I don’t know if you know this, but every park with a playground has a window. It’s not made out of stained glass or anything, it’s made entirely out of metaphor. It only shows up when another parent with kids decides to also partake of playground activities, and it can absolutely shed a lovely light on the situation, or make you want to jump out of it.
Usually I’ve got a catchy name for things like this – but I don’t, really, for this one. All I know to call it is the “Awkward Parent Park Time Conversation Window.”
Let’s set the scene.
Maybe you’re a new parent. You’ve got this tiny wiggling human who can now crawl around or stand up, and if you have to pull them away from the DVD player one more time, you’re going to lose your mind. My guess is that, for you, the time is 10:15 am. The morning nap is long gone, and you’re probably running on four hours of sleep, plus a piece of toast smeared with the mashed bananas your wiggling human decided not to eat.
Or, maybe you’ve been at this for a couple of years. You might have more than one tiny wiggling human, and it’s probably 3:15 pm. It’s always 3:15 pm. When one kid is crying about ladybugs and the other one is asking you why boys have penises and girls have vaginas, and you look at the clock? It’s probably 3:15 pm.
You decide to go to the park. Burn off some energy. Find something to do that will occupy you and the tiny human (or five) until the next meal time.
The thing about the playground, especially on a nice day, is that there are usually other people there. Sometimes it’s a slew of families, and other times it’s just one parent with his or her offspring.
When it’s just one parent? That’s when the window appears, and once it appears, it begins to close, slowly… but not that slowly.
Basically, there’s a short window of time that you have to engage the other parent in conversation before things get weird.
It should be simple. It should be a “Hi! I’m Lauren,” “Hi! I’m Other Parent.” But it’s, for some reason, not always like that. Maybe the Other Parent is distracted by their kid falling off of a climbing wall, or perhaps I’m internally debating the politics of slide climbing. (For the record, I could not care less about whether a slide is for “going down” or not. I’ll say things like, “Oh hey, kiddo, you’ve got to go down the slide when there are other people here!” But just so you know, I dooooon’t care. More effort to go up = more energy burnt = easier bedtime.)
Anyway, whatever the distraction is, it can totally throw a wrench in conversation potential as that window creeps ever closer to shutting. If I’m on my game, I’ll find that sweet spot of time and say, “Oh, how old is she/he?” And that usually moves us out of awkward territory. Or you can say, “Ooh, are you happy with your jogging stroller? I’m on the hunt for one!” Or you can always resort to the weather. “Oh man, I’m ready to get out my sweaters!”
You’ve got to be careful with that one, though. Some people feel very strongly about flip-flops.
Like I said, you can usually put a stick in the window and hold it up with a small chunk of genuine small-talk. Not BS-type small talk, genuine small-talk. I am super-bad at guessing the ages of people’s small humans, so I usually ask. At one point in my life I was genuinely curious about jogging strollers, and I can absolutely tell you I’m always ready for sweater season… but people can tell when you’re small-talking just to fill the silence, and they don’t usually respond too well.
Sometimes something happens. Sometimes you say, “Oh, I love her shoes! Are they Old Navy?” and sometimes for some reason that was the wrong thing to say. Maybe Other Parent once broke his or her leg tripping on an Old Navy mannequin’s foot, or maybe Old Navy’s jeans make Other Parent’s butt look awful.
Sometimes nothing happens and you simply miss the window. I don’t know, but once the silence wins out, the window slams shut and whoever’s in charge of that business paints it closed forever.
And things get uncomfortable. And there’s no fixing it. And there’s a chance I’m the only person out there who stresses about this kind of thing, but I doubt it. And, to be honest, I have absolutely no advice at this point except to sneakily gather up your stuff and find your kid’s other shoe so that you can execute a speedy getaway.
… and also that, at this point, it’s probably all right to just let your kid climb up the slide.