Playground Etiquette

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Do you sometimes feel like you should keep on driving when you see other children at your neighborhood playground? You’re not alone.

I felt her eyes boring into the back of my head. And yet, I didn’t take my toddlers out of the only two baby swings in the playground. The mother began circling in a not-so-subtle attempt to get the rear ends of my twins out of the swings. While her little girl truly ached to place her bum-bum on one of those two swings, I wasn’t inclined to immediately help her out.

This mother had never witnessed Abbey and Jonah in the throes of melodramatic agony—especially when they are taken off the swings before they’re ready. It’s very unpleasant. If she’d ever seen one of these events in person, she would’ve hurried her child away, fearful that she’d provoke one of these scenes and permanently scar her little one’s psyche.

When it comes to parental playground etiquette, in a nutshell, there is none. It’s a battle of the fittest. I’ve learned that the hard way. I’ve tried being nice. It doesn’t work. I always lose. It’s like CBS’s Survivor show without the palm trees and TV cameras. Whoever emerges from the playground last wins. For a change, I wanted to be the survivor.

One thing is for sure—my kids can sit on the swings for a solid 20 minutes before the thought of moving on to other playground equipment even crosses their little minds. If I so much as prematurely ask them if they’d like to go onto something else, I get a withering pair of glares followed by a cantankerous, “NO!” And should I attempt to remove them from the swings so another kid can have a turn—trying to instill a sense of fair play and courtesy into my small charges—everyone had best brush the lint off their earplugs.

More trips to the local park than I care to think about have ended in 10 minutes or less. If I see other children occupying the swings, I might as well just keep driving. And when another kid wants to use the swings while mine are on them, forget it. If I try to remove them (I have to take them both out because I can’t leave one unattended), they go into desperate convulsions, wrapping their arms around the chains and twisting their legs so they are impossibly wedged, making me have to physically disengage them from the swing while they yelp.

In the process, I wind up looking like Mommy Dearest sans the glamorous wardrobe and the wire hanger. Once I extract them from the swings, they typically drop to the ground, clutch the wood chips, and purse their lips tightly. The sea lionesque roars usually follow, drawing attention from people who must assume I’m somehow harming them. This of course results in all of my sweat glands opening up and simultaneously oozing sweat.

So, you can understand my hesitation in taking my kids out of the swings, even when I know other parents are waiting. Sure, their kid may be clamoring for a turn, but if I take mine out, we may as well call it quits. I have to take them home, screaming all the way.

But ignoring the imploring looks of another parent is difficult. With every push of the swing, the pressure builds. The parent starts to pace about 10 feet behind. “But I wanna swing,” their child yells. “You can’t honey,” the parent says through gritted teeth. “Those kids are still on them.”

Such is the dilemma.

I’ve stood in that parent’s shoes before. In fact, that’s why I choose not to take my kids out of the swings until I believe they will agree to it. I’ve learned my lesson. On the playground, playing nice and playing fair, at least when it comes to other parental behavior, doesn’t pay.

I didn’t always think this way. One afternoon, we arrived at the playground to find both baby swings available. Jonah and Abbey dashed for them. As Jonah was pointing at a swing and running as fast as his little legs would go, a bigger girl, one who could clearly use one of the normal swings, put her hand on it. Her mother stood there and looked at me. Jonah did too. Graciously, I pulled a move that even Emily Post would’ve cheered. “Jonah, let the girl use the swing please,” I said, placing Abbey in her swing and hoisting Jonah to my hip. I figured that the mother would urge her daughter to go to the bigger swings so I wouldn’t have to hold Jonah, who was now squirming and crying, “Swing, swing!”

But she didn’t. She said nothing to me, not even a word of thanks, and put her daughter into the seat while my son howled. I was able to get about a minute of swinging in before Jonah—all of 20 months old at that time—combusted. I had to take both him and Abbey to another part of the park to wait for the second swing to open up. To my chagrin, the mom let her daughter spend well over half an hour on the swing. Later, as I was struggling to get my now screaming children into their car seats to go home, the woman walked by my car, her daughter skipping happily beside her. She’s not the only parent who has driven me to be overprotective of my kids on the playground. I’ve seen parents allow their older children to run amok on equipment designed for tots. I’ve seen parents sip lattes while their 10-year-old tramples on my one-year-old who’s digging in the sandbox. I’ve seen an eight-year-old push a toy lawnmower down a slide, running over a small girl at the bottom. In every case, the parents never said a thing.

True, I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking that they can have everything they want whenever they want it. And I won’t allow them to push smaller kids around. When they develop some degree of rationality—at about age 30—I will explain the concepts of taking turns and patience. But until then, I’m not giving up the swings.

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