the park: why I should like it and why I don’t

I know I should like the park, and I might like it a bit more if it served glasses of rosé in the summer and whisky in the winter, but even in hip San Francisco I have yet to see moms dads or nannies imbibing on the playground.

Of course I like moments at the park.  Seeing my daughter’s face light up like a Christmas tree from a block away is delightful.  Hearing her gleeful laughs as she tugs at the swing is an exercise in making me love her more.  Watching her struggle up the stairs only to be pleased as punch with herself when she gains them swells my heart with pride.  These are unmatched moments of joy for me, moments I have no doubt I will be missing soon enough and only wishing I had had more of them, but in the meantime I wonder how I am going to make it through the next 6-8 years of tedium.  Are 10 year-olds allowed to go the park by themselves?

Every time I resent full-time employment and the time I miss with my daughter I remind myself that if I weren’t gainfully employed I would have to take her to the park everyday.  Her nanny takes her twice a day.  Incomprehensible.  That thought motivates me on even my darkest mornings as I am running out the door, forgetting my keys, 10 minutes late, my daughter crying at the door for me not to leave.  When the tears gather in my eyes and I start to feel sorry for myself if the thought “At least I don’t have to take her to the park today” pops into my mind it can turn my whole morning around.

It is not that I am opposed to the park on principle.  On principle it is a very good idea.  Children should have places to run around and explore.  It is imperative.  I fully support the idea of parks, it is the execution that gets me.  Partly it is that my daughter needs constant supervision.  She is a 16 month old with a plan.  Her plan is to climb anything and walk anywhere, the more there are older kids around the better.  She wants to be where they are.  There is no taking a hands off approach to my daughter at the park, not unless I am willing to end the visit with a trip to the emergency room.  I am on her leash.  Where she goes I am sure to follow. I  concentrate on her for minutes on end with no room for thoughts of my own other my anxiety rising each time she gets near a four foot drop off a play structure.

If only my boredom were the worst of it.  It isn’t.  The park Is often rift with complex social interactions for which I have no finesse.  I dread the small talk with strangers.  Awkwardly pushing our respective children on the swings trying to suss out if this person wants to talk in the first place.  Sometimes the child helps with this by flashing a crazy smile, to which you can respond, “Are you saying “hi”?  or “Is the swing fun?”  Then if it feels right the adult questions start: “How old is your child?  What is his/her name?  Do you live in the neighborhood? Even worse if it is a guy.  If I am talking to a father the neurotic thought process is something closer to:  “I look like crap.” “Does he have a ring?” “Does he see that I do?? And all of this often before noon and sober. In theory I should be thrilled to “connect” with other moms and dads and nannies.  We don’t have a lot of friends with kids in our immediate neighborhood and as daughter gets older it would be great for her to have children near-by who she can play with, but I have never been good at making friends simply because I have something in common with someone (like we both have a child/children), so my efforts feel contrived.

So in a few years (when my daughter can be trusted not to walk off a 5 foot platform into the air) if you see a graying brunette sitting on a bench sipping what looks like a tumbler of whisky come on over and I’ll be happy to pour you a glass and I promise not to ask what school your son/daughter attends.

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