Let’s Go to the Park (Today!): A Practical Guide

Yes, that title is a How I Met Your Mother reference, in case you and I are not on the same wavelength today. I actually went to the park yesterday, but you get my drift.

I was never all that interested in public parks until my days left the cubicles, and I found my behind planted firmly at home. You can only entertain small children within the confines of your own four walls for so long. Eventually, you will go mad, as the walls will attempt to close in.

Also, try to look THIS cool while climbing play equipment.

Since I’ve now spent three-plus years gallivanting around parks with my offspring, I thought I’d share some park-mama wisdom.

1. Take snacks. For you, for your kid(s), for other people’s kids (for when they try to steal from your kid). Though, make sure you get the OK from the other-people moms, or you may find yourself in an awkward “my kid doesn’t eat processed poison!” confrontation.

2. Brace yourself for confrontation. This may involve you whipping out your mama-bear voice to deal with miniature hooligans as they harass your child (such as pushing or throwing mulch). Or, if you’re feeling scrappy, this may involve sending passive-aggressive stares to a fellow mother as she scrolls through Facebook instead of watching her kid—the one throwing mulch at your precious angel baby.

3. Take more snacks. My kids assume we go to the park to eat Goldfish. Can I get a witness?

4. Get over any heebie-jeebies about changing a diaper in open air. You know what? When my kid is 15, I’ll make sure he keeps his clothes on (OK, maybe more like 6). And I’ll probably be even stricter with baby girl. When there’s a blow-out and getting to the nearest changing table means I have to coerce my kid off the slide (probably with sugar-laden gummy snacks), pack up the stroller, and hoof is down the sidewalk, Mama is going to start pulling out the wet wipes.

5. Talk about poop with fellow moms. Folks. This is gold. If you’re pushing your kid in a swing next to another kid and want to make a mom friend (either temporary or long-term), start with the obvious question: “How old is your kid?” Then, move right into, “Is he potty trained?” This will be a treasure trove of conversation starters until your kid lets you pull him out of the swing so you can schlep over to the bench and avoid all other social contact.

6. Take the spouse. We visited a new, large playground in our town. While it is fenced, I would’ve died trying to chase both kids. And, inevitably, I wouldn’t have had enough snacks, and there would’ve been a blow-out.

Another tip: Make your oldest kid believe it’s a super, fun game! to push his younger sibling on a swing by telling him, “This is the only time you’re allowed to push your sister!” before going to sit on a bench and stare at your phone.

7. Don’t laugh too loud. So, yesterday, a hipster dad talking on his cell phone (his 3-year-old son was wearing an identical hat to his own and matching skinny jeans) encouraged his 6-ish-year-old daughter to slide off the top of a plastic igloo. “Just slide down! You’ll be fine!” he said while covering his phone for a second. Well, she listened to Daddy’s sage wisdom and promptly fell flat on her face. I made the awkward mistake of laughing out loud, which earned me a mean side-glare from big Papa. (His daughter was fine). OK, I realize I sound like the villain in this situation, but I was actually laughing with the dad, as I have done this same thing many times. Then, of course, his son (who had been cruelly throwing mulch at Olivia through the igloo’s window), wiped out. This meant the dad had to finally hang up his phone call. I knelt down to brush off the mulch on Olivia’s shirt to cover my chuckle. OK, maybe this wasn’t my best attempt at a Christian testimony. My bad.

8. If you didn’t bring lunch, don’t hog the only picnic table! 

9. If the only picnic table is hogged and you need to feed your kid lunch, don’t hesitate to set your stuff down anyway. Share and share alike on the playground. And if anyone is huffy, look them straight in the eye and say, “Sharing can be hard sometimes, can’t it?”

10. Try not to be the helicopter mom. Yes, when your kid is little and may eat mulch, bite another kid, or fall off something high, you have permission to helicopter a bit. But cool your jets when your kid big enough to go potty on his own. It can actually be fun to watch your kiddo handle himself with other kids, and helicopter moms can be super annoying. But if those Other Kids try to pull something nasty and that Other Mom is too busy tweeting…get them rotors spinning.

I guess I could’ve called this list “The Lazy Parent’s Guide to Parks,” but I’m too, uh, busy to scroll all the way to the top and change it. I hope this list allays any fears you may have of visiting tax-funded play places.

My husband leans more toward the “let’s just take them outside and let them play with the flora and fauna” philosophy. I, on the other hand, align myself with those who build nature-inspired playgrounds. Give me a good fake, dead tree and some pretend rocks on some astro-turf any day. Less fuss, less muss.

Happy playing!

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