There are many reasons I have been wary about the switch to the whole stay-at-home mom thing. Lack of adult interaction, lack of money, boredom, impatience, an increased expectation that I should cook more than once every six weeks.
But mostly? I hate playgrounds.
I have tried to like them, I want to like them. I picture myself on a pretty wooden bench under a canopy of green trees, laptop perched just so and latte cooling off in my hand, as I alternately write and glance up to smile at my boy, who is running and giggling and playing with all the other kids who are running and giggling and playing.
I picture it this way, but as is the case with many aspects of motherhood, the reality is rarely the idealized movie you script in your head.
Here’s what actually happens when I take Ryan to the playground: First, he stands 7-10 feet away from the playground equipment, sizing up the situation. This analysis can last anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour, depending on the size of the playground and the amount of kids currently partaking in play. During this time, I say things like “Wow, this looks like so much fun! Do you want to play?! Playgrounds are SO fun! Wow, look at that slide! What a cool slide! Do you want to slide??” while Ryan repeatedly shakes his head at me.*
After much internal debate, he decides to go for it! Half of the time, he sticks to his resolve and truly starts climbing and playing. The other half of the time, he comes running back to cling to my leg for a few more minutes because something, such as a light breeze or the sun peeking out from behind a cloud, startles him.
He cautiously creeps back toward the steps to the slide and enjoys a few moments of carefree joy.
Until another kid gets too close. This kid could be an intimidating 7-year-old, who really shouldn’t be climbing all over the toddler play area (“Kid scare me!”) or it might be a sweet little 14-month-old, who stands in one spot and smiles and waves (“Baby scare me!”) Either way, I have to stand no more than two feet away from Ryan, calmly explaining that the kid isn’t scary – he’s just playing and having fun. I can tell Ryan isn’t really listening to me; he is too busy planning the safest escape route.
Inevitably, the other mom leads her child away from us and over to the swings because no parent wants to hear that their kid is scaring another kid simply by being in the same general vicinity.
Now, finally, Ryan is having a blast! He climbs! He slides! He climbs and slides again!
But by this point, I have been standing in the cold and wind for over an hour. I am tired. I am over it. I suggest we stop by the swings before we leave, the mere suggestion of which is met with a glare and a “NOOO!”
Ok, no swings. The little baby would probably shove you off anyway. Time to go home.
Of course, no amount of persuading (read: bribery) can convince him to leave willingly now that he is finally having fun, so I need to carrying him across the playground, kicking and screaming while the other parents pretend not to notice. I wrestle him into the car and lounge in the backseat until his tantrum tires him out and I’m able to wrangle him into his car seat.
As we drive home, I tell him I know he was having fun and that we’ll come back to the playground soon, if he’s a good boy, but I secretly hope he’ll never be a good boy again so that I have a legitimate excuse to withhold all future playground trips.
*Maybe he knows I don’t really mean it.