Why I'm THAT Mom At The Playground

by Kate Swenson
Originally Published: 
A mother sitting on a wooden bridge holding her child and kissing it on the cheek
Kate Swenson / iStock

I am that mom.

The one you see running around at the park, covered in sweat, and continuously redoing her ponytail. The one climbing to the top of the jungle gym and sliding down with a kiddo between her legs.

I see you.

I can see you out of the corner of my eye sitting with a group of women leisurely drinking your coffee. I see you watching me. We’ve bumped into each other a few times. I know you are a lovely person. You smile and wave. I do the same. Oh, how I’d love to come over and speak with you. And possibly even sit down and drink coffee out of a Starbucks cup and laugh about our kiddos latest preschool adventures.

I see your kiddos as my son runs by, every time dangerously close to running them over. They are the same ages as my boys. They are playing together. They are sitting.

You wave me over, and I just smile. I tell you “I can’t — gotta chase the little man.”

See, I’d love to join you. I’m not ignoring you. I’m not antisocial or avoiding you. Maybe you even think I’m a helicopter mom. I’m not any of those things. In fact, I’m the opposite. See, I have a son who has autism. He can’t communicate with other children. He is pretty clumsy on the slides. He can’t stop moving. And he doesn’t have any understanding of safety and danger.

So I am that mom. The one who climbs every ladder, crawls through every tunnel, and slides down every slide. I am always smiling and laughing. I’m the mom who is always communicating with other kiddos and motivating my son to keep trying.

I’m always ready to run.

I am that mom. The one who never sits down. I am the mom who longs to sit at your table. You see me running, and it appears that I am playing. I’m not. I’m actually pretty stressed. Leaving the house with a child who has autism is a challenge. But I do it. I want my son to be happy. And to be perfectly honest, I just need to get out of the house sometimes. I need to be in the real world.

If you knew me, you’d know that I am always wearing tennis shoes. No flip-flops for this mama, too easy to trip up when chasing. I’m also always in a tank top, even when it seems chilly out. I do this because I’m always sweating. I never stop moving, and after an outing with my son, I feel like I’ve ran a marathon. My hair is a mess, mostly because I am covered in sweat. I am that mom who never brings a purse. I can’t run while holding it. I don’t bring a water bottle. I could never maneuver my son while carrying it. I need my hands free at all times.

Have you noticed that in the few short minutes my son and I have been here we’ve climbed every play structure, crawled through every tunnel, and gone down every slide? We’ve covered every inch of ground. I’ve even cased the perimeter better than an FBI agent. I know all the exits. I know every danger. I see every object that could go in his mouth. I even know where the small children are.

I’m also ready to leave at any minute. I know that at any moment my kiddo might have a sensory overload and push another child. I know this because it happened to me before. I’ve lived it. I’ve witnessed strangers yelling at my child. And I can’t do it again. So I stay one step ahead at all times.

I know I look like an amazing mom. You’ve said that to me before. We chatted once when I was at this park with my other son. You told me that you don’t know how I do it. You said that the other moms are in awe of me. You joke that Cooper is keeping me in amazing shape. I can pick him up and throw him over my shoulder in an instant. You laugh that I don’t even need to go to the gym like you do. That stung a little bit. I know you weren’t trying to be mean, but it hurt. It made me feel so different from you and your friends.

I am jealous.

I see you having a picnic with your friends and your children. You are all laughing. I see your children sitting. I see them eating the food put in front of them. I am so jealous it hurts. What I wouldn’t give to sit down and enjoy myself. And even more, what I wouldn’t give to sit down and enjoy my son — and friends. If the situation were different, maybe we could be friends.

As I glanced at you, I looked away for too long and my son made his way to the sandbox. Oh, the dreaded sandbox. I watch one of your friends scoop their toddler out as Cooper sits down. At first, I am offended. He is just a little boy. And then I watch him pick up two handfuls of sand — one to eat and one to throw. And then I’m thankful she grabbed her toddler. She saved me an apology.

Kate Swenson

I am the mom who seems invincible. You say I inspire you. But there are some days I don’t know how I can continue doing what I’m doing. I slept terribly last night. I stayed up way too late thinking about new therapies, diet modifications, and giving myself a pep talk. Scary thoughts about losing Medicaid were trying to creep into my brain, but I forced them out. I can’t worry about that. I just can’t. I am tired today. I probably couldn’t even chitchat if I had time. I am conserving my energy to get my little boy safely to the car when I tell him it’s time to go.

We are so different.

I hear you talking about your weekend. You are going to a fair. Your kids are so excited. In a way, I am drawn to your life. You are me. I am you. Except we are completely different. We both have two children. They are the same age. And yet, you are sitting and enjoying your day, blissfully unaware that I am crying behind my sunglasses.

I want you to know that I often feel the most alone with my son’s disability when I am in public places like this. We are surrounded by people. There are children everywhere, running, screaming, and laughing. And yet, my son and I are completely isolated. I am that mom. And oh my god, it is lonely.

And just like that, my son is melting down. I need to throw him over my shoulder and carry him out. You wave at me as I walk by. I’d wave back, but my arms are full with a 65-pound flailing child. I really can’t hear much over my son’s screaming, but I think I hear you say, “Let’s sit down and chat next time you are here!”

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of a mom putting her toddler back in the sandbox. Maybe it’s a coincidence — who knows. And I look at you and smile and nod as my eyes flood with tears and sweat drips down my forehead. My arms are aching. I have the typical fleeting thoughts: How am I going to be able to carry him when he’s 10?

I look over my shoulder at you and smile. “Sure,” I say. “Let’s catch up soon. I’d like that.” We both know that’s just something we say. Unless you want to lace up your shoes and run with me it’s not going to happen.

I wait to lose it until Cooper is safely buckled in the car. I look back at the park and see the moms and kids and wonder if they are glad we are gone.

I am that mom.

This article was originally published on