to strangers and is pretty sure he is unbreakable, I kind of have to be that hovering reminder that “mom is still watching.” And I don’t think he minds – as brave as he is, he also likes to know mom is nearby and often will look me right in the eye before attempting some maneuver that he knows I’m going to yell at him for – maneuvers he maybe doesn’t have any intention of trying but maybe wants to make sure I’m watching? I don’t know. I’m also the mom who – no – will not let my kid walk up the slide, block other kids from going down the slide, steal toys from other kids, or bring totally inappropriate items into a play area.
I bring this up because since moving into our apartment and making three attempts now at bringing MM to the apartment playground I’ve seen a brand new kind of Playground Parent – one I’d never encountered at local parks in Massachusetts – the Parent Who Isn’t Even There. Now I’m not talking about the grade school kids who can probably handle being in a playground by themselves (actually all the school aged kids I’ve seen have come with a parent) – I’m talking preschool children – MM’s age and younger – at the playground, totally alone. No parents. How does this happen? Does the parent just open the door and toss them out? Do they go out unannounced? Is the parent even home? Is anyone home with them?
It’s hard enough for me to deal with the parents at the playground who don’t make any attempt to teach their kids Playground Etiquette or intervene to keep them and others safe – I apparently now have to give those parents credit for being there at all. Because these children – with no parents or caregivers in sight – they are something else. I’ve come across two different children in this apartment complex who come to the playground completely unaccompanied and I swear they cannot possibly be older than four years old – and they are not the kind of children I want my relatively well behaved child hanging out with. Forget climbing up the slide, they do that, sure, but these kids go out of their way to create chaos like I’ve never seen. They are deliberately rude. They bring their snacks to the playground and leave the leftovers and wrappers on the ground when they leave. They shriek at the top of their lungs for no apparent reason except maybe to give pregnant women heart attacks. One little girl even brought a small plastic chair on to the jungle gym and placed it in areas so that it took up all the room on an area, making it so easy for someone to trip and fall – at one point she actually brought this chair onto the top of the playground’s tallest slide and then threw it down the slide while another little boy was still going down – seriously? Am I allowed to say something? Is this socially acceptable? Where the freak are her parents?
Being the doormat that I am, too afraid to yell at a small preschool child who isn’t my own, I simply decided it was time to leave. No, my child will not be playing with you today – it’s time to go home. Am I naive? Is this really considered okay? I know there was a time when our kids could go out and play unwatched – roam the neighborhood and do their thing – but I’m pretty sure they weren’t four years old and I’m pretty sure those days are gone. We know too much – we know that kids get abducted and worse – that crime is out there and while we can’t do everything to protect them, we can surely at least be there. I’m trying to tell myself, whatever, we can still go back again another day. There were other fairly well behaved children, who – go figure – had parents there with them – nice parents even. I wouldn’t mind going back to see them. But it kind of pains me to know that my little boy is going to be influenced by these other children everytime we go there. Because he’s friendly and wants to be friends with all the children there. And then I feel like the world’s biggest jerk for thinking unkind thoughts about a child. I don’t consider myself a judgemental person and maybe I’ll read over this and decide I was over reacting, but at the end of the day, I don’t think I am. I don’t think it’s okay to let preschool children especially play outside unsupervised. It’s not okay.