Playground Chicken

I try not to involve myself in any of the parenting games that go on. The subtle comparisons, judgments and bragging that some use to try and validate their skills as parents. My pride for my daughter comes solely from her own accomplishments and milestones. I want her to be the best for her own sake, not so that I can achieve any sort of parenting “victory.”

Except for one. I refuse to back down in a game of playground chicken.

Summertime means getting back outside and active. My daughter and I always resume our Wednesday afternoons at the park. Our nature walks and “picnics” of cookies and chocolate milk.

It always amazes me how quickly she is able to find somebody to play with. Her uncanny ability to make friends in any environment. It doesn’t matter if it’s school, soccer practice, or a five minute trip to the grocery store, seemingly within seconds of our arrival she is chasing some other kid around. Sometimes I’m not even sure if the other child is aware of his participation in her game at first, but it doesn’t take long before they are holding hands and exchanging names. It’s great to watch.

It’s great to watch for a little while.

After a little while, that park bench starts to get a little harder, a little colder. Thoughts start to turn from the whimsical and philosophical to more mundane issues. Dinner, bath time, that six-pack of Summer Ale in the refrigerator.

I’ve found these times leaving the park to be some of the most challenging moments with her so far. Some nights she is hungry, hot, or tired and content to leave. Other times there is bribery involved, a promise of special treats at home. More than once she has left slung over my shoulder, hysterically crying as the other parents avert their eyes, knowing that any one of them could be next.

This is when the games begin.

Every parent knows that it will be infinitely easier to get their kid from the swing set to backseat without commotion if it appears that everyone else will be leaving soon also. As soon as that first call of “five more minutes” rings out, it’s echoed across the playground like the howls of coyotes at a clear full moon.

And so we wait, eyes shielded against the setting sun, determined that some other parent is going to be the bad guy. That we are going to be able to just shrug and say “looks like everyone is leaving now. All your new friends are going home.”

As parents, we are all in this together. Our time and energies better spent helping each other through these trying times, not tearing each other down for some fleeting moment of personal satisfaction.

Unless I can get my kid home from the playground without having to play the bad guy. In that case, it’s every man for himself.


A version of this post was previously published on ThirstyDaddy and is republished here with permission from the author.

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Photo credit: Jeremy Barnes

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