To be honest, I often avoid the park as a whole, at least during ‘peak hours’ as one might call it. My youngest finishes school at 2.30pm, making the 3 – 5pm a hotspot at the park, the Daily Gathering of the Park Mums, as it were. I just can’t do it.
One day, I cave; Georgia has to go to this specific park because So and So will be there, and we were supposed to play Unicorn Fairies of the Sand, and if we don’t go, what will ever become of me? I, of course, cannot allow my five-year-old’s wellbeing and development be so negatively affected as to miss out on such an event, so off we go, bottle of water and sun hat in hand, arriving into the fray of mums and their little ones gathered about in cliques throughout the grassy picnic tables and under shady trees.
Park Mums, I call them, looking around for a space to sit, preferably alone, not in the mood to make human contact, smiling and nodding a bemused, “Hmmm” as we pass each other. Georgia is off, squealing with delight and running wildly up and down the structures, my presence temporarily forgotten. I think to myself, ‘At least she’ll sleep well tonight’, and I take notes of what I observe around me, forever enthused by the social cues one throws at another, the way they mirror each others stances, and what their conversations are like.
“Anna!” One familiar mum calls out to me, walking over. “Come and meet some of the gang,” and off we go, meeting ‘the gang’, the fellow mothers in the park. They’re stood in the sand together, close enough to reach out and touch their kids, as necessary, their arms all folded across their chests as they chat away, occasionally pausing to admire their offspring, or, more commonly, to chastise them sweetly, with such proclamations as, “Sarah, that is a no thank you!” You see, little Sarah had been throwing sand at some poor child’s face, who was now screaming in pain, the sand in his eyeballs. No thank you, Sarah, indeed. “Bobby! Bobby, come here right this instant,” Another mother says, her voice measured and calm. She gets down to his level, and holds his chubby little hands in hers, “Bobby, do you think Paul likes it when you hit him in the head with a shovel? No, I do not think he likes it. Look, now Paul is crying,” They look over, and he most certainly is. No thank you, Bobby. That was kind of you to consider hitting me in the head with that steel shovel, but no thanks. Paul is clutching his head, tears rolling down his cheeks, looking at Bobby as though imploring, “Why, Bobby? Why me?” Bobby’s mum walks him over to Paul to apologize, as Paul’s mum smiles kindly, “Oh, boys being boys,” She says, and the two are fast friends again.
We return to our conversation, as it were, about home life, bed times, kitchen cabinets and minivans, things which couldn’t possibly interest me less, but I stand, taking on their defensive stance, following their gazes every so often to check on my little Georgia, who’s now galloping and simultaneously barking like a dog; the kid is alright, I figure.
“Oh, Matt came home the other day,” starts one mum, and we all lean in a little closer, imagining this must be juicy, “And can you believe, he suggested we order pizza for dinner.” Everyone laughed heartily, and I stood, uncertain as to what was so funny. I glanced at one, questioningly. “How ridiculous!” She chuckled, “What kind of pizza will be gluten and dairy free, and vegetarian, nearby? Doesn’t he know the kids react poorly to gluten? It makes little Elise frightfully hyper!” “Not to mention, Henry gets such a temper, right?” Adds another, to which gluten-mum nods, sagely. “I cannot fathom feeding my kids that garbage.” A collective moan of agreement, and I excuse myself to hide the package of Skittles I have in my purse, my Kryptonite to bribe Georgia to leave the park without tears on either side.
I opt to sit back down, preferring to be a passive observer of The Park Mums and Their Offspring, the running title in my mind. There goes little Johnny, chasing Peter with a branch. Neither of the mums react until Peter turns around and calls little Johnny an asshole, at which point mums surround both sides, chastising for using such filthy language, demanding an apology. “We must be at one with our emotions, Peter!” His mum kneels down, her eyes intent on his. “Do you not recall what we learned in last week’s meditation session, my love?” After letting him go back to play, she turns apologetically to the other mums, regarding her sympathetically. “Has he had any gluten today, perhaps, or any food colouring?” It would be a reason for this outburst. The others nod in agreement, “Hmmm” all around.
Finally, Georgia is filthy, her shoes more filled with sand than little feet, and she tells me she’s just about ready to head home, with the promise of Skittles en route. Some mothers raise their eyebrows. “Sure, baby,” I reply. “Hey mum? What’s for dinner?” “Well, I can’t be bothered to cook, so why not pizza?” Georgia is delighted. I have broken the Park Mum Code, and I’m regarded with scrutiny, whispered tones.
“Did you see what Peter did to Johnny?” Georgia asks as we leave the park. I nod. “What a douchebag,” She mumbles. I have done it all wrong, and yet I can’t help but let out a little laugh.