Home > City mama, dads, the playground > Not sure what to say about this

Not sure what to say about this

I was at the park yesterday with the father-in-law, his wife, The Husband, and The Child.

It was Sunday afternoon, a time I’m almost never there, and I didn’t know anyone. Mostly it was dads with older kids — 6 and 8 years old, instead of 2 or younger. And boy-howdy was it crowded! Lots of kids, lots of parents, some grandparents, just more activity than you usually get.

The only guy I even recognized was this dad — tall, tanned, kinda cute, wearing a baseball cap with the deep dome and sharply curved brim that I associate with frat boys back in college. I’ve seen him once or twice. It took me a while to remember when I’d seen him before. Twice, one afternoon, I was the one to pick up his kid after she fell down and was screaming. He didn’t notice until I pointed it out. (This came back to me when I noticed his son fallen on the ground, crying, for several moments before he finally noticed.)

He was there with two kids — a toddlery girl and an older boy, maybe 5 or 6. He was charming and played catch with my Child (we hadn’t brought a ball) for quite a while.

But later on, my step-mother-in-law said, “He’s looking for his son.” (She worked for 30 odd years as a daycare provider and spent her whole time at the park constantly scanning and monitoring the kids. It was just pure habit.)

And, sure enough, there was the tall dad with the hat, his daughter in his arms, his eyes wide, pacing back and forth across the playground. He strode across the toddler lot and out the gate and into the older kids’ section. Then out onto the street, eyes going up and down the sidewalk.

Now, I’d been sitting by the gate and I knew no child had left unaccompanied, so I called out to him, “What is he wearing?”

The father looked at me and I couldn’t read anything in his face. He said, “A blue fleece.”

My step-mother-in-law stood up, scanned for less than five seconds, then pointed, “Over there.” He’d been tucked into a corner playing with the kitchen sets.

The man nodded, walked to his son, and sat down.

Now, what strikes you as odd about my description here? Think about what you would do if you looked away from your kid and then couldn’t find her on a very busy, very crowded playground. I know what I would do. It’s what I do if I lose sight of her for even a moment in public —  I would call her name. And The Child is only 2 years old. An older child, like this boy, would be expected to be even more responsive to his name.

This guy never called out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since it happened and I can only think of one reason he didn’t call “Matt!” or “Tom!” or whatever. He didn’t want to be embarrassed and show any sign that he had lost track of his kid in front of people.

I feel like this must just be my cynical nature kicking in — there must be some other totally logical reason for him not to have gone with the first, obvious expedient of shouting the kid’s name.  (Neither he nor the boy were deaf. I’ve been around them enough to know that.) But I can’t think of one. Add to that the fact that this guy never even asked us if we’d seen him, even though he knew we’d been sitting right next to the gate the whole time, and I get angry.

He’d lost track of his kid long enough to entertain the idea that the kid was all the way out the lot, through the gates, and down the street. That’s bad. But then to put his pride ahead of getting his kid back….

Later, as we were leaving, we noticed a stroller parked outside the toddler lot, in the benches-and-water-fountain area. Now, a lot of people leave their strollers out there, especially when the play area is crowded. But this was a little different — there was an infant fast asleep in the stroller. I’d seen a man walk up pushing the stroller, with a little boy walking. I’d figured that the stroller was for the little boy and thought nothing of him leaving it out of the fence like that. But to leave a tiny infant without any supervision? I’m still wondering if we should have called the cops or said something. I could see the dad, playing with his son on the swings, but that was a good 100 feet away and he didn’t have a good view of the stroller — he couldn’t, not with all the children, adults, strollers, playsets, toy cars, bicycles, etc. in the way.

My opinion of Sunday afternoon dads has gone down drastically.  My opinion of my husband’s fathering skills has always been high but has been further bolstered by comparison. Am I nuts? Is this normal? I know dads are about letting their kids have freedoms that the (overprotective) moms forbid. But this seems just outside of enough.

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Categories: City mama, dads, the playground
  1. April 1, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Oh my. Frat-boy guy also should have THANKED you all for assisting in locating his son. Great manners there, on top of being so “socially concerned” with what others think of him. And I probably would have marched over to the father who left his infant so far away and reminded him that a baby was kidnapped from the hospital in Florida last week–WITH alarm systems in place. I would have said this ever so kindly, of course.

  2. Wendy
    April 2, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion. I don’t always call my older kid’s name, because even though she is 5 yrs old she doesn’t always answer. Sometimes she is playing hiding and seek with me, but failed to tell me. I, also, panick sometimes because I can’t remember what my kid is wearing, now that she dresses herself.

    Leaving an infant in a stroller out of view is unexplainable.

    I have full confidence in my husband’s ability to take the kids out without me and bring them home safe, but he does do things differently.

    Maybe this is why dads aren’t too friendly with the moms, because they are being judged about every little thing.

  3. C'tina
    April 2, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    A dad/man would wnat to ‘take care of it himself’, the thought of being embarrassed was probably in the back of his mind somewhere…but he may have been speechless from the thought of his wife killing him if he let one of those kids get abducted.

  4. aguane
    April 3, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    I have a slightly different perspective on the first dad as well (there is NO EXCUSE for the infant-leaving dad). I’m a neurotic person – it’s just how I’m wired and when I go somewhere with my son I’m constantly watching him. He’s 5. He likes to hide from me. So what ends up happening is I may be watching my son play and then the next thing I know, he goes behind a toy and “hides” and that’s when the neurotic part of me flares up a bit. I start frantically scanning to see if maybe he ran past me and I didn’t notice – I’ve been known to glance way farther than he could have gotten as I think to myself “oh crap, what if he went …” but I try and keep this internal dialogue to myself. The result is me scanning the area with a slightly panicked look in my eye, but I don’t call out his name. Why? Because I know that I’m neurotic and I know that he’s around, I know that he’s probably just hiding, and I know that if I give it a minute or two he’ll either pop back out, or I’ll find him.

    If someone asked me in the middle of my panic-strewn internal dialogue what what he was wearing I would probably think to myself “oh geez, now they must realize how neurotic I am”, as I stutter out whatever clothing I can remember of what he has chosen to dress himself in that day.

    And just to clarify things, I’m a kick-ass (if slightly neurotic) mom.

  5. April 5, 2008 at 2:09 am

    Interesting. It reminds me of an incident that happened to me several months back – by way of an extreme contrast! A friend and I had just parked in the pay lot behind Harvest in Central Square and were walking towards the tunnel out to Cambridge Street to go do some thrifting. Suddenly a woman came barging out of Harvest’s back door, clutching an infant in her arms and screaming a name. She ran down the steps, staring around frantically. My friend and I (both moms) guessed she’d lost a child and asked if we could help. She told us the kid’s name and that she was wearing red – we said we’d look and put the word out, and she ran back inside to check more thoroughly there. It was a farmer’s market day so we hurried over there to scan for a stray kid, and told a couple of the vendors to keep an eye out. I think we looked around that immediate area a little more, then went back in the store – and learned that the kid was just over a couple of aisles, and had been found very quickly once the employees started to help.
    SO: On the one hand, you could see that mom as totally overreacting. On the other hand, she did exactly the right thing. She covered her bases. *If* her kid *had* gotten outside, she’d put some friendly strangers on alert to start looking too.
    Dad #1 in your story certainly woudln’t have run outside and frantically recruited strangers to help find his kid. He would have paced the store, containing his anxiety, until he found his kid. And if the kid was in the store, or just outside in easy view, that’s fine. But if the kid was already around a corner, one way or another, then showing a little distress and asking for help could really be the wiser path…
    But I’m a mom. I don’t mind crying in public, if occasion warrants.

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