She’s standing there under my 3-year-old, arms aloft like she’s at church waiting for God to drop a truth bomb on her. Baby Bear monkey-shimmies 6-foot metal ladder.
“Do you know whose he is?” she asks me, almost breathless with terror.
“He’s mine,” I say. “And he’s been climbing that ladder since he was 2.”
She gawks at me. And then I know I’m doomed: She’s a hoverer. And unless I hover over my kids, she’ll do it for me, not-so-silently judging me all the time. Thanks for ruining my mama playdate, lady.
Because there are two kinds of parents at the park.
I take my kids to the park a lot. I do it for a couple reasons—so they can play with other kids, so they can negotiate a world on their own. They learn to test their bodies: Can I climb this ladder? If not, too bad—maybe next time. They learn to run and scream and make friends and do all those things kids do at parks while I sit and talk to mama friends. Because that’s what I do at parks. I talk to my mama friends and make sure, from a safe distance, that no one’s killing anyone else.
I take my kids to the park for a lot of reasons, but I don’t take them there to play with them. This, apparently, makes me unworthy of social services intervention—at least, to the other type of parent at the park. Those are the hoverers.
No bench-warmers, these park hoverers. They come to the park for one reason: to play with their kids. And not at a distance, either. They come to the park to coax Junior up the stairs and down the slide, to bounce him gently on the seesaw, and to swing him endlessly on the swing. No climbing up the slide for him. No testing tall ladders, or teetering near edges, or generally doing whatever it is kids do at the park. I wouldn’t know. I’m not 6.
The rounded plastic edges of every playground in America aren’t enough for these moms, nor the rubberized or mulched ground. They need to be right there, preferably with arms open to catch a stumbling tot. They adhere to age recommendations. And they ruin it for the rest of us.
It always happens like this: I’ll be sitting on a picnic table with a bunch of like-minded mama friends. One may even be—gasp!—knitting, while the most heartless harpy among us checks looks at her cell phone. A child—usually my youngest—tries to scramble up onto a platform just a little too large for him.
“Where’s your mommy?” I hear the high faux-nice voice say. “I’ll help you up.” And she looks around for someone to stink-eye.
This means that I have to haul myself up off the bench and spot my kid, because if he can’t get up on his own, he certainly can’t get down.
These are also the moms who hover theatrically under my children when they attempt to climb ladders, or scale rock walls, or swing from monkey bars. The helicopter moms stand there, arms held aloft, frantically looking for the mother to blame. “He’s making me nervous,” they might self-deprecatingly titter.
The hoverers strictly enforce park rules, the unwritten ones everyone else ignores. “Up the stairs and down the slide,” they say loudly and often. They’ll side-eye my kids until I get up and manage to say, “Let’s not climb up the slide, kids.” Even though climbing up the slide, as long as there’s no line, is half of what the slide is for. No sticks on the playground. No wrestling on the playground. No throwing pinecones, even when they aren’t aimed at anyone. No bare feet. No bare chests (hey, my kid got his shirt wet at the splash pad).
And no playing in the mud, which just sets a bad example, because then her precious angel might want to get dirty as well.
I don’t come to the park to parent. I come to give my kids freedom from parenting, within reasonable limits. I come to the park to let my kids explore. I come to the park to let my kids be kids.
And when moms stink-eye me for it, or worse, pick my kid up and put him where he can’t get to on his own, they ruin it.
Hoverer, maybe when your arms get tired from spotting Junior, you could try joining us on the bench. It’s nice over here in the shade, and we’re a friendly bunch. Maybe Junior will make some friends. Maybe he’ll run around and get dirty. Maybe it’ll be the most fun he has all day.
In the meantime, keep your helicoptering to yourself.