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Parenting, Where The Random Nameless Mom At The Park Is Your New BFF

You don’t even need names to talk Cesarian scars and frozen breastmilk stashes at the park.

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Two female multi-ethnic friends talking on a park bench.
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Once the gate of the park closes behind you, and you feel that rubbery turf under your feet, high-pitched yelling in the air, the process of friend-making becomes something different. This is no garden party. Pleasantries have evaporated.

At the click of the gate, my children scatter to monkey bars and slides, the youngest at my feet in the sandbox. The oldest is on a swing. He asks his neighboring swinger what his favorite Star Wars character is. “Boba Fett,” the kids says. My guy says, “Ok, I’ll be Kylo Ren,” and they are off, up a tree, in another world.

Who cares if they have never seen each other before? They certainly don’t. For the next hour, maybe more if our snack supply holds, that might as well be his Best Man.

I find a spot in the sun to stand. Nearby is a dad I saw yesterday at a different park; we give each other a knowing nod. A mom has her phone between her ear and her shoulder, pushing a swing with each hand. When the phone slips, another mom steps over and bends — an impressive squat considering the diaper bag on her back and the baby on her front — to grab it and hand it to her. I’m fairly certain the two moms don’t know each other. But we all know not to let the swing stop.

This is the park, where there exists implicit alliances. We are all here to ensure solid naps, to let the children use their bodies, to leave the house and take in some vitamin D.

This particular park, with its fence and its many structures, is a kind of heaven. My middle two are under the slide, calling out the names (probably incorrectly) of now-friends they met not thirty seconds prior. Did one of them just beckon “Clock”? Doesn’t seem to bother Clark, who comes running. I’m just glad they aren’t calling me.

Like the adults, they know why they are here: let loose, be wild, do the work of childhood and get your outdoor free play on.

The baby in the sand at my feet is playing next to — if not quite with — another baby, whose red curly hair matches that of the woman offering me a smile. I smile back.

Here’s how it goes: “How old?” she says, gesturing toward my youngest, who has patted her face with sandy hands, and is maybe now chewing on some sand, but I don’t intervene — I stay cool. “Sixteen months,” I say. She gives a commiserative look: “Molars?” She must have noticed the drool on the baby’s dress or the bags under my eyes, and I nod, specifying, “bottom.” “Yours too?” I ask, noting another wet neckline. “The top,” she says.

I pull a pack of gum from my pocket and hold it out to her. She sighs as if it were a cigarette, and we both chew together.

Ten words were enough to cover the thousands unspoken, the solidarity between the two of us. We could (and probably will) broach topics as indecorous as cesarean scars or preferred brands of flushable wipes. By the time I walk away, I will know how many ounces of frozen breastmilk are in her garage freezer.

I will not know her name.

This is the park, after all, and park friendships are fleeting. Grains of sand that could, alone, be a nuisance, but which are, in masse, a lovely beach.

Hampton Williams Hofer lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she writes and raises babies. Her work has appeared in Flying South, Walter Magazine, Architectural Digest, and Food 52, among others. Family aside, her great loves are a South Carolina beach, a Roger Federer backhand, a Charlottesville lawn, and — most of all — a good story.

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