We’ve probably all experienced similar “fun” on the playground. Rowdy big kids plowing over smaller kids. Kids fighting over swings or their turn down the slide. Kids throwing rocks. Maybe it’s your kids that day clogging up the slide by running up instead of sliding down or jumping on the wobbly bridge to nearly knock little ones off just for kicks.
We have grown to just expect this stuff at the playground. Generally, there is a parent or guardian nearby eventually encouraging their little people to “take turns,” “let that little boy go next,” “stop eating sand,” “not walk in front of the swings,” or whatever it may be.
I keep a pretty close watch on my little guys when we venture to the playground, but as they get older, I try not to hover! Playground play is a great way for them to learn how to interact with other children. I want them to be able to use the “taking turns” skills I’ve taught them. I want them to try to work out their playground problems by themselves. I want them to see and play with children of different ages, races, and sizes. I want them to explore and discover new secret spots beneath the bridges and slides. I want them to find bugs and pretend rocks are cupcakes and chicken nuggets!
Every once in a while however, you’ll have that playground experience that makes your blood boil! I had one last night.
The boys and I were enjoying the beautiful weather at a local park with several play areas. At the first playground we played for a few minutes in glorious solitude and then almost like they were craving other children to play with, they demanded we move on to the next playground that had three older kids using it. They were rowdy and throwing around a plastic bubble gum container that nearly hit us several times, but we were all unphased. The parents called out the occasional, “settle down” or “don’t hog the slide.” Nothing out of the ordinary here!
Our last stop was to the toddler playground. When we arrived, there were four little boys (ages 5 and younger) already there playing; their parents were nearby. I watched in awe as they flying squirrel-spider monkeyed it all around the playset. They were standing up on the steering wheels, climbing on top of the tunnel slides, walking across the top braces of the bridges, back and forth, climbing higher and higher and then back down again. Geesh, I’m exhausted just remembering it.
It became clear to me the moment we arrived, we were fresh bait and two of the kids came circling around us immediately. Picture me, a crazy Pac-man momma going from slide to slide to the stairs and back to the slides, everything we decided to do, the little spider monkey boy purposely raced in front of us to get there first and then wouldn’t move out of the way to give the boys a turn. He didn’t have shoes on, so he had really good grip and could really climb and move fast!
We gave up on the slides and they went up on the bridge instead. That’s when I met the five year old. I know he was five, because he told me. His exact words were, “I’m five, but my grandpa says when I’m 18 I can go in the alcohol and cigarette stores.”
Then he got really frustrated that his blue slushy drink was out of liquid and wanted me to take the cup and fix it for him. Again, I sent a stare to the parents; seriously, help your kid! He threw a tantrum that I wouldn’t take his cup and mustering up all the helpfulness I could, I told him, “Honey, you just have to shake it up or you might have to let it melt a little.”
Meanwhile, 3 year old ninja continued to nearly knock my kids off the bridge and block them from using anything on the playground. I could tell my boys were getting frustrated, but they were still playing it cool.
We went over to a smaller tunnel slide and my son got half way down when the little ninja climbed up the slide and tried to climb over my son to the top. My little guy was stuck in the middle with his leg bent back and I couldn’t get to him, he was screaming. I didn’t want to touch spider monkey, because let’s face it, you just don’t do that today and because his parents were right there… still doing nothing. I eventually got my little guy out and with authority, he and his brother raced to the other slide to try to get a turn. Nope. This time the little ninja actually just crawled over their bodies.
That was it. I calmly grabbed him under the arms and gently took him off my kids. Then, less calmly I said to the parents, “I’m sorry, but is this your kid?!”
They said no.
Me: “You’re kidding right?”
Them as they are leaving: “No, they aren’t our kids.”
Me a little worried that these young kids are unattended: “Well, where are their parents?”
Them pointing to an old man sitting what felt like a mile away, “Maybe him.”
Then I asked the 5 year old, “Where is your dad?”
He said, “I don’t have a dad.”
Me: “Where is your mom?”
Him: “She’s working. I might get a stepdad though if my mom gets married to Todd.”
Me pointing to the man sitting with his back to the playground a mile away: “Is that your grandpa?”
While we had this conversation, little ninja continued to harass my boys, so I finally just scooped them up and started walking to the car. The entire walk my boys were chanting, “Mommy, naughty boys don’t get ice cream.” I thanked them for being so patient and reminded them how it’s nice to share and take turns when we’re at the playground. When we got home and they got ice cream.
The experience was actually pretty blood boiling intense as you’d expect when strangers get aggressive with your kids!
I broke into tears though that night as I retold the story to my husband. The kids were nearly the same ages as our children. They were basically alone, unwatched, and uncared for at the playground. I don’t know the details of their lives, but I suspect they aren’t really “naughty boys,” they are just little boys that need more attention, affection, and direction.
The five year old’s words replayed in my head, “I don’t have a dad.” I cried again, why do some little boys grow up with the most amazing dad ever and other little boys don’t get one?
I remembered that little boy desperately begging for my help with his blue slushy; it felt like a desperate plea for attention or a kind, motherly moment.
Three and five year olds shouldn’t be worrying about cigarettes and alcohol; they shouldn’t be figuring out how to terrorize the next kids that show up on “their” playground.
We play on the same playground, but we live such different lives.
Please send up a prayer with me for our children; for the world’s children. Keep them safe Lord. Help them know you and guide their sweet little feet.
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