Jim at Sweet Juniper has a brief but hilarious post about a chapter of parenthood that has passed for me, i.e., the parental experience of the playground. You should not be surprised to learn that it’s different in Detroit than in San Francisco, his last residence. (When an essay turns on the fulcrum, “Then I smelled the weed,” you know we’ve entered a new city.) And yet, in so many ways, it’s the same.
I used to love to take little Kate to Fort Wayne’s various playgrounds, mostly Foster Park and, when we felt like getting the bike trailer out, Kid’s Crossing at Lawton Park. I’d push her in the swing and hope for another kid for her to play with, so I could concentrate on the people-watching and eavesdropping. You never knew what, or who, might turn up.
There was one family whose schedule matched mine for a time; the son took a tennis lesson while his three sisters killed time on the swings. They were nice girls, clad in the unmistakable clothing of the home-schooled Christian — “modest” hemlines, long sleeves, a certain Little-House-on-the-Prairie vibe to the cut and print — but they were lively and sweet, played easily with others, and I always enjoyed watching them. One day they showed up, all three of them wearing some sort of kerchief-type headgear, obviously gleaned from a close reading of that ol’ misogynist, St. Paul, and it was like their mother had tattooed WEIRDO on their foreheads. The other kids kept their distance, and they did the same.
Weekends were different. That’s when you saw the fathers, either because of custody arrangements or just to give mom a break. Fathers relate to their children differently — they hover less, they care a lot less about clean clothing. Once I watched one beam approvingly as his daughter wallowed in an enormous mud puddle, as happily as a pig. Every stitch of clothing she wore was ruined, and her dad kept looking around to beam — that’s my kid, yep — as though he deserved some sort of medal for coolness. As the designated laundress of the family, I withheld my approval. Dirt has its place on a kid, but this was ridiculous.
And there were the fathers who were looking for girlfriends, playing the sensitive-dad card, or maybe something else. One memorable Sunday, a young father commandeered a large portion of the play structure as his personal workout facility. He stripped off his shirt and began hoisting himself around, doing chin-ups and various abdominal moves, punctuating each rep with an ear-shattering ARRRGHHHAHHH that penetrated every corner of the park, the sort of grunt-yell that brands you an asshole even in the gym, much less on the playscape. Everyone glared, but he continued until every muscle was shining and engorged, then looked around for the babes he seemed sure would soon start flocking. I don’t think any did.
A dad tried to pick me up once, as I read Ruth Reichl’s “Tender at the Bone.” “Tender…at…the…BONE. Now, what could THAT be about?” he leered. As though I brought a dirty story to read on the playground. Because I’m such a horny mom. Sheesh.
The full breadth of the human carnival parades before us, every day. It’s a crime not to notice.
No bloggage today, other than Jim, because once again I have to clean myself up and cover three miles by bicycle in, what? Fifteen minutes? Best get movin’! Have a great weekend.