Sunday, 18 November 2012

Playground etiquette

It has been a lovely sunny Sunday here on the south coast, and as such we decided that a trip to the local playground would be a good idea. Now, ordinarily we would have walked the mile or so, but as A had sustained a near-broken toe at the hands of his elder brother and a tent doorway (don't even ask!), we all piled into the car and headed park-ward.

It's not a big playground; a few swings, a climbing frame with slide and a rather ominous contraption of three hanging tires interlaced with a lot of rope and chain, all surrounded (or perhaps "embedded" would be more appropriate) with damp sand.

We pulled up to the park and spotted one other family, keeping themselves to themselves. Within minutes of the children leaping from the car, the park had been invaded by a waist-height army. Ok, I thought, we can deal with this. The boys tend to behave themselves very well in public (small mercies and all that!), the playground is flat and you can see the whole thing from any single point, there is a fence all around the parameter and an extra internal fence surrounding the swings. So, with the safety issues covered surely I could relax and enjoy our afternoon in the park.

Within seconds, or so it seemed, there was a child stuck at the top of the slide too fearful to commence his descent, another child had decided he must play in the sand barefoot but had come unstuck when his second sock would not come unstuck from his foot and a small fearless toddler of less than 2 years had made a break for it across the car park. Cries of "Mummy" reverberated around the playground from the two children in need of motherly assistance, as a shot a "they're not mine, whose are they?" look to another mother, who instinctively passed it onto a third. Luckily, from nowhere the tearaway toddler had been intercepted by his own mother.

Now comes the dilemma. Myself and my two fellow mother comrades have ascertained that the needy children do not belong to us, nor do they seem to be with the runaway child who is being loaded noisily into his car seat. I can easily reach down and help the child entangled in his own sock, but something akin to fear is stopping me. Fear that this child belongs to another woman, a woman I do not know, in fact at this point I am beginning to doubt her existence. If I were to help this child, I would have to make physical contact and society has now deemed that we cannot do that, as a stranger. As I am fighting with my inner need as a mother to help a child, I see the faintest movement across the park as one of my comrades does the same with hers. She is slowly, inch by inch, making her way towards the child on the slide whilst simultaneously scanning the surrounding area in hope that somebody would pop up like a Jack-in-the-box out of the sand and end her turmoil.

I managed to avoid the need for adult/child contact, as I had a light bulb moment and summoned F over to assist the poor child at my feet. The other poor mum however was left to gently manhandle a screaming child from shoulder height to the sandy floor, before quickly backing off and tending to her own child - perhaps in an attempt to demonstrate her mother credentials and her right to be in the play park.

Needless to say, our afternoon outing to the play park has left me more than a little confused. When did it become unacceptable to assist a fellow human being, regardless of age? Why is it now always a case of guilty until proved otherwise when one is stood within the confines of a children's play area? Think about it, and be honest with yourself, it's only when a child runs up to the lone man on the park bench yelling "Daddy" or "Grandad" that you breathe a sigh of relief that nothing sinister is going on under your very nose.

Obviously I want my children, and your children, to be safe. But every now and again you have to question how the world ever manages to evolve with so many constraints.

No comments:

Post a Comment