March 27, 2006

That's Pretty Passive Aggressive Language For The Playground

Go ahead and call me a jerk; I'll agree with you later (I already do, some) but if it takes being somewhat of an idiot to maintain my sense of humor and to be able to continue to acknowledge other adults as adults, then so be it.

We were at the playground this morning, the toy stroller playground on the west side. Even though we didn't take the Mini-boo--"Santa still fixing the wheel," the kid says, as I wince--we made sure to take the kid's bucket and some shovels. [Even though you're probably the only one who'll know, if you purposely don't bring something to play with, you're not "sharing"; you're "freeloading."]

Of course, the first thing in the gate, the kid literally dropped her bucket and chased after some stroller. Then another. Then another. She finally made her way to the sandbox for like 5 minutes, then left all her gear to go snag some strollers.

atlas_kicking_sand.jpgWhen we came back, there was a mother riding herd on five or so 1-2yo kids, two her own, who were all clumped together digging sand. Some little boy had our bucket, and another girl had all our tools, but there were unused toys lying about, so when she lunged for them, I told the kid that she can use something else while these other kids played with her stuff.

The mom, clearly a park veteran, said, "I think I have another bucket," and went to dig it out of her stroller. I did the whole, "say thank you," thing, and then thanked her and pointed out that our toys were already in the mix. after 5-10 min. of shuffling and a bit of that play-by-play narration and hovering thing that parents do, the kid ended up with no toys, and so she lunged for one of three toys in the woman's 18-mo or so daughter's lap. I had to intervene, of course, and explain that we don't just take things; we share, and maybe you can ask her if you can use it, please?

Seeing this, the mother entered into negotiation for a rake or whatever; meanwhile, the kid had wandered off a couple of feet and found a bucket on her own. When she came back over to the cluster, the mother goes, "Oh."

And I said, "Oh, she's fine, thanks." and then gave the rake back to the kid and in that singsongy voice, said "Thank you, she found something. Here, you can hoard this if you want to."

Wait a beat.

The mother says for me but not to me, "'Hoard' is a pretty agressive word to use on the playground."

Slightly stunned, and of course, feeling bad now for using "hoard" with someone else's kid, I turn to her and say, "Sorry, I was just making a joke." Did the kid even know what "hoard" meant? I had bet on "no."

Again, to no one, including me, as she picked some bandaid out of the sand, the mom goes, "I'm trying to teach the children to share."

"I--" End of non-discussion. She was not talking to me, and wasn't responding to me, so instead of pursuing it, and pointing out that I'd been doing the same thing right next to her for the last ten minutes, even going so far--did she notice--as letting other kids keep playing with my kid's stuff rather than just let her snatch them away, I just dropped it.

The narrative and kidcoaching kept on for a few more minutes, but I'd had enough. I coaxed our stuff out of some kid's hands, told the kid to say thank you for the bucket [all she could say was "leetle while longer?" over and over, of course] and headed out, pissed.

It's a weird way of operating, what parents do. We're constantly aware of others and what they're doing, and yet we usually focus our attention and our language on our own kid, assuming others will pick up what they need. Especially among strangers, parents are like a bunch of babies parallel playing: we're occupying the same space, but not really interacting, and not together. Except, of course, that we're not toddlers. And acknowledging the shared, odd experience of toggling between the adult and baby worldviews seems natural and necessary.

The other day, on another playground, there were three dads and three kids, all about the same age. The other two vaguely knew each other, but we were all still just watching our own kids alone. When the kids all started copying each other by wanting to go down this big slide together, I said, "Very good, honey, follow the crowd. That's an important lesson." The other dads behind me cracked up, and I turned and said, "teach'em while they're young." Maybe if I hadn't had this encounter a couple of days earlier, I wouldn't have been so thin-skinned this morning. Of course, if I hadn't gotten a laugh from a stranger then, maybe I wouldn't have been encouraged to keep blabbing, either.


Perhaps she thought you meant "whored" I often find myself pimping toys on the playground and getting tons of flack. It's hard to be a pimp.

[lol. so she thought I was talking to her. it's all making sense now. -ed.]

For women, playground ineraction is a serious matter - no joking allowed.

I would bet my bottom dollar that had this exchange been with another guy, you would have both laughed. I would have.

Nothing like a playground to bring out the war-of-parenting-styles in parents. Don't sweat it - you were funny, but she probably WAS actually trying to teach the kid to share, and maybe that's why she was so sensitive.

But hey, you could be related to us. Few years back at a family gathering, Nephew (then age 2) considered play to involve repeatedly snatching toys from our 18 mo old Little Mary Sunshine's hands. When JJ Daddy was finally fed up enough to ask him to stop and share, That Woman My Brother Married said, "No-no JJ Daddy. Neph doesn't have to share, YET."

There's still hope that he's introduced to the concept before college.

Dude, what are you doing in the sandbox? How about letting the kids play in peace. There is no reason to interfere unless they can't figure out a situation on their own or a kid is crying.

I agree that the Male vs. Female issue was the big problem here. I've learned that dads in the playground generally enjoy sarcasm a great deal, whereas most moms don't seem to.

I have a lame, half-baked -- and hopefully non-sexist -- theory about why this is the case. Most dads view the playground as a chance for kids to toughen up a little, see the real world, learn some basic social problem-solving and ways to settle minor disagreements. Hey, if the kids are arguing a little bit, it's good for them.

In my experience, most moms seem to look at this time as a chance for fun and exercise, however they agressively try to ensure that their kid's self-esteem isn't hurt, no boo-boos are acquired and no adult male strangers insult (or even interact much) with their kids. Moms' "spidey-sense" is on red alert at the playground while dads are usually just chilling out.

Again, all of these are generalizations, but it's what I've noticed. Even when my wife and I are both at a playground, she gently elbows me in the ribs when I make any wisecracks.

But this subtly points out that once again, it's Dad's who can laugh together on the playground. While some (and I mean some not all) Mom's insist on passive aggressive criticism. Why do we do that? Is it to justify the decision to be at the playground at 1:30 on a Monday instead of the boardroom? And if that's the case, then why don't Dad's feel the same pressure?

My favorite is when parents ask my kid questions that they can't possibly answer and expect me to do the answering for them.

"So what's your name!?" says parent to my child.

"Her name is Claire." I say to the adult, not treating my kid like a puppet by saying "I'm Claire!"

"And how old are you?" again, to the child.

I always hesitate after the second question, if it's not directed to me. "... 1."

[EGG-zackly. I usually go through and ask the kid, "what's your name? Can you tell her your name?" but there are limits. -ed.]

Oh, I bet she did think you said "whored". That's hilarious.

Personally, I would be thrilled to hear a little sarcasm on the playground every once in a while. I have gotten some disparaging looks when I call my kids geniuses after trying to eat dirt or some other such boneheaded thing.

You caught yourself a tightass there, Greg. This type of parent really burns me and I would've told her teach her arse to share that poker it's hoarding.

I haven't run into any (many) sanctimonious parents in our area, which is fairly upscale (though has a healthy dose of us poorer, artier duplex renters). I'm pretty sarcastic about stuff, especially kids (cuz if you can't gently make fun of them and yourself, you'd go mad!) and I can't recall having a parent do anything but laugh along or grudgingly agree.

Your playground ninny taught her child a lesson alright, she taught the child how to be intolerent and inflexible.

I'll let you moms duke it out over the boardroom vs sandbox question. I hear there's a mommy war on somewhere.

Meanwhile, Inkling, I remember another dad and I holding back on intervening/coaching when our two 1.5yo's were tugging on the same dodgeball. It's not like we bet money on it or anything, but it was much more "let them figure it out."

That said, B, even my frightfully advanced kid's "figuring out on her own" still means grabbing whatever she wants from whoever's got it. I'm all for overdeveloped senses of entitlement, believe me; but even the nannies would care if you let your kid act like that.

As for the intolerance stuff, I do think she was working on the sharing thing, which is well/good. But she was also saying that--oops, let me rephrase that--when she said that, I felt that she was implying that I was fomenting greed and harshing on her greedy little kid. [d'oh! there I go again, looking for the cheap laugh.]

i echo the gender generalizations! i do think (many) moms are more defensive about their parenting and worried that other people are judging their spawn. dads don't seem to pathologize normal unsocialized feral little kid behaviors as much; they just don't seem to *personalize* as much. so it, um, often means dads can laugh about stuff and seem less obsessive...because they *are* less obsessive. moms often seem to have a hard time distinguishing between SELF and CHILD. ("we didn't get into hunter!")

and not to get to clintonian, but did she really stress the "i'm" in "I'm trying to teach the children to share"? i could understand her stressing "trying" -- as in, stop JUDGING me, fellow parent, i'm CONSTANTLY WORKING on fixing my child's behavior with undesirable social consequences, I FEEL YOUR JUDGMENT! (even if it was all in her neurotic blow-dried head).

Try to enjoy your tweak- it's probably rankling her all day as it has been you. I definitely see a gender divide wrt such ribbing, sometimes to good effect, sometimes bad.

Sometimes when I'm with a gaggle of moms, and there are inquiries about my boy's milestones, I temper the fact that he's on the slow end of the curve by saying, "Yep, he's slow, lucky thing he's got his looks to fall back on." People just go silent and goggle, trying to figure out what would lead me to say something so "outrageous" on several levels. It makes my day. (Of course, I'm also self-aware enough to recognize that I'm completely bragging at the same time, since he IS awfully pretty.)

This is why I don't go to the playground with my kids. Of course, I will probably regret it in twenty years when they blame every problem they've ever had on the fact that their mother deprived them of an adequate playground experience. Instead, I just take them to the park and have a grand old time without having to navigate the social dynamics at the sandbox. As an interesting aside, my eight year old is one of the most empathetic and kind-hearted kids around. I wonder if it's BECAUSE he never had to navigate the sandbox before he was ready?

Sarcasm is great and necessary especially in the world of parenting, but I'll be in the minority here and say that came off sounding pretty judgmental. Having read your blog for awhile, I understand your sense of humor, but were I that woman in the playground, I'd be like "What the hell?"

It was different in the other scenario with the Dad's cuz you were making a sarcastic remark on your own kid, something I do often - but the difference is that you said it about HER kid which just sounds really critical.

Sharing's tough. I don't hold it against young kids when they don't share.

[yeah, i have to say I think you're right, e; it's why I felt bad immediately for it. And kids that age just don't get sharing; telling them to do it is just chanting & conditioning and, more important, i think, signalling a sense of community to other parents. -ed]

I don't want to say I told you so, but I remember posting back here once about annoying mothers (in particular) being a common, everyday experience--to which you jokingly replied stop hanging around UB so much. Now do you believe me??? It's a minefield out there I tell you--no matter what you do or say!

[I must have been lulled into disbelief by a long winter away from the playground. -ed.]

I'll have to agree with 'e' here and while reading it I was under the impression that you were trying to be rude to the mother by pointing out the fact her child was openly hording the toys. Which I applaud, as it was clearly the case and if she was trying to teach sharing why didn't she tell her child to put some of the toys she was not using back into the pile of goods? Teaching social skills to children is quite a challenge, especially when the dynamics of other parents and their 'lessons' begin to interfere with yours. Pre-school is another world entirely.

I feel your pain! I, too, make sarcastic comments for my/others' enjoyment -- and people either get it or they don't. It IS a way of acknowledging another parent's adulthood, and I figure if they don't find it amusing it's their loss!

Hi, well my mom is passive aggressive. I try to tell her, but she always bounces it back to me. She says im the selfish one, not her. She manipulates me into making me feel guilty. She puts the guilt trip on me like: i love you, but i wish you would love me back. its a never ending battle. Please help me. p.s its harder tring to show her than you think. Shes smart.. she knows what shes doing. how can i break it?

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