Monday, May 3, 2010

My playground faux pas

I think I offended a playground mama. In fact I'm quite sure of it. She spies my daughter going up the slide and comments, "she's so cute!". This mom is with her son, who at that moment looks up at me, and I say hi to him, big smile, wave and all. But I don't return her compliment - I haven't made up my mind yet if he is cute. And then I argue with myself (in my head of course) - will I say her son is adorable too because she said it to me first, or is he really cute? (I have issues, I know.) Does it matter? Do I have to reciprocate? Is that the general etiquette? I'm really not stingy with my compliments but in this situation, it seems so forced. "So is your son" feels weak and disingenuous to me, even if he is cute (and he is, I finally decide).

As it turns out, that's a faux pas on my part. This mom stops further attempts at conversation with me after my failure at reciprocity. Feeling bad that my social skills failed me, I initiate small talk a couple of times. However, my 
How old is your son? and What's his name? are met with an icy one-word response each time before she moves back to her familiar fold of moms - the ones in their matchy-matchy outfits, with kids in boutique attire, in a little clique at one corner of the playground. They remind me of the Pink Flamingos from Grease, only less garish and with better hair (see, I do give compliments). A little further away are a group of foreign-language-speaking nannies and their charge(s), moving in smaller subsets based on the language they speak. And then there's the rest of us stragglers, sporadic in our playground visits.

Little Miss gets plenty of outdoor time at daycare; I don't feel like I'm depriving her of face time with fellow toddlers and the slide if we don't go to the playground every day. After a long day at work, and with only about two hours to do everything from bonding to eating, bath time to bedtime routines, the playground visit is a luxury. On warmer days it's easier to make it a priority, and so we make that three-block trek with the sun on our face.

So there I am amid these groups of seasoned 
playgrounders, with the occasionallers like myself. I'm not a sociopath, but somehow, playground politics is beyond me. When I'm there, it feels like I need to know the secret handshake to fit in. These progenies of the Pink Flamingos mostly play with each other with toys they bring from home, and my daughter, being the uncouth toddler that she is, doesn't know any better. She butts in, takes a toy, and the moms look at me.

What? I didn't do it! 
They're at a playground for cryin' out loud. They can figure out their own pecking order. I'm not going to intervene. And I'm certainly not going to say your kid is cute just because you did. Or is that the secret handshake? Or maybe I just lack common decency. Is that the real reason why I don't have many friends? Perhaps I am a sociopath.

Thankfully, while Little Miss is off by herself climbing, sliding, stealing playing with toys, there are other parents outside of these cliques who do give me the time of day. It so happens one of them is the husband of a Pink Flamingo, also a fellow occasionaller. Few minutes into our conversation about the parents' perennial favorite topic - sleep - he introduces himself, "I'm T, L's husband." I smile appreciatively, say my name and nod, except I have no idea who L is. Maybe it's the mom with the Blackberry in her hand. Or the one with the perfectly coiffed hair. Who knows? I guess I'll never find out.

That's OK; I don't care to either. Playground politicking is not my style. I'm just there to watch my girl play her little heart out. I suppose it all works out in the end.

Our foray into another (less political) playground - our favorite in the area - this past weekend.

(What is your playground like? Is there a social hierarchy there or anywhere else that makes you feel out of place? How do you deal with it? Do you return compliments easily? Do you mean them? What's the secret handshake?)