As a kid, the playground was a challenging environment to navigate. While the goal was always to have fun, at times it felt like a place you merely tried to survive. My survival kit came equipped with a few “mic dropping” jokes, in case I got caught up in a game of ‘The Dozens’, and multiple ways to deflect stupid dares that always seemed to lead to broken bones or that unfathomable cry where you stop breathing for what seemed like minutes. These dares included hanging upside down on the monkey bars or trying to see who can jump over the holly trees. My go-to deflection was “I bet I can jump out the swing further than you”. And last, but definitely not least, avoiding that one kid that loves jumping off the seesaw after dangling you 30 feet in the air and then laughing as you crash to the ground.
Now that I’m a father, I’ve noticed playgrounds have drastically changed. With their fancy little padding, wood chips and plastic slides. Hell, some of them are indoors and I have yet to see one with wooden seats for the swings (splinters build character)! Despite all these cosmetic changes, the playground is even more challenging as a parent (some might say terrifying), but the primary game is still survival. The terrifying part isn’t that damn metal slide that will give you 3rd degree burns, but the other PARENTS!
According to the U.S. Air Force’s handbook on Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), the key to survival is being prepared. For those parents that are new to the playground scene or the ones that seem to return home socially exhausted every time, let this be your guide. Below are the top five parent types you’ll encounter at the playground. As the great G.I. Joe once said “Knowing is half the battle”!
1. The ‘Playground Parent’
This is the parent that managed to pack up the whole house in just one diaper bag. They have every toy imaginable and unimaginable, like a toy bubble machine. (That’s not a joke I’ve seen one.) They also have bottled water, three types of juice, and a pantry of snacks. I call them the Playground Parent because they have perfected trips to the playground and at some point you’ll have to tell your kid to stop asking to play with their kid’s toys or “you can get a snack when we get home”. At which point your kid looks at you wondering why you came here empty-handed. However, if you were to ever make a friend at the playground, this is the one. One day you will forget to bring water or will need a Band-Aid and they will have a bottle for you and a bandage with your kid’s choice of superhero.
2. The ‘Hands-Off Parent’
This is the parent that will cause you to cut your playground day short. When you begin to develop an ulcer because you have to tolerate an 8-year old running into toddlers in the “2 and under” play area, it is time to go home. This parent is too busy on their phone or talking to other parents to notice their kid is playing real-life “Wreck it Ralph”. If this is you, please do us all a favor and look up every now and then.
3. The ‘Talking Parent’
The name is self-explanatory, but be aware, because they will approach you whether you’re watching your kid from the bench or holding them up as they swing across the monkey bars. The concerning thing with this parent is that no topic is off limit. Ranging from the color of their kid’s poop that morning, breastfeeding tips, all the way to how “Nana” can’t watch the kids this weekend because she has a new love interest. You can always bet that your kid will choose their kid out of all the other kids to play with, meaning you should get ready with to use your auto responses of “oh wow”, “really” and “that’s crazy”.
4. The ‘Voiceover Parent’
While their kid is unable to speak yet, they have no problem playing ventriloquist. As their kid tries to break free from their hold to walk up the slide, this parent is busy trying to have a full conversation with your kid. “Say hi Timmy. ‘Hi! I am Timmy!’ Ask your friend what his name is, Timmy. Say ‘What’s your name? Those shoes are cool. Where did you get them?’” This is happening in their best baby voice, of course. At this point you have to make a decision. Do you play the game and respond for your kid in your best baby voice, or just walk away?
5. The ‘Comparison Parent’
The conversation always starts with “how old is he”? It’s a loaded question because they are just going to compare what their kid can do versus what yours is doing. When your kid is the younger of the two, you may hear “You can do it Billy! He’s younger than you and he’s doing it!” Or “Wow, yours is already walking, huh? Billy is being lazy and refuses to walk!”
Bonus: The ‘Helicopter Parent’ (Me)
Typically, helicopter parents get a bad reputation as being suffocating, but on the playground, it is my survival tactic. I have no problem running right behind my son on the playground, as my only other option would be to go hang with the other parents and get caught up in small talk. That’s not an appealing option for a social introvert like myself. Plus, I used all my words for the day at work.