“You must not be from around here,” a mom said to me, as I watched my two-year-old whirl down the slide. I wasn’t wearing anything out of the ordinary. We were both in our mom gear. Dirty t-shirt and leggings. She had on a baseball hat and yoga pants. I had a sweatshirt tied around my waist. I wondered what about me looked out of place to her. I cringed noticing her blonde hair and even blonder child, thinking her comment was based on the dark skin of my biracial son.
She was right though. I had traveled a total of seven minutes from my house to arrive at my favorite playground located on Coronado, “the jewel of San Diego.” From the top of the play structure, a view of the bay wraps around downtown, boats sailing by on the sparkling water, at 9 a.m. on a Friday, my day off from work. I climb to the top with my son, and peek out the toddler sized telescope to soak it all in. The air feels fresh as the sun warms, distracting my thoughts from the pandemic that has kept my family sheltering in place for the last ten months. The playground is my escape from reality… or so I thought.
“You’re wearing a mask,” she said, taking me away from my ruminating thoughts. “No one from here wears one.”
My momentary feeling of relief shifted to flabbergasted. She admitted to coming to the playground as early as possible with a mask on to avoid the “regulars: who show up in their Lululemon, pushing UPPaBaby Vistas, coffee in hand with no masks on.
The playgrounds in Southern California were closed for months due to COVID. Months. My family of five has followed the regulations for our city from day one. Keeping ourselves “safer at home,” with three young children (ages two, five, and eight) in 900 square feet. Finally re-opened, the caution tape unwrapped the slides, the zip ties removed from the swings. Now, two sandwich board signs placed on the playground entrances had five rules for using the equipment. Number one being, “Everyone over the age of 2 must wear a mask on the playground.” While it has taken coercion to keep my five-year-old from sucking her mask, my two-year-old will wear his provided there’s a fruit snack involved.
A week later, I returned to my favorite playground. When I noticed it looked a bit busier, I checked the time — 10:30. I masked up myself and my child and headed for the sandbox. There were five moms with 12 children running around the small playspace. The kids were all dolled up looking as darling as children do in their mini-me jeans, baby Uggs, and Lilly Pulitzer floral prints. Perfectly accessorized. Yet not one had a mask on. Neither the children nor the moms. The “locals” had taken over.
“Do you all have your masks?” I asked in an overly friendly tone of voice. They stared back. One of the moms appeared dumbfounded by my interruption of their coffee hour.
“What do you mean?” one mother asked.
“It’s a requirement for the playground,” I replied.
“Oh, well we didn’t know,” she cackled.
We didn’t know? I repeated in my head. We didn’t know. I couldn’t decide what was worse. That she was lying or that she was being an asshole.
“There’s a sign right there,” I said pointing two feet from the entrance. “It’s a city requirement.”
“Well we’ll stay away from you,” she said, in an assertive tone, rolling her eyes. I wasn’t auditioning to be in her friend group and I surely wasn’t interested in their hazing. I was, however, being conscientious to follow city imposed guidelines to keep our community healthy.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t my first conflict or my last, regarding masks at the playground. What I have felt is a sense of entitlement — an “I can do what I want” attitude. In an effort to keep the peace and everyone safe, I now have a pack of disposable masks so when parents claim, “They didn’t know” or “I forgot,” I can offer a solution. An olive branch in the form of a PPE — and while 9/10 times, it’s turned down — I’m not afraid of an eye roll. You can roll your eyes at me all you want at the park — a mask doesn’t just keep my family safe, it keeps our community safe. We are amidst a worldwide public health crisis and COVID doesn’t care if you live in an exclusive neighborhood or not.
Perhaps I have unfairly equated privilege with entitlement, but then again maybe not. To those that aren’t helping the situation — I suggest you cover your smug face with a mask ’cause your privilege shows, and it’s not a good look.