Playground Etiquette

Brookline Tab, August 2002

Brookline abounds with playgrounds, and although each has its own flavor, all are like little workshops for the town’s youngest to learn how to get along, and how things are done in the world. Issues like permissive parenting or instilling compassion come up constantly while children play on the Devotion firetruck or the Emerson pirate ship.

But we don’t all agree on how to do this thing called parenthood, though we may think we all understand the basics. We want our children to be good people, good citizens. Okay so far. We want our children to be creative, self-reliant, independent. But at what age? We want compassionate yet assertive children. Now we’re getting into more questionable territory. How do we achieve any of these things in the right balance, and not make the mistakes we may feel our parents made? What is right, in this day and age, in terms of the social mores at the playground, other people’s children, and other children’s toys?

You can try answering my plaground M.C.A.S. (Mothers, Children, And Socializing) and see how you would resolve some of these Solomonic situations:

1) Emerson Park is very Brookline Village, a mellow parent hangout, where you don’t have to bring toys because there are already park toys there (buckets, trucks, left behind for good). If one child (not yours) is hogging a park toy, do you get to tell him to give it up, if his parent won’t?

2) Is it okay for your kid to poop in the park? My child did not wait to ask while at Harry Downs Field one afternoon. We had to cut the playtime short,needless to say. How about “pee trees?” At what age should children be discouraged from urinating outdoors? Should Brookline consider putting public toilets in some of the playgrounds to prevent this?

3) While frequenting the Devotion Playground, I noticed that not one of the little kids minded that my developmentally delayed big kid played among them, riding the very little springy horse and dumping sand out of the sand box with the best of them. It might have helped that they were all from different parts of the world, this being Coolidge Corner. Should I then have to explain to the staring parents that it’s okay, he’s harmless? What about the reverse situation, like at Cypress Field or Harvard Ave. playground, where a sign is posted stating that a structure is only for 6-12 year olds, and you see a toddler playing on it?

4) Dogs, which are some people’s children: what about our leash laws? Emerson and Murphy Park on Kent are favored by dog owners, some of whome do not seem to know about our local ordinance prohibiting leashless dogs. How many times have we been assured by a dog owner, “Don’t worry, he loves children,” only to find that this refers to the dog’s favorite meals?

5) Once, while at Clark Park, a very busy urban park on Cypress, my kid was supposed to be on a park playdate with one kid, then someone came along whom he liked better. Was it okay for him to ignore the first kid? I didn’t think so. I encouraged them to all play together; with moderate success. They need to learn kindness, as well as how to have fun.

I’m not at all sure that we grown-ups have enough of a clue to be doing what we’re doing. My generation can be so hell-bent on enjoying their children that we don’t always remember that we’re the adults. We forget that we have to draw boundaries, make unpleasant rules. We can’t be his buddy, and that breaks our hearts. We are afraid to end up being just like our parents, when we thought we were going to be so different, so much better!

And yet— it’s too easy to judge someone else’s actions from the other side of the park bench. No matter what generation you are from, there are no easy answers to how to raise children –-and how to deal with other people’s. Per-haps we should simply start with acknowledging that it is not just our own children that count, but that we are a community. Our playgrounds may differ, but our goals should not.