Sunday, May 23, 2010

Playgrounds

We went and saw old friends for a small picnic at Stanley Park. Cold cuts, muffins, cookies, the awkward pause as you try and ascertain whether you're doing the 'brought enough for everyone let's all share' or the 'brought just enough for me and my own, thank-you-very-much' type of picnic.

It was slightly chilly, enough to warrant a wind-breaker, and strong enough that any attempt to cover up one's pudge with baggy garments was sure to be thwarted. Stupid low pressure systems.

We had Molly, a baby and a toddler, and they a little one (1 ish). There were also two playgrounds and a beach to explore. When one has small children, doubly so if one is visiting friends who also has small children, you don't so much 'visit' as you tag team trying to supervise them, all the while attempting some form of small-talk and catch up. I might have exchanged all of 10 words with my old college buddy that was not related to immediate childcare.

It's an experience going to a play ground with a toddler. It becomes this communal parenting situation as you watch other parent's styles, how uptight they are, or lax. Eventually some sort of acceptable average is followed: somewhere between 'put them in a safety bubble of high impact styrofoam' and 'hand them a loaded 9mm with the safety off and trust their judgement'.

It becomes this constant evaluation of risk/reward. Do we risk them breaking an arm to reward them with a little bit of confidence? If they are too shy, do we push them into some 'acceptable' level of risk taking, with the possibility that we topple them into 'heart-explodingly recklessness'? If they are fearless, do we warn them to slow down, again with the possibility that we might make them the sort of overly-cautious person who becomes a 3rd level library clerk for life in charge of the Typing Pool's social committee of which they are the only member?

Luckily I subscribed more to the nature than to the nurture side of child rearing. Barring a really tragic upbringing I'm not going to scar and damage Owlet for life. Hopefully. My rule of thumb is, if the possible injury won't break skin or break a bone, go for it. This, I think, is reasonable. We have friends who subscribe to the 'if the spinal damage isnt' permanent, let er rip' school, and I'm sure we have friends (who would never admit it) who subscribe to the 'injuries only happen to wards of the state' school.

But a public playground is an interesting normalizing influence. Subconsciously or not, parents try to toe the average level of care/freedom. There are those that don't, myopic folks who invariably are getting their visiting rights for the week and haven't the foggiest clue how much they can or cannot let their child do. And there are the 'rugged individualist' parents, almost always dads, who let their 2 year old run full speed through the Striking Zone of the big kid's swings.

Sure, it ends up being slightly dangerous for the poor children, but it's great for the parents, who get to feel like they're doing a good job, and at least gave me something to say to my college buddy other than, 'Oh Christ, are you gonna go get her or should I?'.

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