Goldilocks Goes to the Park
My granddaughter loves more than anything else to play, especially outdoors. Since we live in a condo with relatively small outdoor spaces, I have become something of a connoisseur of public parks. Chasing a child around a park has given me time and opportunity to observe the different cultures and personalities of the parks we visit.
The two we use most often are within a few miles of our condo; there are a couple of others farther away that we occasionally go to when traffic and time permit. The two nearby are as different culturally as it’s possible to be in such a small radius. One is in a trendy, close-in Austin neighborhood, predominantly white, upper-middle-class, professional, with lots of stay-at-home moms. The other is racially and ethnically mixed, less affluent and near many multi-family residences, some of it public housing.
When we play at the more upscale park I’ve noticed the moms are very clique-y, and the kids often follow suit. Only older moms, the occasional dad, and other grandparents are remotely friendly. Kids, I think, have been so impressed with “stranger danger” that they tend to run in their own circles. Once Chloe went up to some girls her age and said “Would you like to play with me?” They stared at her and ran away. I wanted to yell at them, “We’re not stalkers! She just wants to play! We aren’t going to follow you home and we don’t even need to know your name!”
So I end up playing with Chloe a lot, and funny thing, when the kids see a grandma playing “monster” or tag with her granddaughter, they get curious. I’ll invite them to join in and often they do. Once I chased a gang of kids aged 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. More often it’s just Chloe and me. Ideally, the kids themselves form a critical mass and start running in a pack. Then I can just sit and watch. But that is rare.
The situation at the other park is quite different. Most of the parents sit and watch their kids, not playing or interacting with them—more likely interacting with their phones. Before Chloe was in school I avoided this park during the day, because there are no stay-at-home moms and the place was deserted (except, once, when I saw what appeared to be an illicit romantic liaison by the picnic tables, which I tried to ignore). It didn’t feel very wholesome after that.
But the kids are usually friendlier, and if I get a good game of chase or monster going I can pretty quickly round up a gang, getting to know the kids’ names as their parents watch (looking up from their phones). Recently we had a great game of tag, with Chloe being the only white blue-eyed blonde in the lot. The rest were Hispanic and black—adorable kids who obviously reveled in adult attention and play. It made me sad that it took a stranger to provide it to them that day.
Since I wrote that, I took Chloe to another park that is demographically a mix of the other two. Since it was a beautiful Saturday, it was busy, with several birthday parties going on, and the playground was full of kids—about 2/3 Hispanic, the rest a mix of white, black and Asian. Maybe it was the birthday party atmosphere, but a lot of parents were involved. Except for Chloe being hit in the forehead with a stick we had a great time. And when that happened every adult immediately told the boys with the sticks to get rid of them, and inquired about whether Chloe was all right. (She was, with a small raised bump but nothing worse, thank God, and we stayed and played a while longer.)
I think we may have found our “just right” park.