I spend many, many hours at the park with my three young children. And here's what I want to tell the hyper, helicopter, anxiety-ridden moms who swarm around us belting out rules in sing-song voices in an attempt to appear to be more like Mister Rogers and less like Cruella De Vil: Swing by your local coffee shop on the way to the park. Buy yourself something outrageously caffeinated and over-priced. When you arrive at the park, find a bench in the shade. Plop down on it. Put on your oversized sunglasses so you can people-watch without being obvious. Pull out your cell phone if you want, or a trashy magazine. Tell your children to have fun and then sit back, sip and read. Enjoy yourself while you avoid enforcing these ridiculous rules:
1. Don't climb up the slide.
It's fun. It's a skill to be proud of. A feat to accomplish. And it's absolutely pointless to ask children not to climb up slides. There will always be kids (like mine) who climb up slides no matter how many hovering mommies loudly warn any nearby children about the dangers. Obviously, climbing up a slide while someone else is coming down isn't smart. But the kid will learn to climb up with caution when he gets kicked in the shins for the first time by an incoming child.
2. Share your toys.
There are certain things that belong to just me: My cell phone. My wallet. My underwear. I'm not sharing these things with random people I meet at the park. Why should I force my children to share their prized possessions with kids they just met (and who, based on their behavior, will very likely destroy the toy or run off with it)? It's OK to own things that are just for you and you alone. Toys aren't community property just because some whiny little ones covet what my kid has.
3. Pose every time you go down the slide (or up), cross the wooden bridge, slide down the poll, etc.
I'm proud of my kids' accomplishments just like any mom, but none of my Facebook friends, blog readers or Twitter followers care one tiny bit that my kids slid down the pole for the sixtieth time. Kids are at the park to play, not pose for endless photos (and videos). They don't want to be at a standstill until the parent can get the lighting and angle just right.
4. Watch out for smaller kids.
No, it's not safe or kind to plow over little ones. But my kids aren't at the park to babysit other people's younger children. Grown-ups are in charge of their toddlers at the park. My 4-year-old and 6-year-old shouldn't stop playing on the equipment made for their ages because some parents decide it'd be a good idea to let their 16-month-old explore the twisty slide. And when I say explore, I mean sit paralyzed in fear at the very top of the slide for 20 minutes while her parents yell "you can do it!" and refuse to let the older kids go down.
5. Wear cute outfits.
Most parks include the following: mud puddles, trash cans, mulch, leaves, grass, cigarette butts, dead bugs, live bugs and forgotten snacks. It makes absolutely no sense to bring children to the park wearing Baby Gap khakis and pastel-colored polo shirts and then spend the entire time telling them to "stay out of the mud" and "don't get dirty." Park outfits should consist of well-fitting, worn tennis shoes and clothing made of cotton. The only exception is if you great aunt buys your daughter the most hideous "princess" dress and you want to watch it get ruined so you can toss it. Then, by all means, put on that gown!
6. Include your sister!
Part of the enjoyment of the park experience is kids making new friends. Forcing my children to include each other in every interaction is torturous. They already sleep, eat, bathe, play and vacation together. Is it really necessary for me to remind them, 22 times, to be nice and cooperatively play together like they are posing for the cover of a parenting magazine?
7. Don't eat the free snacks.
Nature is natural, right? My toddler is going to inevitably going to lick mulch, grass, the seats of the swings and the bases of the slides. Is it something I would personally do? No. But who am I to judge? His immunity is incredible, thanks to all the free snacks he chooses to sample.