Lessons Learned From Park Day


Today is the last park day of summer 2018. The local public school started last week, but we homeschool moms like to pretend that we are free for a week or two longer. (Ha! We’re never free.) My sister and I (she’s the one that is actually a good teacher and knows what she’s doing) have been doing park day for a LONG time. I think we started when our 21-year-olds were probably 3? You learn a lot by watching moms at the park.

I’m what you would call a “free-range mom.” I’ve been this way for about as long as I’ve had kids. It’s just easier and more natural for me to be hands-off and low-stress. I can’t imagine the energy it takes to be a helicopter parent, and the kids don’t seem to be happier. Less is more is a win-win, right there. Still, I vaguely remember what it was like to be a young mom with ideals, schedules and clean laundry. My sister-in-law occasionally reminds me how I used to keep a journal of when, what and how much my oldest ate, slept and pooped. I honestly didn’t remember this.

Contrast that with one of our first park days last summer. We live in a tiny, rural town with a podunk city park. The bathrooms are abysmal, and they don’t always have them open right when our summer break starts. That’s always fun considering that we tend to stay all afternoon. Last summer, my youngest was about 3 1/2, and we were still new to potty training. (I bought my oldest a potty chair for his second birthday. That was dumb, and once I finally got him to stop peeing his pants well past 4, I never attempted it again. Changing diapers is vastly superior to dancing that jig for 2+years, but I digress.) He had to pee and rather than load up the kids and drive 5 miles home to the potty, I sent him to the bushes to do his business. Being 3, he dribbled a bit on the front of his pants. I spent maybe 15 seconds debating whether I would be a totally crappy mom if I didn’t go home and change him, ultimately deciding that maybe, yes, but it just wasn’t worth the hassle. It would dry in 15 minutes, and there was no reason to ruin our outing for appearances. I sent him back to his friends, and we had a lovely afternoon.

Moms judge. It’s a mark of insecurity to want to hold up our choices and ways as superior to others because, heaven knows, we feel anything but better most of the time. It’s natural, but it’s not nice. Parenting isn’t us against them. As a pretty experienced mom, though, it’s always interesting to watch this play out on the playground. I can always tell the moms that haven’t learned this lesson yet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not laughing at or mocking them in my head. It’s mostly a quiet and gentle acknowledgement that the lessons will come, and they will come out kinder and more understanding of the mess of motherhood.

I don’t remember getting any sly looks the day that I let my kid play in slightly peed pants, but we’re always checking for the disapproval, aren’t we? While I’m aware, it doesn’t offend me anymore. There’s a luxury to gaining confidence and owning your own personal magic. It allows me to make space for those mothers that are awakening to the fact that we’re all imperfect and we can ultimately control pretty much nothing that our kids do or say. I know you’re doing your best. That you’ve painstakingly brushed their hair and found their shoes and picked matching clothes. So, when you mentally decide to say “screw it” when your kid pees his pants and just stay and play, there’s room on my bench for you. I’ve been there, done that and have a stash of tee-shirts that I freely share. Consider yourself initiated, just watch out for that wet spot.

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