If you’re a mom, you definitely know that going to the playground is like a full time job. It’s a challenge you take on (whether you like it or not), it’s something you prepare yourself for, it’s a ‘go wild or go home’ kind of take. The playground for kids is like the jungle for safari animals; it’s their natural habitat where they thrive- sometimes nice and cute and fun to watch, but most of the times noisy and wild and quite dangerous. The kids are everywhere, you have to literally divide your body limbs to be able to cover every inch of the park in search for your offspring(s) in case they disappear, sometimes you need your magnifying glass with you, you are torn because you would like to just scroll your phone, you’re hungry because you haven’t had breakfast or lunch yet, you’d like to know you can hide somewhere and let The Playground do its job and entertain your kids, you wanna call your sister and complain, you sometimes pray the rains starts so you can finally go home.
Even though it (going to the park) might seem like total freedom, where everyone does as they please, it’s actually not- there are some unwritten rules that you can only learn about as you gain experience. That is, if you’re a Park Mom. P.S Not everyone is a park mom, nor should everyone be, it’s sometimes a choice but sometimes an imperative. It’s not easy to be one, or to keep up with the role, it should be added to your resume when you apply for a job, it should be a paid role, it is bringing out the best and worst in you. So please show some respect for the Park Moms. While attending the park way more often than I would like, it got me thinking about these unwritten rules, and here are some that pop to my mind.
1. For starters, pretend (very important to put the emphasis on this particular word) you always know where your kid is and you always have an eye on him and follow his every move even though you’re scrolling through Instagram, FaceTime-ing your sister or doing online shopping.
The park mothers- or grandmothers- or simply people who happen to be there can be very judgy, especially when it involves their precious little ones’ peace and serenity. God forbid your child takes something away from theirs, or pushes them in the sand or screams or whatever other horrific actions little children might be on to. Have you ever noticed how the first instinct for the other mom is to search the other kid’s mom’s gaze- she needs to make sure you have witnessed the scene and understand your kid has done them wrong without them having to articulate that in your face. It’s tricky, but it’s true. Pretend you have seen everything, and you are just as shocked as they are. Even though you actually think she is so exaggerated.
Just scream a “be careful” phrase every now and then your obvious presence will be evidenced with the tiniest of effort.
Pretend you always know your kid has disappeared from your radius – even though you have no idea. When you notice he is missing, just act as if you know exactly where he is and you are going to save him but just taking a little detour to scan the other areas of the park. Very important: don’t ever act as if you have lost him or her or them. YOU are always on top of your parenting game, you always know where your kids are, YOU are always in control.
2. Never scream in your kids’ face next to the other moms. Yeah, that’s sometimes a tough one too.
Also important to notice here: not doing it in front of the other moms. They will shoot judgemental looks in your direction and make you feel like the worst mom on Earth just because you lost your shit for once. They will look as if you’re a bad mom who loses her temper and proves bad education to her kids. They will act as if they have never even so much as raised the voice at their kids because they are all so zen and so happy happy joy joy. Don’t buy it, they’re not, and you’re allowed to be at your wit’s end after spending 10 hours straight with your whiny kids, but just try to fake it so you can make it through the day.
3. Healthy Snacks. HS. BS. Whatever.
The snacks are never missing in a moms’ bag, diaper bag, stroller, bike, or backpack. If you’re a mom, I am sure you don’t dare leaving the house with your kids without snacks. They demand it all the time, it keeps them busy and silent when you need them to be, it keeps them not hungry (hence hangry), and it’s just something that becomes part of your “can’t leave the house without’ list. Even though you wish you could just pass them a bag of chips, or a chocolate bread or infinite raising and crackers, keep in mind that most mothers will make a statement with bringing along healthy snacks. Like perfectly cut apple slices, thinly sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, berries, and other horrific things that their kids might eat. So when you think about packing something on the go, think peanut butter, veggies, fruit and maybe some cheese- that might get you through the judgy looks, and also you don’t have to be afraid of your kids wanting to share with the others the unhealthy and irresponsible food you give them.
4. Wear appropriate playground attire.
That means no crisp white, clean, ironed clothes. That is strictly forbidden; it’s basically screaming in the other moms’ faces “I WIN”!
Unless you’re in a fancy New York park located in front of Bergdorf’s, where the elite mothers gather to show off their latest designer bags collection, be normal, dress normal, don’t be fancy, don’t be over the top. By playground attire you should understand leggings…baggy pants…oversized t-shirts…hoodies…denim jackets…some small stains from today’s or yesterday’s menu. Everything that would not intimidate the other moms. Nobody wants to look at fancy moms at the park – just imagine another mom who maybe comes straight after work or before going out dressed in a leather skirt, high heels, white shirt and a cape or a Max Mara coat, with her perfect curls all styled back, make up on, and smelling like the finest perfume. While you are wearing your gym clothes so you can hop on the swings or go down the slide with your kids. She is doing that just to show off, remember!!! So YOU have to be mindful to the others as well. They will stare, and you will have to make up for that by showing how much fun you actually have with your kids – but how will you do that in those 10 cm heels? See? Also, for extra credit, think unwashed hair tied up in a messy bun with an old fashioned elastic band and absolutely no makeup.
5. Don’t play with other people’s kids.
This is more of a “Don’t touch other people’s kids” rule, a holy one. One to be remembered every day by both Moms and Dads. OR “Don’t stare at other people’s kids”, which is also a definite no no when out and about. Just imagine, how weird is it to see parents, especially a dad, looking insistently at other kids – especially yours, while at the playground. Is weird, and uncomfortable, and just DON’T. So while there might be situations where other kids will ask you to push them in the swings, or play with them, or build something for them, think twice. First of all, do you like touching even your own kids? No, germs. SO other people’s kids – more germs, and I don’t know, they just aren’t your kids.
6. Don’t bring your nanny to the playground! And even if you do, because duh, your au pair is just doing her job regardless of the fact that you too have decided to join her to the park with the kids, don’t lay back and relax!
This is a Golden Rule. Taking a quick nap on the bench in the sunlight because you have someone else supervise your kids and run after them everywhere is just the ultimate “in your face” hit you can show other moms. They are all sleep deprived and tired and overly bored, but they can’t afford to shut off their eyes like you can. So if you want to nap, do it somewhere else, nobody needs to see how lucky you are!
It’s also a good thing to know that there are multiple types of moms you will meet at the playground: the overly-chatty-sociable mom, the zone-out mom, the playful mom, the exhausted mom, the fitness-maniac mom, they are all there- it’s up to you to choose who you want to be, and imagine the best part is: you can be anyone you want to every day! You can be fit mom today and checked-out mom tomorrow and nobody will care because they don’t know you. You can reinvent yourself every day and pretend you are someone else just for fun!
Bottom line: you go to the playground because you want your kids to burn off all their energy so they get home tired and ready to sleep, while you try to avoid expending any energy whatsoever.
What I like to be while at the playground: Switzerland. Neutral. There but also somewhere else. Minding my business, shouting a “Be careful” or “You’ve got this baby” or “Please share your toys” every now and then, but staying out of any issues, negotiations, screams, scandals or parent-y chats. As long as no one violates the Geneva Conventions, you’re good.
Good fun, and… good luck!