The other day, a friend and I went to a park in Roswell for a walk. After a while, he needed a rest so he and I sat on a bench near a play area. I was willing because he desperately needed the break and I was imagining my own son playing with the equipment. I really look forward to doing that sort of thing with my family.
There, I noticed a handful of kids running up and down steps and across the sandy pits. There were two young girls going down the slide and then climbing back up to the top to do it again. It was a typical playground scene if there could be one.
Then, I noticed this one little girl who was rather impressive. There were these “monkey bar rings” (they are similar to monkey bars but instead of straight bars, they were hoops) located underneath one of the cat walks. This young lady was swinging across the run like she had been doing it for years. Then she came to the end. There, she could not swing her legs or reach her arm far enough to finish.
She was stuck.
I looked around for some parental assistance. None came. I waited and looked around some more. Nothing. As I got up, she dropped and ran off. The drop was notable. This girl that was no older than 6 years old was probably 4 feet off the ground.
I sat and wondered how she got to the hoops if she could not reach them at the end. My guess was that she originally leaped to the first one but did not have that same momentum to finish on the other end. But I thought that did not matter because she would have learned her lesson and would either stay away from the bars or get her parent to help her finish next time.
As soon as my conversation was in full swing, there was monkey girl swinging across the metal limbs of this jungle gym. And, just like before, she got to the end of the line and was stuck. As silly as it sounds, I looked and looked but did not help. I did not know if it was my place to help. I felt the little kid might get freaked out and drop and actually get injured if she saw me approach. Then, I would be standing there next to a 6-year -old girl that was crying in the middle of the playground with a bunch of onlookers there to judge. On that day, I was willing to pass up that attention. After a 20-second struggle, she dropped and ran off again.
I could not help but wonder which mother was hers. Why would she let her daughter drop from that high? Why would she not be there to help her finish. I put myself in her shoes and thought "I will not let my children put themselves in that kind of danger” and other things similar to that.
But I got off my high horse and put myself in the little girl’s pink Reeboks. When I was young, I jumped off of everything, I ran where I should not have and I certainly did not want help from my parents when my peers would be running freely. I also did not tie my pink Reeboks if I did not want to.
Then, I noticed a parent who was basically up her son’s butt. She did not even let him crawl up the stairs because they were dirty. Of course they are dirty. They are steps, but how else will the child learn to climb them? She would not let him go down the slide. Why would you even let him near it then?
I started to think, “Is this going to be me?” I doubt it. I will help but I will let my son get dirty. That is what kids do. We can wash up before leaving and go about our business.
I know I did a lot of flip-flopping that day but I think it was a good experience for me. I got to experience both extremes of playground parenting. I know I will not always be able to catch my son when he falls. I want him to feel comfortable to ask for help but I do not want to smother him. Although I would prefer for him not to drop from heights taller than he is, I have to remember that I did those things when I was young.
I was, and sometimes still am, covered in bruises. It happens.