Playground Politics

*This goes out to the parents out there* …. Think back, to your days before “parent” was a label applied to you. What were your thoughts on children, moms and dads, and discipline? What sorts of behavior would you witness with rolled eyes and scoffing?

*This goes out to the parents of multiple children out there* …. Hey! Remember when you had one child and they consumed your world? Every moment you had eyes on them, you knew their quirks and had no doubt of their brilliance and uniqueness? Remember going to the playground and following their every step, every triumph of a ladder rung climbed, every round on the slide? Did you ever see some random, disheveled child pushing your precious out of the way and wonder aloud: “Whose kid is this??”

My personal answers to the questions above are probably pretty obvious.

Before I had E, I didn’t think about parenting at all. I had very little interaction with children beyond the ones I encountered at work, and I usually observed every scream or whimper or booger-streaked face with disgust.

That is, until I had a baby, and my entire life revolved around just E. I thought I had it figured out. I brought him to the playground every single day, rain or shine or wind or snow…. I hovered and hemmed and hawed over him at all hours of the day. I’d see sloppy looking moms parading their multiple offspring off and watch in horror as they pushed, shoved, and ran amok. And, I judged. Oh, how I judged.

But then I had two babies in a little under two years. Suddenly, the playground as a destination because a “trip”, a big “deal”. Beyond that, I started to see the play areas as a place for “them” and the benches along the side of the structures as “my” place. The luxury of sitting back and watching them do whatever it is they wanted seemed like a no brainer.

And my eyes were opened to the phenomenon of “parents of one”. I don’t judge them, because I was them for four and a half years, but looking through the playground scene with my new lenses of a “mom of three”, I started to realize how different I was from them. Usually its Mom and Dad following every step of little Jr and their adventures in the structures, with lots of “Be Careful!” And “Oh look at you!” Meanwhile, I’d be in a corner, trying to appear forgotten. I want my kids to play, but I don’t feel the need to follow them everywhere.

This brings me to today; another playground trip on a warm November afternoon. The sun was bright. I have a quiz to study for and three kids under my watch (as the hubby is flying for a few days) so I foolishly thought I’d have time to look over notes at the local playground. I forgot it’s a weekend. I should have realized every other parent in our suburb had the same idea as me: enjoy the sun while we can. And I should have realized that while I’m perfectly okay with watching the 2-year-old climb up a slide the wrong way, the vast majority of parents out there (especially the ones with only one kid) frown upon such behavior.

So, what should have been a relaxing escape from our house, became an internal struggle of my own. I don’t want to be “that mom” whose children are causing issues, I don’t want someone to see my little L and H seemingly alone and assume their parents aren’t mindful of the abduction risk of unsupervised children, but I also know that particular playground, being fully fenced, is pretty safe. I know that kids want to climb up slides backwards and I know that they don’t need me there “just in case”. So it becomes a show, and I have to act. Because I care too much about what everyone else thinks. Their frantic anxiety becomes my frantic anxiety.

After an hour or so I was sick of chasing H so I told the kiddos it was time to go home. To play in our own backyard. And guess what? In the privacy of my own home, confined in the fully fenced back yard, I can sit and study over the pulmonary system and even read a novel without worrying about H and L taking turns going upside down, down the slide. I guess it’s true: there’s no place like home.

the art of holding one’s tongue (or fingers)

I am a member of many “Birth Month” Mom Groups – groups made up entirely of women expecting a baby the same month you are. Groups vary in size; most of the ones I’m a part of have about a hundred or so other women in them. They are often secret so they stay private.

Going through the pregnancy/ early newborn stage as a member of these groups is so helpful. Especially for first time moms. Any question you have is answered by many other women who have similar issues or feelings. You get close. You share intimate details. It’s an online-sisterhood and I find the relationships and intimacy addicting.

This go-round with H I felt like an old-bag “been there done that”. It’s my third child, my most recent pregnancy was only about a year before, and it was my second time being an active member of these types of groups. There is always a whining mom, a mom with drama (usually relationship related), a mom with serious health conditions, a mom who is a know-it-all, a mom who forces her viewpoints on the other women.

I’d like to think I’m an accepting of all viewpoints type of presence online. Supportive and positive to everyone. I cheer their victories, and I boo their hard times with them. I’m politically correct. I should be a damn Facebook Group Senator.

But I’ve experienced some pretty varied births, and went through major hurdles to breastfeed my first born. I’ve had a c-section, I’ve had an induced birth with an epidural, and I’ve had a 100% medication free birth. I know what to look for in choosing an actual VBAC supportive doctor or midwife. I know that just “trusting” your OB because they are an OB doesn’t mean you’ll have the birth outcome you want. I almost feel like I can pinpoint the women who will end up with an “emergency” c-section just based on how they describe their upcoming inductions etc. I have very strong opinions of this type of thing just from my own experiences.

But where do you cross that line? That line of saying – “watch out”. I’m also in VBAC support groups and I have no issue telling it like it is to women looking for advice or help; but to a fragile, impressionable first-time mom, I don’t want to cross a line that can’t be uncrossed.

Especially when it comes to breastfeeding. It’s fucking hard at first. It can hurt if you don’t do it right. It takes an insane amount of self-confidence to know that your baby IS getting enough milk and your body IS capable of doing it. If you aren’t 100% dedicated to breastfeeding, at any moment you’ll give into the allure of “topping” the baby off with formula (especially if you are sleep deprived). I’m not saying all supplementing ends with a breastfeeding relationship severed, but it can.

But how am I supposed to tell a new mom, oftentimes recovering from serious surgery, to just “trust herself” and that her baby waking up every 1.5 hours is normal and just to get over it? I can’t do it. So, instead, I complain to my husband about it. Or type it up in here.

I wish I knew then (circa 2010, the birth of my first) what I knew now. Experience is everything. I won’t be some “mama hen” to these ladies online, and really, what I ought to do is just log-off and forget about it; but, in a strange way I “know” and “care” about these women. So I just fret about it from afar, behind the keys of my keyboard.