Invariably Margaret is the youngest child on the play structure, often by a good half year or more. I’ve been letting her play there since about nine or ten months old. Generally the other babies her age just get to go on the swings and play in the sand. Perhaps they are not such aggressive climbers as Margaret is and thus their parents don’t feel the need to let them get it out of their systems some place that isn’t the end table with the lamp on it. I get the distinct impression that the parents of some of the older kids who are sharing the play structure with Margaret think that I am nuts. Not all of them, but certainly the end of the spectrum that helicopters over their own kids has cast a bit more than a disapproving eye in my direction.
I’m pretty lucky in that there hasn’t been too much friction with the more protective parents, just a little implied criticism which I happily ignore. I in turn worry about some of the two year olds on the play structure, in particular the one girl I saw a couple of months ago whose father was practically on top of her, talking in a constant litany of ‘no, don’t, you can’t’. His daughter will no doubt be spared the bumps and bruises that Margaret collects (though actually, our safety record at the playground is pretty good), but I wonder how it will affect her confidence and such. Of course I have saved my personal disapproval of his style for this post, as even hinting at it on the playground would be unproductive. I certainly know he didn’t care for my less protective approach, as he lunged at least once to cover a ladder that Margaret was getting close to, and shot me a disapproving glance in the process. (I also refrained from pointing out that I can move twice as fast as a man who is half beer gut.)
I don’t like saying no to Margaret. I don’t do it unless she’s doing something naughty, like grabbing glasses or pulling on the tablecloth. Unless she is hurting some other kid at the playground, I don’t think I should be saying no there. The point of the playground is to play, and playing is about exploring and trying things out. To my mind, there should be some risk-taking happening at the playground, controlled, minor risk taking, where the worst likely consequences are a scrape or a mouth full of sand. I have seventeen years before I pack Margaret off and send her to college, I want her to learn to judge potential risks now when it involves playground equipment and not latter when it involves potentially more dangerous things. I want her to grow up with a confidence in her physical abilities because I feel that my own confidence has been one of my greatest assets. And of course I want her to have fun and exhaust herself, not me, so that I can do a better job of parenting her once we get back home.