Friends-in-law: What are your kids’ friends’ parents?

I heard a roar at the zoo today. Given recent history, it made me a little nervous, but it turns out that it was just towheaded, three-something G— shrieking joyfully at us as he emerged from around a corner, elated at the accidental encounter.

G—’s nanny trailed with baby sister in a stroller. She and I are friendly, since she was one of the first people nice to me at the new playground. I flashed her a quick smile as I hailed G— back, snatched him up in a big hug, then flipped him over and bounced his head gently on the pavement as he laughed riotously.

Then his mom walked up.

Sheepishly, I flipped G— back upright and stood for the introduction, somewhat distracted by Boobaby, who now wanted her head to be tapped against the sidewalk, too. (She’s a little jealous that way.)

It’s perfectly natural that I hadn’t yet met G—’s mother, what with a new baby and all, plus I think she works outside of the home, but still, there’s something incongruous to the point of embarrassing about manhandling other people’s kids while they’re watching. (It’s not the first time this has happened, either. You’d think I’d learn my lesson.)

I met G— a kajillion years ago (to him, anyway — to me, it’s been like six months), so he’s completely comfortable with me. But I’d never met his parents, and the same is true of Boobaby’s best playground girlfriend B—, who also seems to be pleasantly fanatical about me. (Nothing makes my day like a 4-year old’s adoration.) I even sent a picture of the two of them home with B—’s nanny, having jotted down my phone number first, but got no response.

Yeah, I know what you’re going to say: these people have their own lives, and what is Doodaddy to them? But I’m not trying to contact the parents for me, though — I have plenty of friends and no need to worm my way into their lives.

Here’s how I see it: To our toddlers, the playground is a real and epic part of existence. Some kids share their playground adventures with their parents and some with their babysitters, and that’s fine. But they all make friends there, and from what I’ve seen the friendships are all the stronger for having been selected, voluntarily, by the kids themselves. Sure, it’s fine to have a playmate in “mommy’s best friend’s toddler who’s almost the same age,” but I learn a lot about my daughter from the way she chooses to interact with other kids when she is allowed to choose.

All I’d like is to be able to call up G—’s mom or B—’s dad and say, “You’ll never believe what happened at the playground today!” Or e-mail them a cute picture, maybe; as things are now, I feel uncomfortable even taking pictures of my daughter and her friends when the parents are strangers to me.

When I was teaching outdoor education, one lesson centered on the concept of “community.” I’d ask the kids “What communities do you belong to?” and they’d say “My neighborhood!” or “My school!” or “My church!” There’s another community they thought of less often, even though it’s about as important as can be: “My friends.” Boobaby’s friends are a band, a tribe that I am allowed to witness because I’m very, very lucky in life.

I only wish I could meet some of the other tribal elders and share with them how amazing their kids are even when their parents aren’t around.