Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beware the Babydoll Stroller Trap: "borrowing" toys at the playground

Big debate on the old parkslopeparents listserv this week about kids "borrowing" other kids' toys at the playground. I feel like the use of quotation marks in this instance is kind of aggravating, a way of not saying what the poster wants to say outright which is, "stealing." So let's dispense with them altogether and make the question on the table: what the hell do you do when you take your kid to the playground with some toys and other kids you don't know grab them away and play with them, without involving your kid?

a lot of people posted saying, "You are not alone. This happens to me all the time and hordes of toy-crazed children spring upon my kids' precious possessions, tearing pages in books, spilling all the bubbles out of the bottle, slurping juice boxes dry and scattering Goldfish to the wind. I am at my wit's end! I just want to enjoy a peaceful afternoon with my children!"

If you think you're going to enjoy a peaceful afternoon at the playground, well, that's already your first mistake.

A lot of other people wrote, saying, "I'm the bumbling mom who never remembers to bring toys or snacks and so its usually my kids who are doing the borrowing and though I do try to make sure they ask permission first, it is a public space and we are happy to offer up our own booty for the common good."

Easy for you to say, bumbling mom, you've already said you never bring jack.

I am neither the bumbling mom type or the I-just-want-to-enjoy-this-precious-time-with-my-kids type (I have more than enough precious time to go around). I do usually bring something in our bag, some Avatar figure from McDonald Happy Meals, a pail, maybe a soccer ball if I eel super motivated, but thankfully, because our stuff is so sub-par and boring, no one ever seems to want to play with it. I tell my kids that if they leave the stuff out, someone is totally going to snatch it away and since I have enough to do taking care of them, I can't serve as a Bounty Hunter to boot. This is particularly an important lesson for Sec, who thinks there is an invisible coterie of butlers following her around to pick up whatever food and toys and clothing items she drops to the ground as she goes through the world with nary a care.

Once, in the spring, she had this BRAND-NEW rubber dragon she'd earned as a reward for some activity normal children do without the aid of bribes, like sleeping or walking or eating dinner, and she brought it to the playground where she promptly dropped it and it was, of course, immediately re-possessed by some other dragon-loving child. She was so terrifically distraught that Primo and I both helped her scour the playground for a good 15 minutes but it was long gone. She still talks about losing the dragon, about once a week. She'll wax rhapsodic: "Remember that red rubber dragon I loved so very much? And how I brought it to the playground and it was lost FOREVER???" Maybe next time, she won't make the same mistake. I mean, probably she will, but we can only hope. I don't really fault the kid who grabbed it. Its New York City and there are lots of instances of treasure trash left abandoned in public places.

If the item is something large and kind of expensive, like a scooter or a bike, I stash it way in a corner and keep an eye on it and woe betide the kid that tries to take that shit without asking. I don't have the disposable income to replae a scooter or a bike, even the second-hand variety, so unless I've got your mom's phone number, you won't be borrowing that stuff anytime soon.

But, I'd like to point out, what's good for the goose is good for the gander and I never let my kids play with other people's toys without asking. We call that getting all Grabby Grabberson in our house and I can't stand it. What are we, a bunch of animals here? Sharing is an important skill but so is impulse control and learning not to act like Conan the Barbarian. Unless Sec or Primo can get a verbal OK from the owner, they leave the tempting stuff where it is. That's private property, people.

In general though, I find my kids have outgrown this problem and its really only an issue for the 1-3 year old set. I remember those days pretty clearly and I will say this:


Unless you are willing to sustain a public nervous breakdown, never, ever, EVER bring a babydoll stroller to a toddler playground. Do not do it. I don't care HOW much your 2 year-old wants to push that stroller in the great outdoors. I don't care how much she cries or begs or pleads. Trying to keep the peace around a babydoll stroller in a Tot Lot is a job much too big for most of us mortals. Those toddlers are DERANGED for baby doll strollers: doesn't matter if they are girls or boys, doesn't matter what condition the stroller is it. Could have a wheel missing and the seat ripped out, if that thing will move when you push it, they will go bananas and will stop at nothing to get their chubby little fists around the handlebars. Even if your child keeps a tight hold of it, it will not matter. Throngs of covetous toddlers, probably with much better strollers of their own at home or possibly even in their real stroller baskets, will lay hands on the stroller, will wrestle your child's fingers off, will cry and scream and carry on until either they get a turn or their caregiver carts them away for a nap. If you do force your tot to give them a turn, you can believe her temper tantrum will match the one they were heating up to have. There is no solution which doesn't involve drinking a box of wine when you get home. Just don't do it. Ever. If no one brought babydoll strollers, imagine how peaceful the toddler playgrounds would be.

That's what I've got to say on the subject. Feel free to spread the word about the No BabyDoll Stroller Iniative. Circulate a petition. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world can live as one.