Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Tale of Two Playgrounds

In my neighborhood there are two playgrounds.

We live in Los Angeles, and as often happens in major metropolitan areas, our neighborhood varies quite a bit from block to block. 

We live on the East side of a major North/South Boulevard. On the far side of the street (let's call it "Side A") there are tree-lined streets and multi-level homes. On our side (for sake of simplicity, "Side B") the houses are more modest and the population is more economically and racially diverse.

On each side of the street there is a playground.

The playground on Side A is gated. The grass is well maintained and the swings, slides, and bouncy bridges are all pristine. There is a soft bed of sand under the equipment lest the little ones tumble. As playgrounds go, its pretty darn lovely.

Except for the fact that it is populated by some SERIOUSLY uptight Mommys. So much so that friends and I have dubbed it "PLAYGROUND OF 1,000 JUDGMENTS . It's the kind of place where when one kid throws sand half a dozen women converge, shrieking in unison:

"No sand throwing! NO SAND THROWING!!!"

Which, I mean, fine. In general I'm totally down with a "no sand throwing" policy. But at this playground it all gets a little INTENSEChildren (and their parents) are closely monitored for any sort of aberrant behavior, which is met with much whispering and dirty looks in mild cases, and physical intervention if you do something extreme, like, say, letting your child risk falling by climbing on the jungle gym unsupervised. Children running up the slide are greeted with gasps of horror. Any form of pushing, intentional or otherwise, causes widespread panic. And I'm not even going to go into what happens should there be biting.

I remember one day when Snoodie was about two-years-old. He arrived home from the playground on "Side A" with my husband, drenched head to toe and covered in mud.

They were laughing after a morning of jumping in puddles at the playground. I exclaimed in genuine alarm:

"You let our son jump in muddy puddles at Playground of a Thousand Judgments??? Did people's heads explode?"

David thought about it and said that in retrospect, the other mothers did seem a little upset. Now that I mentioned it, he noticed several of them clutching their children close while glaring at him. In fact, he recalled that one lady said in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear:

"Jasper, I don't care what THAT Daddy does, WE don't jump in dirty puddles!"

On our side of the street the playground is a little different. It's not really as nice as the playground on Side A. The equipment is sort of beat up. They don't have any baby swings.  The place tends to get overrun in the afternoons by teenagers from the local high school who hang out being very, you know, teenager-y.

This means there is some occasional swearing, some very intense making out, and some cigarette smoking, which occasionally wafts  towards the frolicking toddlers. There is a staggeringly steep slide that I feel sure could never have been approved by city engineers.

Also, there are usually curse words and the occasional bits of graffiti carved onto the play structure. So, some serious downsides. 

But on the upside, the place is kind of a free for all. And I mean that in a good way. The parents tend to hang farther back, which means that the kids get to interact without a lot of input from the adults. Kids steal each others' toys and there are occasional tears. There is some pushing and shoving when the slide gets crowded and often the bigger, tougher kids get more turns than the little ones. If things get too rough the parents break it up, but they tend to intervene A LOT later than the parents on "Side A"

Rather than sitting at attention, vigilant for any playground missteps by my children, I sit at a distance on a blanket with the baby, chilling out and relaxing, safe in the knowledge that if there is trouble someone will come to me crying and we'll work it out then.

We go to both playgrounds. My kids like them both and variety is always nice. My husband, who is more immune to the judgments of glaring Moms than I am, has no trouble letting the kids run wild at the playground on "Side A," but I find that I have enough stress in my life. So as I pack my kids into the red wagon I find myself more often heading North and staying on our side of the street, where the children run free.

At the end of the day - I'm just a "Side B" kind of a Mom.