At The Playground
Spring is here and the sun is out and the trees are flowering and the playgrounds are full of kids and fun and strife and arguments between parents watching their kids.
I was in Tompkins Square Park earlier this week, sitting on a playground bench with the father of the kid my kid was playing with. “Man,” he said, “I almost got in a fight here last week.” I was very surprised to hear this. He doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would get into a fight. Especially not in a playground. But apparently he’d had a long, stressful day—and he took pains to express how embarrassed he was to tell this story—and he’d brought his kid to the park, and the playground was very full. He noticed a group of bigger kids, boys, he guessed them to be between seven and ten-years-old, racing around, playing aggressively, not doing a good job of watching where they were going. He kept an eye on them—his kid is only five—and watched as one of them, one of bigger ones, knocked a little girl down to the ground. She was around two, he thought, and she cried when she fell. Her mom came over to pick her up and glared at the bigger kids, who hadn’t even noticed, and stormed off in a huff, saying something about, “You can’t even bring your kid to the park anymore.”
The guy’s kid was playing on the slide when the wild bunch came storming through. They climbed up and the big one, the same one who’d knocked the little girl down, ended up near the top, where he basically pushed the guy’s kid over the edge of the slide. The guy had to run over and catch his kid, who was hanging by one hand, eight feet off the ground. “That’s it,” said the guy, holding his kid in his arms. “We’re leaving.”
“Why?” asked his kid, who wanted to keep playing.
“Because,” and here the guy wheeled to face the older boys still up atop the slide, “this slide is filled with assholes!”
The boys gaped at him. The guy knew he’d made a mistake. He took his son across the playground to pack up their stuff to go. But sure enough, a woman appeared moments later, four 7-to-10-year-old boys standing behind her. “Excuse me.” She spoke sharply. “But did you just swear at my kids?”
“I’m sorry,” they guy said. “I should never have used that language in front of children. But,” and here, he noted, was his second mistake, “those kids are totally out of control. Running around, way too rough. One of them knocked over a baby girl! Pushing people off the slide. It’s dangerous.”
More words were exchanged, all the kids looking on, voices rose. The woman said, “I don’t appreciate you talking to me about how I parent my kids.”
“Lady,” the guy said, “When you start parenting your kids, I’ll be the first to let you know!”
This, of course, was his third mistake, and probably his most grievous. He said he thought the woman was going to hit him, and the kids looked like they were ready to jump in, too. Strangers were staring.
Luckily, in the end, things cooled down without any punches being thrown. The guy and his kid left the playground ruffled but unscathed. His embarrassment in retelling the story, though, serves as a reminder about the difficulties of raising kids—already such a stress-inducing endeavor—around a lot of other people also raising kids. Especially in as tightly packed a place as New York City’s East Village. Under these conditions it’s even more important to remember things like not to curse at children. And not tell other people how to parent their children. If you don’t like how someone’s parenting, or not parenting, as the case may be, better to just leave like the mother of the little girl did. As frustrating and unfair as it seems. Chances are you’re not going to be able to change the situation anyway. But most of all, it seems, don’t extend, or worse, escalate a unpleasant interaction just to make a point. To me, the dumbest thing the guy did was engaging that lady beyond a quick “Sorry. Goodbye.” The cursing at the kids is not a big enough deal to have to try to justify it. They’ll survive to tell the story of the crazy vulgarian at the playground. But in a city where everybody can be so anonymous—this is one of the draws of city life, I’d think—take advantage of that fact, and let yourself disappear into the crowd.