We’ve been going to (usually) one park and playground since before he could walk, mainly so he knows what it’s like to run and fall on grass, learn how to shove smaller kids out of his way to the slide, and not grow up with the chemical imbalance that NYC residents are supposed to have.
I work odd hours, so I’m able (and mostly willing) to take Ryan during the day, even if he’s developed every toddler’s Pavlovian response (i.e., freak out, jump for joy, drag unwilling parent to the side of a moving vehicle) to the ice cream truck’s bell. One of that ice cream truck’s cousins does a circuit around our neighborhood, and since we live on an upper floor, I’ve long had a fantasy about taking it out with an RPG, but that’s for another post after I refill my Zoloft scrip…
At Bowne Park it isn’t uncommon to see other fathers, many of whom don’t do the traditional 9-to-5 thing either. If anything, we’re worse than the mothers and grandmothers in that we don’t really socialize with each other except for a “hey” nod like back in high school, if we recognize each other from previous visits. We also tend to indulge the kids’ penchant for rough play, or borderline-dangerous climbing, that would probably get us in hot water with the wives – c’est la guerre, ladies.
Is Bowne Park perfect? No, it’s maintained by the city, with predictably inconsistent results, and there’s way too much concrete around the playground area. Still and all, it’s barely a five-minute drive from home, there’s a manmade pond with geese and ducks that he
terrorizes chases hither and yon, there’s a sprinkler that runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and he starts yelling “Park! Park!” when he starts recognizing landmarks on our way there.
I’m not Superdad but I’m above average (cue Garrison Keillor from Prairie Home Companion), which leads me to the whole point of this post. Part of comedian Bill Engvall’s act is his insistence that stupid people wear a sign, so that the rest of humanity knows to avoid them – well, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of candidates here.
The other day, pushing their grandchildren on the kiddie swings, were two old men, sucking on cigs in defiance of the city’s new (but alas, unenforceable) law against smoking in city parks. Full disclosure: I’ve been smoking since the Reagan Administration, but never around the kid, and I’ve cut back from two packs of unfiltered Lucky Strikes a day, years back, to one or two Marlboro Lights a day now. The two geezers were taking great care to not exhale the smoke in their grandchildren’s direction, like that was going to keep the second-hand smoke away. Funny how none of the other parents allowed their kids to ride the swings as long as those two old men were there. Here’s your sign.
Today, a man who should be banned by the OSIA for perpetuating faux-mafioso stereotypes (slick hair, gold chains plural, shirt unbuttoned halfway over a pot belly, Adidas track pants) climbed up to the slide after his granddaughter with a lit cigar in his mouth. Probably wondered why the rest of us evacuated our children like people on the Gulf Coast before a hurricane. Here’s your sign.
Last month I saw a mother spending more time tapping on her phone than paying attention to her shrieking kid. Said kid, maybe four or five years old, ran headlong into the path of the big-kid swings, with the inevitable crash. While many of the other parents including me looked on in a kind of playground schadenfreude, she calmly finished typing her message before walking – not running – over to her now-crying son. Here’s your sign.
Recently, I saw one of my own: Korean American, late 30s/early 40s, Ralph Lauren outfit, the kind of skinny guy with no muscle tone who looked like he’s never worked hard in life. I know, that’s harsh – sorry. His clearly uncomfortable daughter looked like she was ready to jump out of her skin, wanted to play with the rest of the kids, some of whom were probably her friends, but he insisted on doing multiplication tables with her on a park bench. What was she, maybe five years old? Will this really increase your daughter’s chances of getting into a selective private school, followed by shoo-in status when she applies to Yale or Stanford? Do you really want to inflict another bookwormish, socially inept Asian American cliché on the Tri-State Area? Or are you so insecure in yourself that you need to feel validated by ensuring your daughter’s future therapist will be able to buy a yacht? Here’s your sign.
Once in a while, we take him to the playground near my mother in-law’s store in Long Island. It’s your typical upper-crust suburb: husband commutes on the Long Island Railroad because wife needs the Lexus or Beamer SUV during the day, borderline-illegal nanny working for cash under the table subversively teaches the children Spanish/Tagalog/Cantonese/Swahili while wife has her hair or nails done, children attend elementary schools that reflect well on Ivy League applications. This isn’t a blanket indictment of all this town’s residents, but most. In any event, I usually get odd looks from the mothers when we go to this playground. For some it’s because of our race, but they’re far too genteel to say that; for others, it’s the questioning look of “why are you here instead of slaving 15 hours a day as a senior VP of something-or-other in the city?” I remember a line from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: take away their money, and all that’s left is their impeccable manners. One of them, and I wasn’t there for this, actually asked my wife if she was the nanny. Sorry, I can’t top that with anything besides “wow.” And these are supposedly the area’s more well educated people? Here’s your sign.
Finally, to you, Mr. I-feel-the-need-to-hurl-loud-F-bombs-on-my-cell-phone-near-children-in-Bowne-Park. Yes, you, the guy gesturing like you were conducting the Boston Pops while cursing over the phone within earshot of a dozen toddlers, my son among them. Here’s your sign.