Before kids, I bar hopped. My rock band played in them. It was a lot of monkeying around minus the monkey bars; a pretty swinging lifestyle.
After years of teeter-tottering toward my career goals, in which the industry was the bully -- always waiting for me to climb ever closer to the top, only to get up and walk away, abruptly slamming me to the ground fanny first -- I decided that enough was enough. The bank account was draining and the eggs were drying up. Time to start a family.
I suddenly realized that this is where "bar hopping" becomes a whole new ballgame. I had entered a subculture known as The Playground. A benign enough environment, yet fraught with it's own set of social gaffs and new opportunities for the "teachable moment."
My first introduction into this world as a parent came when my oldest son was just a little guy. The first time my innocent plucky little boy cried, when a bigger kid challenged him under the guise of pretend pirate, plundering his confidence, I fantasized about making the pint-sized Captain Bligh walk the plank.
Never mind how moms and dads feel in these situations. We're thrown together in one big awkward office party equivalent. This ends up manifesting itself in a number of different ways.
The "I don't see you".
You could be side-by-side pushing your kids on the swings and Mom A will not so much as acknowledge Mom B. There's an invisible forcefield separating you. Not a word is spoken. Eyes averted. Awk-ward.
The "Let's talk. I'll start by telling you everything you wanted to know about me and especially everything you didn't."
You've met her. I specify "her," because I have yet to meet a male over-sharer at the playground. In under 15 minutes, you've gone from exchanging names to hearing about her pending court case against the creeper who threatened her teenage daughter at the mall, her marital problems, that messy medical procedure involving her lady parts she's having on Wednesday and last night's bout of intestinal distress, all before she politely excuses herself to schedule a vet appointment for her terrier to have his anal glands expressed.
The oblivious parent.
You know the score. Mom is either kvetching with her BFF or on her cell phone checking out Facebook while her little Schwartzenegger has your kid in a head lock, showing him the finer points of the rubber mulch up close and personal until you're forced to intervene. This and only this causes her to spring to attention and jump all over your case for daring to reprimand little Caligula.
The "duck and run."
Am I developing a complex, or is there a tendency to flee as soon as other people show up? When introductions are out of the way, all of a sudden, you're treated to the "We're Leaving Proclamation." Listen up, this is for your benefit as much as little Brianna's: "It's time to go pick up your brother. We need to go." Nothing out of the ordinary there. Except that the scenario continues beyond the point of Brianna's interest or attention span. "Brianna! We really need to go now! Mommy can't give you the five minute warning this time because after we pick up your brother and go to the store, there's the bank, and if we don't get there before it closes, Daddy's check won't clear, and we won't be able to pay the mortgage before we leave for Cabo San Lucas." Really, lady. Go. Just go. I won't take it personally. We're never going to see each other again, anyway.
The judgy rule implementer/example setter.
"Dakota! Didn't Mommy tell you that she doesn't want you to walk up the slide? I don't care what those other kids' mommies allow them to do. We always use the steps or the ladder and slide down. I know that mommy said that little boy could have a Capri Sun, but we only drink fresh-squeezed orange juice from Grandma's tree." Me? I don't care what you do lady, as long as you take your superiority and freshly squeeze it up your self-righteous a**. Good day!
The awkward encounter.
You're committed to talking to this other person who is circumstantially hanging out in the same space for about an hour while your kids get along like a house on fire. You cover the usual ground: where you live, which pre-school your kid goes to, the "Me too's!" the "I just moved here from Azerbaijan," "How do you like it here so far?" ...when all you really want to do is play with your kid or sit on the bench and zoid out, while still maintaining the presence of mind to keep an eye on that climby tube thing the kids are hiding in. "Mommy can't see you Dylan! Come out of there so I can see you." Five minutes later, you realize that four kids have jammed themselves together in Twister formation and have to be dislodged.
Lately, I've noticed a sharp decline in playground attendance. Maybe it's due to the overabundance of spectacular backyard play apparatuses the size and cost of a Manhattan loft that I never see a single kid on. While that solves the awkward social issues, it makes for a lonelier play experience.
All play and no interaction makes Jack a dull boy.
Still, I drink in every moment my kids want to go to the playground needing me to boost them to reach the bars or spot them as they climb in case their footing is off. Time slides by mighty quickly.
Life is a merry go round. We spin and spin until finally we jump off to check out the next ride.