A week ago, I walked with my great-nieces to a park near their home. They recently moved to the area. There are three sisters, an 8-year old, a 5-year old, and the baby is 10 months. After settling with the baby onto one of the benches that ring the collected play structures, I settled in to watch the play unfold. That is what I do.
I was the only adult sitting on a bench.
The park was filled with adults and children. Parents were playing with their children, sitting opposite them on the seesaw, swinging next to them, running after them, climbing up and through then sliding down the tower structure. The children shouted, "Come on, Mommy!" and "Climb up, Papa!"
The sisters immediately got down to the business of trying to get the attention of the other children already there. I watched as the mothers and fathers of the other children positioned themselves just so, seemingly diverting their children's attentions away from my nieces' play signals. Maybe it was the bows and arrows they had brought with them to the playground ;) Anyway, that is how I saw it. Or more specifically, felt it. The years tumbled away and I went right back to that raw feeling when I watched my own children extend play invites that were rebuffed by children playing with their parents so many years ago. The difference is that now I could separate my protective feelings and see the play scene with (just a bit) less emotional cringing and heartstring pulling.
This is not a post about exclusion or about adults doing the wrong or right thing. Nor is it about co-oping or how our cooperative school scaffolds play. We don't have a bench, but if there was one, well . . . It is about a moment of reconciliation. There is room for all of us at the public playground. I don't know these families' backstories. This is a plain fact. Perhaps this playground time was the only time and place these parents could engage in what they viewed as "quality time" with their children. Perhaps this time, spent completely focused on a child, rather than sitting on a bench needed to happen just the way it did, because of custody sharing or work schedules, and how these adults view play and the invitations extended by these play structures and their version of fun to be had.
When my own children were part of the story -- this was not so easy to see. Let's not even begin to talk about what I thought other parents thought of me as I intentionally sat on a bench to watch my children play. We all must accept how others approach public play and leave room for both the bench sitters and the seesaw riders. With all those heartstrings untangled and with clear eyes, I was able to celebrate my bench sitting, give plenty of space for any failed attempts to signal play -- isn't it better to try and fail than not try at all? -- and understand that these other families needed to approach play as they were doing. I am sure if they knew my backstory they would extend that same kindness.
Vive la différence!