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Mama Said: Who said play parks were fun? They’re wrong

Emily Martin is not a fan of going to the play park

No parent enjoys a trip to the park, writes Emily Martin
No parent enjoys a trip to the park, writes Emily Martin

“Can we go to the parrrrk?” And they always say it like that, with the extra ‘rrr’, just to make it grate on you from the outset. I’ve been writing Mama Said since January 2019. That’s four years and more than 50 different subjects to do with having children. So, as I flick back through my old columns, I simply cannot believe that in all that time I’ve never once talked about the park.

I’ve written about birthday parties and tantrums and table manners and starting school and not sleeping and all along I’ve been going to the park and I’ve never said a word. So that’s being corrected today. If I leave nothing else behind as a legacy on this planet, I need parents of the future to know, when they dig up the time-capsule, that the way we did play parks was stressful and I was not a fan.

My problem with the park goes way back to when I first became a mother. When your babies are small and there’s not much to do except cry and watch TV you take them to the park sometimes with other new parents under the pretence that the small toddlers can enjoy the park and you could chat. Maybe get a takeaway coffee. Feel normal. Have a break.

But you’re wrong. The park is incredibly dangerous for your toddler. It’s full of metal rungs and extreme heights. There are lengths of harsh rope and sharp edges. Have you ever seen a child fall from a roundabout? I have. Have you ever seen a child get off a seesaw when their friend wasn’t expecting it and the seesaw smacks their friend in the teeth? I have seen that too.

So with all this in mind you have to obsessively trail behind your child, your coffee non-existent and your friend abandoned on the other side of the park as you follow your oblivious child up a cold, slippery, 20 foot metal ladder and watch them plunge to the concrete ground below. That’s called a “slide”.

Also the ground isn’t concrete is it? It’s that much softer material, BARK. Or often it’s tarmac. I once fell from some monkey bars as a child when my tiny hands slipped from the cold metal rungs. As I lay there winded and shocked in the pit below I looked down at my bleeding hand and saw a piece of bark impaled there.

The park is basically just scaffolding. But what’s even worse than the danger is how involved you the adult have to be in the whole experience. It’s stressful keeping them alive but also very boring. And to mitigate the boredom, parents try and shepherd their children from one bit of equipment to the next. Calling for them to come and try something else. “Come over here and try this seesaw?” And then as soon as they’re on the seesaw it’s, “Look! Come andhave a go on the swings! I’ll push!”

I suppose it’s naively assuming that once the children have been on everything, we could legitimately call it a day and go home. Or maybe moving them along is our stress response to all the danger.

And we never get to speak to our friend who we came to the park with and eventually they’ll wander over and say, “We’re going to probably go as Freddie is getting a bit hungry and he’s got a massive bit of bark in his forehead”.

I admit, once your child is old enough to do the park without your help, things do get slightly better. You can then sit on a bench and chat to your friend. But not for long because, if the park is busy, you will blink and suddenly you can’t see your child anymore. You’ll see a flash of a cardigan disappearing behind a pirate ship and say to your friend, “Sorry I’m actually just going to go over because I can’t see her...oh wait yes there she is, phew”. It’s more stress and new dangers.

Then there’s the teenagers. Your children at the park, but when they’re grown up and unsupervised. We all remember going to the park with our own teenage friends. Eating sweets that made our tongues blue and lolling around in large jumpers. Going on the huge tyre swing in a big teenage clump and swinging it high enough to try and make it go over the bar at the top.

Where are the parents of those teenagers, HMMM? And for the new generation of parents, there with tiny children just trying to keep them alive, teenagers at the park add more stress. You never know what they might do. And they’re probably saying swear words. And they hog the tyre swing.

Lastly, there’s the park equipment that just doesn’t make sense. The slide, the swings, the roundabout, they’re all self-explanatory. But there’s always something in the park that you can’t understand how it was ever ordered from the park planning brochure. An odd shaped thing with unclear usage directions that no one it’s intended for can ever quite reach.

I’ve run out of space now but I could go on. If you’re reading this from the future I hope you’ve at least worked out that tree bark is not always a softer alternative to the ground.


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