The Social Network

Among the many priority shifts required for parenthood is the sudden awareness of certain places you never even saw before. The most striking is my sudden awareness of playgrounds, slides, and fast-food jungle gyms. I don’t think I ever actually used a fast-food play-palace during my own childhood, and until recently I couldn’t tell you anywhere I’d seen one.

These days I can be flying down the freeway, notice one out of the corner of my eye, and slice across three lanes of traffic to get our little man some slide time. He loves these places, but the adult in me only sees the vile plastic, wobble construction, and mats which were probably washed when Reagan was in office. Yet these places have revealed something much more interesting and unknown; playgrounds of all kinds have their own social order. Adults beware.

I first noticed this phenomenon when visiting an great indoor kid-gym in Park City. Since most places are 2 & up, but our little guy is pretty fearless, I have spent a fair amount of time following him down the twisting tunnels. Other kids do not like this. I have entered their sacred domain and I am not wanted. In one especially tight space, as Bodie navigated a stair half his size, a girl of about six came flying up behind us.

“Excuse me.” She said. “Excuse me” She barked. “Excuse me” she almost yelled as I pulled Bodie aside and she darted past.

Technically she was being very polite, but based on tone and body language she actually said “Get out of my way.” Then “You’re not supposed be in here”. And finally “Move or I’m going right over the top of him.” I may have been the closest adult, but she was my superior.

It’s not all bad, of course. Only a cursory glance at any kid-world will reveal the girl with the mommy complex – helping random toddlers whether they like it or not. Once I nearly thought one of them was going to carry our little man away. He paused at a stair and she took it upon herself to hoist him up and then try for the next one. Never mind that I was telling her we were on our way down at the time. It was like I was on mute.

Apparently playgrounds are also not a place for contemplation. When faced with a new piece of equipment or ride it is never acceptable to size up the activity and then decipher your next move. The correct response is to hurl oneself at the equipment and if it should give you a gaping headwound then cry hysterically until someone else fixes the problem. I learned this because my son is an observer.

At the moment, our little guy views slides with fascination. He’s a big fan of fast motion and understands what slides do, but there are steps to follow: First, approach the slide. Second, with feet square and one hand for support, slowly lower yourself to a seated position. Third, move both feet in front of you – which generally takes a struggle because you sat on at least one of them in step two. Four, inch yourself forward on the plastic until you begin to slide. Five, enjoy. However, the impatient kid behind him has a far simpler routine: First, run like you’re about to ignite. Second, slide when the world falls out from under your feet. Contemplation only pissed this kid off. He sat behind Bodie, put his feet in the middle of his back, and pushed for all he was worth. Bodie looked at me and then him with a toddler equivalent of “Dude, what the hell?”. And when I grabbed my little guy and pulled him aside this kid hurled himself headfirst through the tiny gap.

So the next time you see an eyesore of bright plastic tangled into slides and tunnels, know that it isn’t a haven for little people but an incubator for the future’s social issues. And look close enough and you may see what’s in store for the kids involved.

NASA will probably need astronauts who are up for a good ride to Mars but would like an extensive checklist first. Kids like my son will be a great match for that.

And somewhere a destruction derby will need someone to grow out a mullet and commit vehicular massacre for a case of bud and a lot of “Whoo-hooo…”. I’ve met the perfect kid for that as well.


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