Tag Archives: playground

Seniors in Hotpants and Toddler Book Reviews

Tuesday is library day, which the girls love because of its set routine.

First, we load water and snacks into the girls’ backpacks and the past week’s books into mine. Then, we walk out of our neighborhood, pausing on our way to stare at the bizarre cacophony of objects in the Vietnam Vet’s front yard.

Doll heads, Snoopy statues, American flags, ancient tools in a gravel maze of cacti and rosebuds… to me, it represents lingering existential puzzles. But for Brontë and Bridget, it’s a Where’s Waldo of disordered beauty. They always point out something random before moving on.

We hit the boulevard where I always pick up Bridget and squeeze Brontë’s hand to cross the street. Knowing this, Bridget reaches both arms up as we approach, then pushes her face into my neck as we wait for an opening before trotting across. I set her down as we continue past the lost animal posters, the guttered fast-food cups, the place where the skateboarding kids’ skunk-toned air turns to jasmine bushes.

The kids greet the Jehovah’s Witnesses sitting in front of the library in flowered dresses and well-ironed suits, then they charge toward their respective book return slots. Bridget always goes to the left, and Brontë to the right. I hand them books to return until my backpack is empty.

Then we walk to the park to play before Storytime begins at the library. Sometimes we meet our neighbor there, but she was busy last week. So instead, the girls ran to the playground after immediately ditching their backpacks and shoes, as they always do.

I sat down on a nearby bench, trying hard not to judge the lady who was at least well into her seventies wearing short-shorts that just walked by because I hate those preachy 30 Things Not to Wear After Thirty lists and shouldn’t be so damn hypocritical. It was warm outside, so I should cut her a break, even if I’d never wear something like that myself. Even Jessica Simpson would have trouble pulling those off.

Showcased flesh aside, I was wondering if we’d have to drive next week because it would be too hot to walk when I noticed Bridget walking up the big, spiral slide again. Dang it… I’m always telling her not to do that because it creates a traffic jam with the kids at the top, but there were no kids at the top right then and sometimes parents have to pick their battles so maybe I’ll just let it slide.

Let it slide, let it slide… shut UP, annoying brain with your terrible puns. Climbing up the slide must be incredibly fun, considering how badly kids want to do it. Like a spiral mountain-climbing event. Aerial geometry. 

And that’s when Bridget started screaming.

I walked over confused, because she’s climbed up that slide a thousand times before.

“They boarded up the slide because the slide is hot,” the grand dame in short-shorts told me.

OH. Bridget’s freaking out because she’s trapped. That makes sense. I reached my arms up toward her.

“Come here, baby,” I said. “I’ll get you down.”

And then loudly, the lady said, “Well, she CAN’T walk down the slide because she ISN’T WEARING ANY SHOES!” (subtext: Only a monster of a mother would let her child run around without any shoes on).

Then, without missing a beat or pausing for breath, she worked up her most martyred-sounding tone and yelled, “I guess I’LL have to GO GET HER THEN,” before shoving me out of the way to reach the slide bottom.

Panicked by the sight of a crazed old lady in hot pants advancing upon her, Bridget shrieked before jumping sideways off the top of the slide into my arms. Irritated by the forced parkour, I twirled her away as the lady let out a frustrated HMPH! and one more “she WASN’T wearing any SHOES!”

“She walked UP the slide, didn’t she!?” I yelled back, wondering why the woman thought trying to cart a hysterical toddler backwards down a spiral slide wouldn’t be dangerous and whether she would later recount her heroically-attempted rescue of the poor kid whose mom wanted to boil her feet to all her friends, who would then pontificate on how social media and participation trophies ruined the Millennials.

Well, we made it to library Storytime, where the kids had a blast and learned all about the Storybook Summer Reading Challenge. If they read five books and log reviews into the website, they get to pick out a free gift book. If they read twenty, they get a SUPER READER medal with their name on it.

This is beyond exciting for my kids and all they can talk about. They want that medal. They’re hungry for it. It has their NAME ON IT.

It will be easy, since I read Brontë a different story every night. We always check out three books for Bidgie to choose from, but she always picks the same one… whatever one she happened to read first. Bonus points if it’s Dr. Seuss though, whom she loves, even though Brontë inexplicably HATES him.

For Brontë, I try to select a bunch of different styles and genres to open up her brain. I usually get a couple of weird ones to make her think. She usually loves them.

But not the one we read last night.

Sendak-nightkitchenIt’s called “In the Night Kitchen,” by Maurice Sendak. It was published in 1970, but looks like something out of the 1920’s: a little boy falls asleep, floats out of his clothes and into  the dough of three chubby bakers who want to cook him because they think he’s milk…

The boy fashions the dough into an airplane, then flies over a huge glass bottle of milk. Jumping inside it, he gets a pitcher to bring back to the bakers, who then sing a happy song about having milk for their cake. The boy makes rooster noises before floating back into his clothes and his bed.

It was mildly disturbing, to tell you the truth. I was curious about Brontë’s take…

Night Kitchen milk
Frankly, this creeped me out too

Me: So, what did you think?

Brontë: That was… weird.

Me: Yeah. I’m sensing you didn’t like it.

Brontë: No, because that little boy was NAKED.

Me: He was.

Brontë: And then he GOT into the MILK. Naked! I do NOT want naked boys in my milk, momma. He could PEE in there!

Me: True.

Brontë: Or even POOP!

Bridget: GROSS!

(The girls laugh hysterically).

Me: Okay, so in your review, you want to say, “I thought the naked boy in the milk was weird because he could pee in there.”

Brontë (very seriously): YES. Or poop. Don’t forget that part. I don’t want to see any more books about naked boys in milk. You write that.

Me: Okay.

And I did. Anyone researching children’s books in Sacramento libraries can now read all about how this one contains disturbing imagery of naked little boys in milk jars who could spontaneously pee and run everybody’s breakfasts. I can’t help wondering if that lady in hot pants will someday come upon it and spontaneously combust.

I also can’t help wondering if there was some deeper, more intricate symbolism in the book that both of us missed. That couldn’t have just been about being baked naked in Oliver Hardy’s cake, right?

Hopefully, Brontë will like tomorrow’s batch much better, but on the other hand, her negative reviews are much more entertaining.










Paper Tigers on the Playground

Picture a little girl, aged three or four, with long blonde hair and a pouting round face. Hayley’s forehead hair swoops to her right temple where it’s fixed with a tiny bow. The kind of bow you’d expect to find above poodle ears.

Hayley was already playing at the library’s Lego table when Brontë approached her. “Hi!” Brontë says. “My name is Brontë and I’m four. What’s your name? Do you wanna play?”


Brontë blinked at her before moving to the other end of the Lego table. She picked up a handful of rectangles.


I waited for Hayley’s mom to intervene.

She didn’t.

I took Brontë’s hand as we walked toward her little sister, Bridget. Bridget is two years old and feeling every inch of it. I don’t need a Bridget/Hayley collision happening where we’re supposed to be quiet.

We cross to the outside playground, where the girls run away squealing. Brontë heads to the swings as Bridget tiptoes up to a pivoting blue seat.

Toddler battleground
I notice the seat is much lower than it used to be, undoubtedly because too many children had been getting hurt. Kids sit on it then use their bodyweight to start whipping around. It gets going fast enough that flying off is inevitable.

Bidgie sits on it and starts leaning. It begins to move. She twirls in a light circle as I sit nearby, watching.

Hayley runs up. Apparently, she came outside too.


Bidgie stares at her in a slow revolve.

“GET OFF!” Hayley walks up to Bidgie, putting out both arms as she prepares to push the baby off her toy.

I jump up with a look that convinces Hayley to back away.

Bidgie turns fast and faster. My heart beats a little harder. She spins quicker and quicker until she’s nothing but a flesh-toned baby blur.

And she flies off the apparatus, smacking the ground with her head. Oh no…

I fight my instincts to rush to her aid. Kids are tougher than we think, but if they see you panic, they will panic.

No point in preemptive alarm. If they’re hurt, they’ll cry without being reminded.

Bidgie stands up without incident and walks to the neighboring ladybug car, scrambling inside. She grabs the handlebars and shakes as though she has spiders in her pants.

Seeing the open blue seat, Hayley wanders toward it.

Right as Hayley begins to sit, Bidgie shouts “NO!”

It’s an unrelated “no.” I think Bidgie’s just angry that the ladybug won’t take off, no matter how hard she shakes.

But it’s tough to say, because two-year-olds are fond of saying “no.” They like the power of refusal, the freedom of choice, the way the word rolls of their tongue. Maybe it’s just payback for having to hear it all the time.

It’s one of the quirks of being two.

Another quirk is believing that everyone is always talking to you. So when Bidgie screams “No,” Hayley freezes.

I notice it. Bidgie notices it.

Mastering psychological warfare on the playground
Hayley approaches the blue seat again. As she begins to sit, Bidgie shouts “NO!”

Hayley stops and Bidgie smiles.

Bidgie waits for Hayley to try again. Hayley looks around her before touching the blue seat with her hand.


Hayley screams, “BUT I WANT TO!” before throwing both arms above her head and running away.

It worked. Bidgie  says “no” a couple more times, curious if anything else will happen.

Then she looks toward her sister and nods.

Making Friends on the Playground; A Crash-Course on Social Cues

Who will be your companion on this ladybug ride of life?
Who will be your companion on this ladybug ride of life?

Humans are social creatures, and when you consider the crazy jungle from which we emerged, it’s easy to understand why…

No matter how many world-class athletes we churn out, our species is never going to get the gold medal for brute strength. Even a weak bear could wipe the floor with one of our heavyweight boxers. The scrawniest, most laughed-out-of-gym-class tiger could shred a clawless human in under five minutes. Our teeth are laughable. Our weak, mostly hairless, bodies aren’t even built to handle diverse weather conditions… One hurricane, snowstorm, or heatwave and we are goners.

No matter how many Ironman competitions we dream up, our strength truly comes in numbers. We put our collective heads together and figured out tools, weapons, shelter and fire. Our safety always depended upon being part of a larger group–being exiled in the olden days meant imminent death. This is undoubtedly why “fitting in” is so psychologically important to us, why we will jump on crazy fashion trends and scramble to figure out the latest slang (“See, I look your tribe and know what’s going on!”).

Anyone who regularly watches “Surviver” has figured out that winning is not about being the strongest, most athletic member. In fact, those guys are usually seen as threats and promptly voted off the island. The key to survival instead lies in being just fit enough to not be a major liability to your group while having the right social skills to make strategic alliances. Watch any season to see this theory play out. No wonder the desire to be liked, or at least respected, is so hardwired.

Social skills, however, are not easy to master. So many social qualities must be in proper balance: You need to be friendly, but not so friendly that you come off as needy or desperate (read: low status). You should be nice, but not so nice that you scream “DOORMAT.” You must be aggressive enough to make friends without coming on too strong. You want to be confident, but not cocky, unless you can pull off that cockiness well enough to look like an impressive Alpha (a high-stakes gamble).

The trickiness of social maneuvers never been more apparent to me than it has been lately, while watching my toddler confront the playground.

She is, literally, a baby in the jungle (gym). She hits the ground running, eager to not only tear up the playground equipment (toddlers have endless supplies of energy and will start chewing up the furniture if you don’t let them out) but also to make new friends. She sees other kids and her eyes light up like a Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. She wants desperately to bond with them, yet has no idea how to properly do it, and observing her attempts is painful.

Sometimes, she runs up with both of her arms starched forward like Frankenstein and tries to tackle-hug the nearest kid. This usually results in frightening the other kid, who runs away screaming while my daughter looks stunned and saddened. After this approach failed enough times, she tried running up and shoving another kid in what I can only assume was a friendly attempt to wrestle, but which had much the same result as the intimidating hug: the other kid panicked and ran away screaming, leaving my daughter Brontë looking confused and disappointed.

Having established these unproductive extremes, Brontë tried a new approach: attempting to join in whatever the other kids were doing. Unfortunately, her method consisted of running at another kid and grabbing whatever toy was in the other kid’s hands. This made the other kid suspect larceny and run screaming after his or her toy, which made Brontë think they were having a fun game of keep-away and she would then race in circles, giggling, until suddenly she found herself being yelled at by mommy and the other kid’s parents. Poor thing…

Seeing this all play out, I try to ride the line between giving my child instruction and letting her figure it out as she goes along. I don’t want to micromanage her, yet it’s hard to watch your kid run into your arms, sobbing, because no one wants to play with her. It brings up your own, deeply buried memories of social rejection and confusion. You want to spare your kids that agony yet know it is inevitable in the crazy, complicated process of human interaction. I’m guessing the best route is coaching her on the sidelines, comforting her when she is hurt, and stepping in whenever the toddlers get violent.

The worst manifestation of Brontë’s awkward social attempts had to be her sand-in-the-eyes phase. During that phase, whenever we were at a playground with a sandbox, she would walk up to other kids, who were happily playing with shovels and buckets at making lumps of sand and whatever else kids think is a good time, work her way into the group, happily play along for a bit, then… invariably… pick up a fistful of sand and chuck it square into another kid’s face. She would beam as though she had just come up with the best joke ever while the other kid would scream at the top of his or her lungs because they had sand in their eyes, I would jump up and yell at Brontë to NEVER do that, while the other parents looked at me like I obviously let my kids torture puppies at home, apologize to the parents, make Brontë apologize to the other kid, and march her straight back to the car.

I have no idea what she was thinking with this move. It didn’t seem intentionally aggressive. Maybe she thought that since splashing water in a pool is fun, splashing sand in a sandbox should be even more fun. Maybe she just did it because she’s two and likes to see sand fly in the air.

Whatever her theory was, it was extremely difficult to talk her out of it. She kept trying her Awesome Sand Move every time we went to the park, apparently thinking THIS time she would run into a kid with the right sense of humor to appreciate its genius. All in all, she probably pulled it and lost her playground privileges about seven times before she finally cut it out. Maybe it would have been quicker if we believed in spanking, but we are still trying to hold out on that.

Over time, she has gotten better at approaching other children. She sidles up near them at an angle, watches their faces for signs of friendliness and approachability, and slowly reaches out in more appropriate social gestures (like, “I like your shirt”). Sometimes, she makes a friend. Sometimes, they push away from her but do it politely. Sometimes, other kids are just flat mean. So much depends, really, on the personality of whatever kid she is approaching. Some are shy, some are good-natured, and some… I’m just going to come out and say it… some kids are just jerks.

There, I said it. Sometimes Brontë will be walking along, smiling, and some other little brat will run up and kick her in the head before laughing hysterically as she cries. I always intervene in these cases, because someone just kicked my baby, and there are a range of parental responses. Sometimes the other kid’s parents are apologetic, sometimes they have an inexplicably bad attitude, but typically they are too busy punching away on their phones to be aware of what’s going on.  Maybe that’s why the kid is acting that way in the first place, I don’t know. I don’t know how much of bullying is innate and how much has a logical, environmental explanation. All I know is that at a tender age, some kids seem very sweet while others are already downright nasty.

When my daughter gets kicked out of nowhere, punched, or otherwise rejected, she is heartbroken and I am livid. She sobs, and looks up at me with confused eyes, eyes that seem to say, “Why did they do that? What did I do wrong?” I look down at her, give her a reassuring hug, and want to explain that, well, some people are just jerks.

Maybe it’s insecurity or misplaced anger, or maybe a bad temperament, but some people are just plain mean. They like to bully other people just because they can and love to inject a little crappiness into other people’s lives. I want to tell her, “Kid, you didn’t do anything wrong. That guy is just a dick, probably  the same dick that is going to flip you off from his car in twenty years. That catty little snatch that just laughed at your shirt will probably grow up to make passive -aggressive comments about whether  you if you really think you need another slice of pizza. I’d love to tell you the secret of being friends with everyone, but in my experience, some people are just going to be jerks and there’s nothing you can do but move on.”

But not everyone is like that, thank god. I have, pictured above and below, the evidence of one of Brontë’s recent social victories. She ran into this other little girl on the playground. They started giggling and running in circles around each other before holding hands and playing on the ladybug bouncer toy together. Maybe they bonded because they both have curly hair, or because they are about the same age, or because they both share the same bounding enthusiasm, I don’t know, but she played with this little girl for about two hours and you can see the beaming contentment on her face.

Ah… isn’t it great when people get along? Why can’t we always act like this?

There’s nothing better than a shared journey on a beloved insect.