It’s a quiet, sunny morning. You have all woken up in exceptional and miraculous moods. You pour coffee into a travel mug while it’s still hot. You have the good snacks stocked and ready to go. You’re all dressed and teeth brushed and hair combed and you’re bouncing out the door, greeting this glorious day. It’s so lovely and there’s nothing to do but get out and live! You’ll go to the playground! The kids will laugh and play!
You make it to the playground and watch admiringly while sipping that piping coffee, basking in your obvious perfection to have made it out in such a manner. The sounds of the playground are music to your ears—squeals of tag, bursts of laughter, calls to friends from the tops of slides and towers. Your children join their peers, their voices blending harmoniously into cheer.
And then, there’s the odd note. The one that doesn’t quite fit the symphonic ring of the playground. Like a loud bell, one strong ding. It’s a bit harsh. You sent your children off to their games, let your guard down, and now here come the solicitors, of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and wares. They parade by, one-by-one, bidding, “Listen to my sales pitch. Let me tell you what you need.” The playground marketplace is open for the day’s business.
- The music teacher. She’s already rather intimidating, being much younger and cooler in appearance. She’ll sing to your kids and draw pictures with them too because she just loves it so much! Of course, she’ll expect to be paid handsomely for sharing her passion with you. Generously accept her sleek, colorful flier, but be sure not to look shocked at the price tag for her class. Yes, it’s really $100 per week with a minimum eight-week commitment, but think of all they’ll learn and how they’ll grow! At this point, no longer make eye contact.
- The modeling agency. First they’ll talk to you about your darling children and their big blue eyes and have you considered having them cast? Be wary of showing interest; but even if you don’t, prepare yourself to hear of all the numerous scholarship opportunities. These agents are smart, mind you. If you still haven’t bitten at this point, they’ll turn to flattery, which you’ll gladly accept because, you’re perfect today, remember? Graciously accept the business card with a glittery smile, and nod to them like a movie start dismissing her staff.
- The dad-on-the-prowl. It’s immediately time to turn down that charm. You’ll probably never be certain of this dad’s marital status, no more than you’ll ever be certain of his intentions. Maybe he’s just friendly? Perhaps he is truly interested in your thoughts on solid foods and sleep training? Probably he’s a sleazeball. He will inevitably be good-looking and be quite skilled in the art of flirting, and he will persist at carrying on long conversations with direct eye contact. The best escape is to be just certain you’ve heard your child calling your name. Run to her in desperation and beg her to play along with your coos.
- The advice-giver. Oh, I’ve been wondering where this poor child’s mother was, she’ll say. She’s not wearing a hat. Insist that it’s 60-degrees outside and entirely unnecessary. She’ll go blind, the woman will say. You must, at this point, give grace, no matter how enraging it is. The only exit route from the advice-giver is to swear you’ll take it under advisement and ask your child if she wants to swing.
- The ice cream cart. Of course, your route to the playground exit is blocked. You’ll have no time to say “no,” because this solicitor is sneaky. This solicitor has handed a drippy cone to your toddler without bothering to look for you or ask your permission. Now, at last, oh, here you are, and she’ll just insist you cough-up the $2. Exhausted by this point, it is permissible to teach the ice cream lady a lesson and confess that you have no cash, while tacking on [quietly] at the end that perhaps to serve ice cream to children without parental consent is a bad business model.
- The swing-people. You’ve made it to the swings, and the swing-people want to be friends. They’re fit, incorporating the motion into their workout routines, pumping two kids on either side to get equal tricep action. Swing-moms have a lot of endorphins flowing, and they’re happy. Too happy. They have projects and co-ops and groups and classes. And they want you! This is a recruitment team. They are looking for friends. Unfortunately, if you’ve already plopped your kid into the swing, you’re stuck. You’re going to be there for quite awhile. Silently wish you’d also gotten yourself an ice cream cone, plaster that grin on your face, and start the easy, repetitive motion of nodding to whatever it is the swing-moms are saying.
- The enterprising nanny. By the time you’re done swinging, you’ll be done at the playground. Your children are happy and well-worn, ready for lunch, ready for luxurious naps. And you will wear upon your face all you’ve encountered in the last hour, having been bombarded by the onslaught of solicitation. The nanny has been sitting on that green slatted park bench, quietly looking at her phone. She isn’t frazzled and the child she’s watching is so mild-mannered and well-behaved. She’ll see walk over to your stroller and begin to pack it up, speaking in low, even tones to your children so as to maintain your patience. Are you looking for a nanny? the kindly-looking woman will ask. Where is their nanny today? she’ll press, pointing to your children. At this solicitation, you’ll finally roll your eyes and bite back. Can’t I be a stay-at-home mother? you’ll say with sass. The nanny will reprimand your tone of voice, because that is her job. Then she’ll hand you her card or her cousin’s card or her friend’s grandmother’s niece’s card—inevitably the card of someone who knows better than you how to speak to your elders.
It’s a quiet, sunny afternoon. Your children are peacefully dozing in the stroller seats, sun guards pulled far down to block the lazy light and the city noise. They are sweaty and dirty, indications of a full day of play, indications of their happiness. You glance at them admiringly, slowing tipping the stroller up through the doorway of your favorite coffee shop, the place where the barista knows your name and also that should you speak your order, the children will wake. You raise your eyebrows and he nods knowingly. It’s 2p.m. and you’ve made it to mommy happy hour, after a long, grueling day at the playground marketplace.
Original illustration by Miranda Bruce for Well Rounded NY.