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Apr. 17 2010 - 1:41 pm | 207 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

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.


5 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    Fun piece.

    However, I have to disagree. The dad was 100% in the right. Those kids deserved to be call out and asshole is such a minor swear as to be inconsequential. I can guarantee you those bully kids use worse language. I would even bet that the mother uses worse language around them on a daily basis (based on her lack of attention and her kid’s behavior). And the mother? She’s not a parent; she’s just a woman who can’t keep her legs closed. I see “parents” like this on a daily basis and it makes me sick to my stomach.

    If the more caring and responsible parents (and non-parents, too) like us would do more to bring attention to these awful people who treat their kids worse than their pets we might see some change. As it is, most people are afraid to go against the politically correct world we live in and stand up for these kids whether they understand why or not.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those “won’t someone please think of the children” whackos. But as the old adage says, kids crave discipline and structure even if they complain about it. I’m not talking strict military-style rules, mind you, but boundaries. My five year old boy knows the boundaries even as he stretches them.

    Kids need plenty of time to be kids. They also need time being taught how to interact with the other humans on the planet in a sane, respectful way.

  2. collapse expand

    I’m going to disagree with you. There are too many parents out there who are raising their kids to think they are entitled to behave however they want. They think their kids can do no wrong and never discipline them for anything (it might hurt the kid’s feelings! We can’t have hurt feelings!). I have no problem calling people out when they let their kids run rampant through playgrounds, stores, etc. without regards to anyone else around. They think this is their world and we’re just visiting it and I will the first to explain to them how wrong they are.

  3. collapse expand

    I think it was important for the child of the angry to hear his dad apologize for bad language AND to hear his dad criticize the bad behavior of the older kids. Children need to feel protected. The dad’s execution was far from perfect but I’m glad he didn’t slink off the playground.

  4. collapse expand

    I’m going to disagree on a different level. Actually, I’m not disagreeing, but I think that this isn’t necessarily representative. I live in the Washington, DC area and have taken my kids to a variety of local parks. We live in Northern Virginia and have what I consider to possibly by THE MOST WONDERFUL PARK IN THE WORLD. Well, perhaps I exaggerate a bit. It’s Clemyjontri park, which was designed from the beginning to be a park inclusive to all. To be precise, it is an amalgam of structures (including a carousel) that are accessible to kids of all ages and abilities. Being the father of a developmentally delayed child (autism), it means a lot. The park is very popular and has a lot of kids. They naturally bump and stumble against one another and I’ve exchanged many a smile with other parents, generally when we’re trying to apologize for our little ones’ lack of social graces.

    And then there’s the park I went to on Saturday. It’s on the east side of the Anacostia River as you cross the Sousa Bridge. [We're also talking about a park on the edge of one of the poorest areas of DC and one that is entirely African American.] I’d seen the park for a couple of years and wanted to take my 4 year old twins there as it’s a great location. We were the only non-AA people in the playground. Kids were running around and very rambunctious. I was a little worried, but my boys seemed to be having a lot of fun.

    There were a couple of potentially difficult moments (owing to one of my son’s attempts to “comfort” a crying child), but I had some fun interactions with other fathers around. Even though we were fish out of water, I want my sons to interact with a variety of peers and I’m glad I went there. I may have been an unusual visitor to the park, but felt welcomed and was glad I went.


  5. collapse expand

    This father was in the right, he just failed to handle the situation as well as he should have. However, having been in similar situations at the park with me three-year-old son, I don’t know if there is any way to remain 100% calm when your kid is being mistreated by others.

    These older boys are assholes, no doubt because they are being raised by parents who are assholes. Sometimes, it’s best to just relocate your kid to another area in the park. But that also often feels like a cop out to addressing the problem. I give this guy credit for not taking shit. It’s a good lesson to teach your children.

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    I've been writing and editing for hip-hop magazines for fifteen years. I live in New York City with my wife and kid. You can read my other writing over at The Awl:


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