The ingredients: one 2-year-old boy, one stay-at-home mother, year-round Southern California weather and no backyard. This recipe makes us the perfect candidates for the park, which is close by and big, with plenty of kids and bounteous equipment. So what kind of mother would deny this idyllic stomping ground to her son?
I honestly don’t think I’m a bad or unloving mother. From the time my baby turned 3 months, I was so eager to do a good job that I had us on a rigorous schedule of music classes, museums, library story hours and play-dates. “He’s just luggage until he’s 6 months,” my friends would say. “Just go on with your day the way you normally might. Get your nails done. Go to the movies.” Why, so I would get a break? No, thanks. I would do anything that might provide the stimulation and give him an edge in this hardscrabble world.
But I couldn’t do the park. The park may have incredible climbing ropes, twisty slides, and lush hills through which a child may frolic, but it also has sand teeming with parasites from dog excrement, piles of juice boxes, crackers and broken shovel pieces. I’ve seen countless broken bottles, condoms (shudder), adult men’s briefs (double shudder), and, on one occasion, a plastic shopping bag from Target with razors inside (granted, they were unopened in their clamshell packaging). With all this garbage, how can I just let my son roam free there?
My husband argues that our son needs to be around other kids, not to mention the physical exercise the playground provides.
“But I found razor blades in the sand!”
“They were packaged,” he replies. “You can’t accidentally break open clamshell packaging.”
“Razorblades!” I answer.
“You’re talking about the ones you took home and used, right? Those razorblades?”
My grandstanding about safety and cleanliness, I admit, isn’t the real reason I hate the park. I hate it because it’s boring. My son loves it, but when I’m there, I am deafened by the voice in my ear that asks me how I could leave an orderly life and thriving career to muddle around in dirty sand, chasing a boy with no game-plan and no understanding that he should be grateful that I’ve taken him there instead of just pissy when it’s time to leave.
Furthermore, being at the park depresses me, especially when I’m faced with the other mothers and see how worn-down we all look. We all wear the same yoga pants and flip-flops. We talk the same: “Sweetie, I hear that you want to use the slide, but it’s time to take turns.” And, finally, we act the same: we go into a trance. At the park, we’re Trance Parents. We zone out in an effort to endure the long hours spent watching, not able to do what we want or what would keep us active. Very few of us can stay fascinated by our children during all their waking moments. Our kids are way more boring to us than they are to the working mothers and fathers who only get a few hours a day with their little ones. Kids are endlessly needy, they can’t hold a conversation and they don’t know anything you don’t know. All these things make for day-long stretches of tedium. And though they’re cute as hell, and though we’re genetically wired to be crazy about them (and we are!), I still often find myself decidedly unstimulated – especially when I’ve been pushing the swing for sixty-six straight minutes.
As I push my son in a baby swing, I don’t coo at him and play depth-perception games. I endlessly pound on the refresh button of my mobile device, desperate for some communication from the outside, desperate for proof that I still exist. I look at my watch, unable to believe we’ve only been there for five minutes. I stand in a row of mothers, all of us who want to be applauded for doing the hardest job and I, too, am on the phone, ignoring the fact that my child has asked to get off the swing for the last five minutes now.
When I am somewhere else with my son, or just at home, I am giddily in love with him. I am interested in trying to piece together words that he might be using to make a sentence. I sit with him as we watch Sesame Street, counting together, trying to name colors and characters. We stack blocks, knock them down, say hello and goodbye to his toys. It’s only at the park that things turn.
I am not self-righteous about my hatred for the park. I salute the other Trance-Parents there for their ability to withstand an endless, life-sucking outing to the playground.
And I envy all the non-Trance-Parents. Though I suspect (hope?) that they are putting on a show, or that they are working parents just taking a day off from their other grind, they actively engage with their children, and don’t just check their iPhones. They play in the sand, get dirty and have what appears to be fun.
Trance parents make me upset by reflecting my own complacency, but non-Trance-Parents add further insult by, well, doing what I should be doing, what I thought I’d be doing.
In an ideal world, I’d love the park. I’d run through the grass, holding my son’s hand. I’d watch his look of wonder as he whooshed down the slide, smitten by his laugh. But this is not an ideal world, and I am not an ideal parent. When I’m not at the park, it is easier to forget that.
This article was written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner for Babble.com, the magazine and community for a new generation of parents.