This weekend, I talked to a child at a playground I didn’t know. Then I touched him. He was about 4. I put one arm around his waist while the other touched his bottom. I didn’t get arrested, instead another parent thanked me.
So here’s what happened: My sons and I were at a playground. There were a couple of other kids there as well, and their dad. The older of the boys, around 8, was having fun flying down a fireman’s pole, while his younger brother, around 4, was eager to follow and be just like his brother. The platform for the pole was about six and a half feet up.
The younger brother was a little nervous. The dad wasn’t noticing. His face was in his phone. So I got up, and helped the kid. I didn’t tell the dad until later, when he looked up. I motioned that it was all good, I had his back, and he nodded, and then came over to help his kids on another eight or nine tries up and down the pole.
I’ve long said parenting is a team sport. Usually, I talk about how it’s moms and dads who have to work together to raise our kids in the home, but sometimes that team spirit goes off into the community.
Last year I wrote about my friend, Tara Jean, who saw a mom crash out at an indoor playground.
“Dear Exhausted Mother Who Fell Asleep On A Bench At “Fun 4 Kidz”… I got you. Your little girl was thirsty, I gave her water. She hit her head coming down the big purple slide, I gave her a hug. It’s been an hour since you fell asleep, I won’t leave ’til you wake up … hopefully rested and ready to face the weekend with the warrior-energy us mamas need to parent with a smile on our faces. ~ Mama Tara Jean”
Believe it or not, some in our communities would be horrified by Tara Jean’s gesture of kindness, or mine. After all, not only did I talk to a child that wasn’t mine, I touched a child that wasn’t mine.
Fear in parenting is big news lately. There’s Joey Salads — not an expert on child endangerment — perpetuated fear about child abductions with a viral YouTube video in which he convinces three kids to leave a playground simply because he has a puppy. In it, he makes wild generalizations about child abductions, even misinterpreting the stats. “I typed it in Google and it’s the first website that popped up on some parenting website, so that’s the statistic I used,” he told CBC’s Day 6 this week. (Check out the excellent debunking by AskYourDadBlog.)
It’s that same fear that allowed the Star Wars Selfie Dad to make headlines in Australia. A man in his 40s saw a cool Star Wars display at a local Target. He took a selfie with Darth Vader to show his kids. Meanwhile, a woman nearby observed him and thought he was taking pictures of kids in the toy department. She shared his photo on social media, and now he’s getting death threats.
“There were some children there and I thought they were waiting to have a look at the display and I said to them ‘kids, I won’t be a second, I’m just taking a selfie to send to my children’,” he told The Herald Sun. “There was no other adult around at the time.”
You can’t walk a dog near a playground, you can’t take a picture in a toy section, you can’t talk to children that aren’t yours. This is the world we’re creating for our kids, and people are buying into it.
“ok listen up you dimwit parents: ANY MAN THAT INTERACTS WITH KIDS IS DOING IT FOR HIS OWN PERVERTED PURPOSES. N-E-V-E-R. Never tell kids its ok.It is NEVER OK. Men, DONT TALK TO KIDS IF YOU ARE A STRANGER AND YOU NEVER have to worry about whether they are polite or if their parents are scared of you. JUST DONT DO IT. You have NO REASON to talk to a child you do not know. Parents, free range and ALL OTHERS- no reason for strangers to EVER. TALK. TO. YOUR. KIDS. no discussions or apologies. DONT DO IT.”
Wow. When you’re a man, you’re marginalized the moment you’re around kids. Ever wonder why there are so few male elementary school teachers? Men aren’t even allowed in some amusement parks by themselves because the stigma is strong. There’s a woman like Rebecca in my community. She campaigned against men joining a local community Facebook group.
“Women only is more comfortable to speak on certain topics. If it is for men too then there has to be a system in place to ensure that they are not predators. I’m sorry for sounding unsympathetic to the good Dads out there … these people are men, not women. I know some women can be cows, but most are not stalking children. It’s as simple as that.”
I wonder how Rebecca and my neighbour would have felt about Tara Jean helping out a tired mom, and me helping out a distracted dad? We were both parents pitching in to help the team, we both saw parents taking a time out, we both touched and talked to kids that weren’t ours. She’s a mom, I’m a dad.
I for one want to live in a world where people generally trust and respect each other. And I do think most of us watch out for each other’s kids. We’ll help out another parent at the playground without fear of being branded a predator.
I talked to a child that wasn’t mine. I touched a child that wasn’t mine. I got a smile and nod and “thanks,” from his parent. It’s not news because the world operated how it should. People cooperated, children were safe, neighbours got to know each other. What a great lesson to teach our kids.