Nature, Red in Face and Juice Box

My playground whoring days are over.


Back to the old stomping.

I used to be all over playgrounds like brown on rice (we’re whole-grainers here in San Francisco). Boobaby and I would head out to the park four times a week, braving rain or fog or chill. We’d hang with the toddlers, we’d hang with the babies, we’d hang with the 8-year olds (and wonder why they weren’t in school).

No longer: now, any little thing — 50 degree weather (hah!), a little cough for baby sister, a full moon — will keep us away.

At long last, today shaped up nice enough to get both the three-year old (who aches for the playground) and the three-month old (who tolerates it) down to our neighborhood park.

We’re rusty: just collecting all our gear took half an hour, what with all the “Where did my Frida Kahlo shoes go?” queries and the epic “Goldfish or mushroom quarters for snack?” debate.

Finally, we arrived, Boo was off swinging with a bunch of four-year olds, and I remembered what else I love about playgrounds: the crazy people.

Oh, not the truly crazy like we used to run into down in the Haight: I mean the people who just don’t “get” kids but appear to have been put in charge of them nevertheless.

Today’s freak will be called “overprotective grandma who frightens her own grandson with her overprotectiveness.” Said toddler was about 16 months old, walking pretty well on a trajectory only about 45 degrees removed from the path trod by a two-and-a-half year old. The kid on the left was looking left; the kid on the right was looking right. Inevitably, they collided.

No biggie, right? Brush off the dust and move on: I don’t think either kid really gave the accident much thought.

The nice thing about writing for a smart, kid-savvy audience is that I can tell you all know what’s coming next: Grandma stormed over, shouted in the baby’s face, “ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?”, and got him crying like a banshee. Then it was on to find the older kid’s mom, yell at her because her girl “wasn’t looking where she was going” — as if she were going anywhere. To put a finishing touch on it all, grandma demanded that the two-year old apologize.

I’m all for enforcing behavior standards, but in this case the only transgression was committed by the overzealous grandma herself. What made the whole thing funny rather than off-pissing was that I and about three other moms bonded over our role as witnesses. We saw the whole incident unfold with exactly zero surprise — we’ve all gotten to be expert enough at playground anthropology that we can identify oddparents like this grandma from a mile away. We simply exchanged an eye roll and a resigned chuckle before moving our own kids well away from crazy grandma.

Yeah, I do like playgrounds: not so much for the equipment or easy access to the bathrooms. Playgrounds are as close as I’ll ever get to my dream of being a documentarian following a chimpanzee troop: at the playground, I witness human nature in one of its few remaining tribal moments: watch long enough, and you’re sure to see a dozen bizarre acts of faux parenting.