Thursday, January 17, 2013

Playground Politics and the P Word

I know. Theoretically, I know that is it unacceptable for an adult to kick sand towards a toddler. Even if there is only a bit of sand, even if the other child was the aggressor, and even if nobody is looking. Forgive me for I have sinned while defending my son from a terrible-monstrous-no-good-bad-little person at the park today. 
I could not help myself - the playground is comparable to a lion pit. Imagine dozens of children running about in the park recklessly. Energized by their sugar-ridden afternoon snack, even their facial expressions are contorted and aggressive, like little demons of sorts. There are no rules and survival is determined by a combination of wit, strength and charm.
The social groups that have been created at school continue, in non-amorphous forms, at the playground. The naughty boy has been identified, the beautiful girl spotted, and the teachers pet branded. 
I am usually the only mom running, playing and laughing with her child. The majority of the caretakers there are nannies that also form their small clusters based on country of origin. For example, I see a group of women who all herald from the Philippines to my left. They cover their mouths when they giggle and wiggle around, unable to contain their simple joie de vivre. I float into the recesses of my memory and recall being a teenage girl chatting with my friends after school, wanting to simultaneously flirt with my companions and remain in my insecure shell. To the right of me are two separate clusters of African nannies. One cluster is composed of women who are conservatively dressed, with hair pinned back and faces bereft of makeup. They are shy and seem terribly unhappy. I try to listen in on their conversations but they normally stand together, almost like a herd protecting one another, but opt for silence as they stare into the park. I know that many of theses women originate from conflict zones and so their deep-rooted sadness and sense of loss is understandable. Near them stands another cluster of African nannies that are disinterested in the children but wildly animated as they engage socially. I ease myself onto the bench near them and, while pretending to be totally absorbed by my phone, listen to their conversations. Their hands rest on their hips and they assume as offensive stance, from their facial expression to their well-endowed hips jutted outwards. A large part of their salaries is clearly dedicated to their physical beautification rituals and I am in awe of the bright pinks, blues and reds that are used to paint their faces and color their hair extensions. Their jeans seems painted on their bodies and, despite the muddy environment, they wear stiletto heels. Smiling, I can easily seen them sashaying on the beaches in West Africa, flipping their panges about to the beat of the music they create within. Their movements and laughter are contagious and enviable but in Paris, in the 16th, their resentment for being taken away from their homeland seemed palpable. And in fact, to people unaccustomed to these vibrant peacocks, their profession could easily seem to be something other than that of child caretaker.
Other than running around the park with Cedric, I often find myself running behind trees in the park with Cedric. It is almost inevitable that as soon as we arrive to this pseudo great outdoors, Cedric needs the loo. And no, he is not doing the pee-pee dance.
As a side note, discussing what happens behind the closed doors of ones salle de bain is socially deplorable. It is almost as unacceptable to hear a friend discuss the ticklish yet pungent foot fungus that has begun to spread between her toes. Note however, that this social nicety holds true only until one becomes a parent. At this point - almost instantly - one develops a tick or an uncontrollable urge to share intimate details associated with both the digestive abilities and limitations of ones child. And yes, I refer to texture-color-size-and-frequency.
For some fortunate women, this tick already begins to metastasize during pregnancy when a woman finds herself discussing bloating-flatulence-constipations-and-itchiness. She discusses this with perfect strangers in highly inappropriate social settings. The handyman who is fixing her shower? The fruit vendor who is selling her apples? Or perhaps even people at a dinner party? If she is lucky she is seated next to people who can empathize with her dilemma. If she is not lucky she may be seated in between a gay man and a young-professional-perfectly-coiffed-single woman who both cringe at the mere mention of the world child.
Of course, despite the strikingly realistic description, this never happened to me.
I also never found myself in the park where my two-and-a-half year old triumphantly ran towards me shouting, poo-poo mama. The parks boast lovely manicured grounds, as well as well-constructed wooden trains that conform to European Union ecological standards but alas, they overlooked the fact that children - on occasion - need to use the toilet. Or are Parisian children simply trained to go on command? Please send me the manual! And what does a parent do when a bouncing and clearly desperate child is clamoring for a bathroom but the nearest café is a brisk ten-minute walk away?
One does what every rational – yet momentarily hysterical – parent would do. Hide behind a tree and, while scrambling at the bottom of your purse to find somewhat clean tissue paper, pray that nobody takes a photo of your son’s delightful bare bottom. And then, head held high, toss the used plastic baggie into the nearest wastebasket and giggle with your son who is extremely proud of his achievement.

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