The Feral Child Playground

Pluck
Kim Schomburg

I have a confession to make.  Part of my ideal mothering world involves not interacting too much with my kid on the playground.

Now, before you accuse me of being a fun-hating monster (false), or just a jerk who wants to enjoy a latte in peace on a bench (true), hear me out.

Since soon after she was born, Ida began to assert her independence.  Co-sleeping?  No thank you, mother.  Can I offer you a spoonful of carrots?  No, but I’ll take that spoon and dish if you please.  And my personal favorite; her screams for PRIVACY if I should dare come near while she is in process on the toilet.  Ida has been a DIY gal from the get-go, and it’s only becoming more pronounced as time goes on.  I’ll spare you the details on a certain current project I’m going to code-name “self-wipe-nightmare.”  

Ida does a beautiful job when she’s free to play and navigate the playground on her own.  She’s even figured out a way to use the swings sans adult help.  I love watching her run wild almost as much as she seems to love the running.  She and I often chat about how cool it is for her to have a special space in the city that is just for her to use however she wants – no grownups needed.  Freedom!

Except… sometimes Ida’s playground freedom is frowned upon by others.  I get the sense that I should hop up to offer help when Ida is attempting certain feats of strength and weirdness even though I know she’s fine.  Ida is happily exploring when I see someone notice her and begin scanning the space for a responsible adult as if to say “is this kid just wandering around unattended?!”  Yup.  She sure is.  I have assumed the risk of letting my precious child meander in a fenced in space designed just for her while I look on.  When did that become weird?

I especially feel pressure to get involved when Ida begins to interact with other kids.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with getting involved, I’d just rather not.  I think it’s an important opportunity for her to learn how to manage her own interactions with children (so long as they remain non-Lord of the Flies-esque).  Other moms/dads/caregivers seem intent on mandating turn-taking and toy-ownership rights which leaves me in the tough spot of either leaving Ida on her own to navigate interactions with mostly other parents, or take over these negotiations myself and usurp Ida’s freedom.   She and I just can’t seem to make our peace with either of these options.  To each her/his own, but I myself am more interested in seeing what happens if the kids are empowered to sort it all out themselves.  Again, LOTF dystopian mayhem not withstanding – I cannot stress enough how ANTI-LOTF I am.  Although it would cut down on babysitting costs… but no – staunchly against Lord of the Flies. Especially as I suspect that Ida is leadership material.  I don’t want that on my head.   

Since I find myself relatively lonely in my free-range playground aspirations, with a kid who strongly prefers independence in her play (and heck, I like it too!), I propose Chicago’s first Feral Child Playground!

The Feral Child Playground would be a space (or the co-opting of an already existing playground at a certain time) where participating families would all agree to let the kids play unencumbered/assisted by adult help for the most part.  We wouldn’t’t positively ignore the children, but we would encourage them to find ways to play on their own and solve their own troubles amongst themselves.  We would enforce a no-maiming policy (at least not real violence – pretend is a whole other can of worms that is A-Okay with me), but beyond that, we’d leave them free to do as they choose.   I think it could be pretty great!  What do you think?  Would you bring your tiny wonder(s) to the Feral Child Playground?  It’s BYOL, natch.  

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