lonely-in-the-playground

Lonely at the Playground

How often do you see parents reading at the playground anymore? Or chatting amongst themselves? Or even looking at their phones?

Not much, I’d guess.

I’ve spent a few months in the US, and the experience of going to the playground is entirely different here.

In Germany, parents would congregate in one area of the playground. Grownups would stand around chatting with each other, occasionally helping a child out, kissing a booboo or intervening when children’s interactions came to tears.

Otherwise, though, parents mainly talked amongst themselves, leaving the kids to do their thing.

Here, it’s completely different.

In the last few months of visiting various playgrounds in our new town, the only parents I have chatted with have been almost exclusively Germans. I’ve only had a nice conversation with one American Mom.

Most of the time I find myself sitting on a bench by myself, watching my kids play.

The other day, I realized what’s happening.

Parents aren’t interacting with each other because they’re too busy entertaining their kids.

Longing for playground socializing

As a newcomer to the area, I thought taking my kids to the playground would be a great way to meet other parents. Not so.

Small chats do happen, and people aren’t unfriendly. But most folks are so busy with their kids that they won’t stop long to talk.

At first it made me wonder if I was doing something wrong or somehow neglecting my children. Then I looked around and spotted my boys, one happily playing on the slides, another dangling upside-down from the monkey bars. They were fine.

They didn’t want or need me to entertain them. And frankly, I wasn’t much interested in the monkey bars.

So now I bring my book

Perhaps it makes me look antisocial, sitting there reading. I try to glance up regularly to look around and see if there are any other parents hankering for a good old-fashioned playground chat.

If you see me reading at the playground, don’t worry about interrupting. Chances are, I’d welcome the opportunity to meet someone new.

Lessons My Kids Teach Me

Three times in the last month, my Bug has had a major freak out over a minor boo-boo.

The first time, he completely lost it and went into full-on meltdown mode when I tried to clip his toenails. Normally, this is a non-issue. He’s fine with it. But this time he freaked out, started screaming, crying, howling and kicking his legs around.

The second time, a large scab on his knee came part-way off and was tugging and pulling uncomfortably. We sat down for me to look at it. When I told him I needed to cut it off so that it wouldn’t hurt him, he completely lost it.

Today was the latest episode. He got a splinter in his hand. He trustingly gave me his hand to look at. When I told him that I would have to take it out, he balled his hand into a fist, snatched it towards his chest, burst into tears and wouldn’t let me near it.

He was paralyzed by the idea of being hurt.

Of course, there’s not much I can do in these situations. Either I wait for him to calm down (which takes forever, if he does at all), or I would have to hog-tie him and pin him down in order to do what needs to be done. Not an option, as it’s probably illegal.

As you can imagine, these incidents are intense, frustrating, and pretty traumatizing for both of us. And even though I try to stay calm myself, I feel rage building inside me the longer his freakout lasts.

And then, just like that, it’s over! The splinter is out, the scab is removed, the toenails are cut–all painlessly.

Someone throws a switch in his brain and he’s suddenly back to being 100% fine. Yes, there are tear tracks down his face, but he’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The child that moments ago was shrieking bloody murder is now gazing at me peacefully, a big relieved grin on his face.

But I’m still mad.

I cannot throw that switch and suddenly go back to all-fine-mode. I’m angry that he nearly burst my eardrum with his shrieking. I’m mad that he didn’t trust me not to hurt him. I’m ticked off that something so simple has become such a drama.

But he remembers none of that. He has moved on to his next moment. Probably a cool leaf, a comic book, or a funny fart noise.

Do all children live so totally in the moment? Or is it just mine? And how can I learn to do that?

How can I learn to let the frustration, the anger and the stress melt away to nothing? To move on so quickly to happier thoughts?

Is my inability to do this part and parcel of being a grownup? Is it some of the magic of childhood that we adults lose?

Or maybe, just maybe, I can learn to do as he does with practice. Maybe I can learn to take a deep breath, look back into his enormous, teal-green eyes and see that the bad moment has passed.

A good one has begun.

Back in the Saddle

One year. One WHOLE year. (Okay, maybe a bit more, but I’ll call it a year.)

That’s how long I’ve been away from this blog. If I’m going to call myself a writer, I think I need to actually sit down and write. Amirite? So here goes nothing!

Time has flown by so quickly, and yet so much has happened.

We left Deutschland. Much as we loved it, we had to leave it. We picked up and moved, yet again, and our situation is only stabilizing now after months of drifting.

Since May, we’ve been in transition. Transition and change are tough on everyone, but especially small people who don’t understand what’s going on.

Our boys, being highly sensitive, picked up on our stress and anxiety and made it wholly their own. Not in a good way. In fact, in a pretty terrible way (especially for our Bug who is now 4.5). We hopped from country to country, and then continents, and the only thing that was consistent was me. I was the only person they saw every day, the only stabilizing force in their little lives.

That made them cling to me like barnacles to a boat. What made it so hard was that I had to be their rock when I felt like anything but. It was a long period of change, doubt, uncertainty, regret and questioning for me, but I still had to try to provide consistency and routine for the boys.

There’s the old line, “Fake it until you make it.” I think the last few months have proved that true for me. Faking it was me trying to impose routine and regularity by keeping to a rough daily schedule of activities, meals and naps. Amidst all the chaos, I did my best to normalize things for them. While I admit I could have done a lot better, I could also have done A LOT worse.

Now that we have our own space, the boys are in school, and we’re settling into a routine, I feel like we’ve made it. The boys are thriving, which is always gratifying to see.

Whether I’ve “made it” or not is still up in the air. But I’ve written enough for today. Let’s see if I can keep this up and write a little bit each week. Wish me luck!