Bad Mommy at the Playground

Pluck
Kim Schomburg

Yesterday, I read this great post from Kate Bassford Baker about letting your kids be at the playground: 

Dear Other Parents At The Park:Please do not lift my daughters to the top of the ladder, especially after you’ve just heard me tell them I wasn’t going to do it for them and encourage them to try it themselves.

I am not sitting here, 15 whole feet away from my kids, because I am too lazy to get up. I am sitting here because I didn’t bring them to the park so they could learn how to manipulate others into doing the hard work for them. I brought them here so they could learn to do it themselves.

Yes! That is totally me. But can I tell you a secret? I am too lazy to get up. 

I mean, not entirely. I will get up if necessary. But I take my kid to the playground so he can play, not so I can play for him. 

This week, Teddy and I took an afternoon jaunt to the playground by our house. It’s one we frequent, often with Liz and Ida, who refer to it as “TeddyPark.” It’s a nice little playground with a basketball court and a big field for running around. It has a little dinosaur play structure for tiny kids Teddy’s age, with a little slide just his size. He’s recently figured out how to climb up and go down by himself. 

I sat myself down on the nearby bench and let him have at it. He was pleased as punch, and I was enjoying my copy of the Reader, watching him out of the corner of my eye. 

There was another kid playing on the dinosaur with her mommy. Mommy stood right next to her little girl the whole time, clapping when she went down the slide and proclaiming “good job!” when she climbed a stair. It was like Mary and her lamb. Where ever the girl went, Mommy was sure to go.

This is totally fine, except I got the feeling that Mommy was looking at me. She seemed to be looking back and forth, first at Teddy, then at me. Teddy climbed up the dinosaur and then just sat. He didn’t go down the slide as usual. He was just enjoying sitting, watching the kids play. Whatever floats your boat, kid. 

Now, if Teddy needs me, I will certainly get up. If he wants help, I am happy to assist. If at some point, he wanders over and says “swing!,” I will gladly hoist him into the swing and push away. 

I say all of this to applaud what Kate Bassford Baker writes about kids learning the joy of hard work, experiencing frustration and the thrill of success. But also, can’t I just get a break now and then? And can’t my kid get a break from my constant supervision, especially in an entirely kid-friendly space, designed for them to use? What does he need me inches away for? 

Maybe the other mom just got home from a long day at work and just really needed to be near her kid. I get that. Or maybe her daughter really needs her to be right there. I just didn’t like the feeling that I was a bad mom for not hovering. Perhaps I was just imagining her confused stares, but it’s not the first time, and it’s not just me. 

Last week, Liz took Ida to the playground and instructed her to find something to play with that she could do on her own for 10 minutes while Liz ate her bagel. Ida, who is totally capable of playing on her own for an hour or more, marched over to the swing and began whining for Liz to push her. After all, she’s three. Tell her not to eat a bug, and don’t be surprised if she’s made a meal out of it complete with hollandaise sauce and napkins folded in the shape of fleur de lis.

Another mom, pushing her little one on the swing, looked at Liz and said, “Sometimes you just need to drop everything and be with them, you know?”

Lord have mercy. Really, lady? The woman just wants to eat her bagel in peace. Clearly, the child is well-groomed and cared for, speaks the language well, and seems fully capable of playing on her own while said bagel is consumed. Ida is not neglected. Whose side are you on here? 

I do want Teddy to learn to accomplish his own goals. I also want him to learn to play on his own, a skill I think he will master if he’s left to play on his own a fair bit. And I also want to be able to sit on the playground bench and enjoy a few moments to myself. Remember all those times you told me that I should really make sure to take care of myself and relax sometimes? Yeah, this is my moment. I wake up with the kid in my bed. I feed him milk made of my own body. I read to him. I sing to him. I carry him around. I make him nutritious meals. I read books and blogs and talk to other moms about what’s best for him. This is the 10 minutes I have to enjoy, eating my bagel or reading my newspaper. 

I am too lazy to get up. Isn’t that okay? 

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