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.

Favorite Parenting Books

Oh, what the heck. I do not like to be called a “Mommy blogger,” but I’m going to go ahead and give some recommendations for our favorite parenting books.

When our first son was born, I often turned to forums like babycenter.com for advice. I read online articles and discussion boards. None of them helped assuage my anxiety.

Finally, as I wrote in an earlier blog article, I decided to quit the internet, and to use just a few trusted resources. Here are some of them.

Favorite Parenting Books for Pregnancy

Getting email updates is fine (especially if they’re funny), but nothing beats a well-researched book.

The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy

  • What we liked: It’s packed full of research-based information, well-organized and easy to refer back to.
  • Not so hot: It’s pretty dry reading, but that’s about the only negative.

From Tiny Tot to Toddler: This is a free guide provided by the Quebec government to expecting parents, and is therefore not available outside of Quebec. The link might help you find out how to get a copy. It is FANTASTIC.

This is often referred to as “the bible” by healthcare providers in Quebec. If you have any questions about your pregnancy, or your baby, they often ask, “Have you checked in the bible?” It is CHOCK full of really useful information.

  • What we liked: EVERYTHING IS IN HERE. You can look things up by symptom, name, stage, etc.
  • Not so hot: Because it’s government materials, they provide ONLY official recommendations, and might frown on practices like co-sleeping, or other more “folksy” remedies or recommendations.

The Birth Partner, by Penny Simkin

Penny Simkin is a well-known US-based doula, and her book is for those accompanying pregnant moms. My brother gave this book to Chico to read while I was pregnant, and he found it extremely informative (especially the part about “very rapid labor”…).

Favorite Parenting Books for Newborns

Once the little one comes along, you’ve got a whole new set of questions. We continued to refer regularly to Tiny Tot. We also found What to Expect the First Year very useful.

  • What we liked: Well organized, easy to refer to, and often addressed the concerns we were facing in the right time frame (it’s organized by month).
  • Not so hot: It’s quite categorical, and can make you feel like you’re doing something wrong if you’re not doing what they say. It’s also got a LOT of information, which can be overwhelming, but I think that’s a common pitfall with these kinds of books.

With our Bug, we didn’t need to worry much about sleeping issues. He was born an olympic champion of a sleeper. Our Bear, however, gave us a bit more trouble on the sleeping front, and so we consulted:

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth

  • What we liked: It gives pointers that you can put into practice right away, and offers a variety of ideas and potential plans for getting your kid either into a good sleep pattern or back into one when they’ve gone through a transition.
  • Not so hot: It’s heavy on data and statistics, which is reassuring but also dry. That’s why there’s a handy “how to use this book” section at the beginning.

Favorite Parenting Books for Food and Feeding

BLW (or baby-led weaning) is all the rage right now, and we did refer to the book for some information. It’s Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. We did not end up going whole-hog, but did a combination of BLW and old-fashioned spoon feeding.

Again, Tiny Tot was an amazing resource for beginning solids. It has a whole guide for what kinds of foods to give, including portion size recommendations, etc. It’s got a chart that you can use to tick things off as you keep adding foods, and great suggestions for what to try, and how to prepare it.

Favorite Parenting Books for Behavior

As our Bug got older and we started facing the famous “terrible twos” and “threenager” phases, we looked to some books for advice on behavior management.

Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp

  • What we liked: It provides actionable things that you can put to use IMMEDIATELY, and you will see immediate positive results, if you’re willing adjust your behavior and try something new.
  • Not so hot: It’s SO AMERICAN, and kind of makes you feel like an idiot. But whatever, it works.

Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay

  • What we liked: It challenged us to think differently about how we approach situations, and was also immediately effective.
  • Not so hot: It’s coming from a very Christian background (assuming churchgoing, etc.), which is fine with us as we are Christian, but might not appeal to others. It also assumes that Mom is staying at home full-time with the kids, which is a bit frustrating, but again, does not invalidate the precepts of the book.

Oh Crap! Potty Training, by Jamie Glowacki

I’ve learned that potty training is a polarizing topic among parents these days. We had the attitude that potty training is taught, and that our son was ready to be taught when he was a little over two years old. We did not subscribe to the wait-until-they’re-ready theory, and wanted to help our son out of diapers as soon as possible, for our sanity and for the environment.

  • What we liked: This is a no-nonsense guide, with a healthy dose of reality and a great sense of humor. Her style really fit our parenting style, and when we approached potty training as a fun, teaching-learning activity, it made it relatively smooth.
  • Not so hot: I have trouble thinking about what is not so hot in this book. Other people I have spoken with don’t like the pressure they feel to get their kid out of diapers, or worry that the pressure of potty training will have an adverse effect on their children. In my mind, if you’re pressuring your kid to potty train, you’re not really following this book, and you’ll have an uphill battle to face.

The Best Parenting Advice Ever…

Usually comes from your doctor, close friends and/or family, and your own instincts. These books might give you information and tools, but you’re the one who decides what to do with them.