29 May 2010

Welcome to the Jungle

It gets worse here every day . . .

(This one's for you, Schwartz.)

Recently, on a particularly rainy spring day, with the option of letting the Doozer play outside removed from the equation, in an attempt to stave off cabin fever, we took our son to a nearby, jungle-themed indoor play facility.

Side note: Where did these places come from? When I was a kid, there was the dinky play area at McDonald's, which was nothing like this. And a note to such facilities, the coffee bar for the adults on offer is all well and good, but really, a bar bar would be better. Just saying.

Anyway, so as his wont, the Doozer takes several long minutes to acclimate to his new surroundings. The vast majority of the facility is a large play structure for bigger kids with ladders, slides, etc. We steer him toward the much smaller 3-and-under area. You must be below this height, to ride this ride, that sort of thing.

So, he stood there, silent, almost comatose, watching, observing. Just when you're about to give up and say, Let's go home, he gets this twinkle in his eye (maniacal? Maybe . . .) and takes off running. Leading you to realize that your offspring is a monkey.

Parental instincts kick in as you watch him in a group dynamic. Some of the kids are bigger than he is and you worry if he can handle it. Maybe some of them are playing rough. So you do your best to relax and not be a helicopter parent.

Then it dawns on you that you are one of the only parents keeping tabs on your kid. If there was a pop quiz about which kid went with which parents, it would be impossible to pass. You begin to realize maybe that's why these indoor play places exist, so contemporary parents can indulge in their preferred laissez-faire child-rearing attitude. That this place is safe, so safe you don't even have to pay any attention to your child whatsoever. You can sit on your fat ass with your mocha-whipped beverage and your plate of nachos (By the way, really? What kind of combination is that?) and completely zone out. Have some "me" time, while your kid runs around, who knows where, doing who knows what.

And then I see her. Some kid's mother, on a laptop, engrossed, consumed, with her back to the play area. And for the entire 50 minutes that we stayed there (same duration as you'd spend in a session with a mental health professional, hmmm . . .), she did not once look up from that screen or scope out the place to determine the location of her children. And I realized that being a parent has made me really judgmental. Though I am frequently plagued with doubts about my abilities as a father, I spend almost an equal amount of time being full of righteous indignation and feeling superior to other parents. I mean, they just make it so easy sometimes.

Someone once suggested that a lot of things in life (driving, online dating, or working most jobs) requires you to take (and pass) some kind of test. And yet, any idiot can be a parent. In this case, you should definitely be required to take (and pass) a test and prove that you have even a shred of common sense to be allowed to rear a child.

The weird thing is, though, in some ways, being a parent has made me more empathetic. In the past, when I heard a kid yelling in a store, I immediately thought it was the result of bad parenting. I would pass judgment on that child's parent sight unseen without a second thought. Nice parenting, I'd think, sarcastically. What's wrong with that person? Now I've learned that it's more of a volume issue than a behavior issue. Just because a kid is loud in a store, does not mean he is misbehaving. Our son is loud frequently and mostly because he sees something he recognizes or likes and feels compelled to point it out to us. He is not misbehaving. He simply has yet to grasp the concept of volume adjustment.

But mostly, yeah, I look around and see examples of parenting that are sub-par at best, criminal at worst. I mean, when did people get so dumb? I really think we need to institute some kind of test. An extensive screening process to determine that you're an intelligent enough human being to be allowed to raise a child.

And not a multiple choice test, either. Let's make them work for it.

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