Culture Shock Echo

If I thought it was weird being the dad at the playground during the week, that’s nothing to being the at-home parent at the playground on the weekend.

I took Boobaby to the playground on Saturday, something I hardly ever do. Weekend outings are usually Working Mom’s purview, but she was (ahem) working this weekend, so I extended my week a bit. It was eerie: the park was full, but the playground was practically silent (except for the the few parents on their cell phones). No one seemed to know that you’re supposed to talk to your kids!

Most of the other parents were day-off dads. They were friendly enough, but just uncomfortable enough around their kids that you could see that parenting wasn’t their day job.

One guy kept shouting (yes, shouting) at his crawling 14-month old, “Walk, boy, walk!”

Now, I know this boy and the grandmother that brings him on weekdays, and he’s been walking for a month. For some reason (and it’s not hard to guess why), dad was having a hard time getting him up on his feet. I ran interference by introducing myself, and as soon as the boy was left alone (surprise!), he got up and walked.

A couple of ZOPs were at the swings — my term for the Zoned-Out Parents that push the swings from behind without engaging at all. So when Boo dragged me to the swing set, saying that “we stood out” would be a massive understatement. We’re a couple of chatterboxes: we goof off, we play catch with my hat, I hide and jump out, we play try-to-kick-the-daddy — you know, the usual stuff.

On weekdays, this doesn’t stand out at all, but on the Saturday shift, I felt like I’d just come down from Mars. On a positive note, when the other parents noticed my interactions, they started playing along with it.

On the most part, I don’t think these were bad people or even bad parents, just folks a little unsure of what they were supposed to be doing and embarrassed to be doing the wrong thing in public.

On the other hand, there were some self-focused parents there, too. Two moms in fancy dress had spread out on a towel with cell phones, day planners, and papers, and manila folders arranged all around them. At first I wondered whether they were there with kids at all, but noticed later that they seemed to each have a three-year old. Not that the kid got any benefit of their attentions; they were too busy doing business for that, so busy that I felt guilty making noise with Boo in their vicinity.

It’s incredible, really, how different that playground can get from day to day. I’m looking forward to getting back there Monday.