Let me break it down for you by the numbers: Our apartment is 980 square feet of narrow space that has a healthy amount of furniture, walls, and other obstructions. We possess 0 feet of unfinished basement or attic space that could serve as a play area, or act as storage so there was more space in our main living area. We also have 0 feet of yard as we are on the second floor, though there is a smidgen of uneven and unfenced grass in front lining a busy intersection that allows for limited play in the form of Henry trying to charge headlong into traffic and me hauling him back. Henry sleeps 11-2 hours at night, naps 3ish hours in the afternoon, and is almost 17 months old. There are around 9,786 unavoidable safety hazards in our tiny space and Henry has one box of toys. We have around 10 hours of wild toddler explorations to fill.
When you do all the calculations involved in the paragraph above, there is only one possible sum: every possible waking moment must be spent at the park.
We get out of the house as soon as we can, trying to only make it back right before his nap and then we often head back out afterwards until dinner. We roam the city, hopping from park to park, green space to green space, embracing the sidewalks and steps in between. I love this aspect of urban parenthood, love getting to explore the city and its network of children’s spaces, love feeling like the whole of Capitol Hill is our yard. I love being a park mom, and I love that my house can remain somewhat calm on the days we spend at parks, at least, calm contrasted to the rainy days where there are no words strong enough to describe the destruction a toddler can bring to a small space when in it all day.
But along with park life comes park politics, not because parks are full of kids, but because parks are full of parents. Behold, the 5 parents you meet at the park:
The parent who keeps their kids clean. I wish I was this parent, truly I do, but I am not. My kid searches out dirt and revels in it, rolls in it, dumps his crackers in it and then eats them right back up. And I do absolutely nothing to stop it. I want my city boy to get country dirty and the only place we can do it is the park.
The parent who is overly concerned with preserving their property rights. Ok, here’s the deal: parks are communist spaces. All resources are to be pooled the second you pass those gates. Sippy cups left within toddler grasp? A free for all. Scooters that are left inside the fence? Anyone can have a ride. Our favorite park actually has a bunch of partially broken pushable toys sitting around, which means every kid falls in love with one and thinks it theirs… only to have their heart ripped out when they come back another day and it is in the sticky clutches of another child. While I too encourage sharing if violent altercations are breaking out among the youngsters, I try to let kids work out their own things. But sometimes, sometimes a parent rolls up, their stroller laden with toys, and they are determined that their toys will not join the common haul. This inevitably leads to anarchy. What the Property Rights Parent needs to understand is that at the park, possession is not just 9 tenths of the law, it is the law. Your toddler cannot lay claim to anything he cannot keep in his hands. I will exert some effort to prevent my kid from ripping a beloved piece of broken plastic from your kid’s hands, but if you bring a Stroller Of Temptation into the communal space and walk away, I just might not stop my kid from pulling your toys out of it.
The nanny. Yes, not a parent. But if you hit the park during the day, you aren’t going to see many actual parents. Which makes the park sooooooooo much more chill. Nannies have just enough disinterest to let kids play without micromanaging.
The fun parent. They bring bubbles and balls and good snacks and play so energetically that sometimes I stare at them over my coffee and wonder things like how? and why?
The professional parent. I have heard major business mergers, interviews, and political intrigue go down from someone on a see-saw or sitting under a slide. One of the beautiful things about technology and a place like DC is that many people have options to telework sometimes and be with their kids. That is awesome. It also means that work and play intersect and merge in a weird sort of way. It’s tempting to judge the parent on the phone while their kid plays (though to be fair, being on a phone for nonprofessional reasons is every bit as common and not a smidge more “respectable”), and I did when I passed through parks before having Henry. But now I just see a parent, trying to figure out how to do everything well, probably beating themselves up about how they think they are falling short.
Because the nice thing about park parenting, is that we get to see each other doing it, get to see each other in all stages and states of this messy adventure of parenting.