It is almost 3 p.m. and I am standing around with a bunch of other parents waiting for the torrent of children to come barreling out of the school doors like a herd of screaming cats. Some of us chit chat idly with each other, some look at phones, some kind of stare aimlessly. It’s a fairly subdued scene, save for the slight hidden tension in anticipation of the impending barrage. Then the bell rings.
Some things never change, and certainly the end of the school day looks much like it did for me when I was a screaming cat in the herd. Like a river flowing forth from a burst damn, tiny people come streaming out of the doors, heads whipping wildly about in search of their respective rides home. Some charge off to the school bus lines, while other throw their backpacks in the general direction of their guardians and run recklessly to the parking lot.
Others, my son among them, greet their elders with pleading cries requesting playground access with their peers. Since I’m a sucker both for time spent in pursuit of physical activity and my son’s begging puppy-dog eyes, I graciously relent and we head around behind the school, my scion at top speed and me lagging behind with a newly acquired schoolbag.
The playground is ground zero for childhood, and these kids are anxious to spend as large a portion of their pent-up energy as possible before the cluster of parents at the picnic table finally decides we’ve had enough and it’s time to go home. They charge into whatever game they’d presumably created at recess earlier and just like that, they’re off.
As an experienced Playground Benchwarmer I know it is only a matter of time before the younger siblings that have been dragged along to pick-up will find something to complain about, and somehow in my seven years of parenting I still haven’t figured out the appropriate amount of snacks to bring to a venture such as this. So I bide my time as I commiserate with the other Benchwarmers about the nightly homework arguments and what new learning style has been introduced this year.
There was a time once, in the distant past, when I determined I would follow my son on the playground and do what he did, because I wasn’t one of those lazy parents that just sits around all the time while their kid plays. Oh no, I was one of those active, fun parents that likes to play with their kid and run around and swing on the monkey bars! I was able to keep up with him respectably for approximately three minutes, following which I collapsed on the nearest bench and spent the rest of the evening caving to TV demands just for a moment’s rest. Since that atrocious folly I have realized my place among the adults, and I stray no further from the bench than necessary.
This playground hierarchy, with kids rampant at play while parents sit nearby or push a younger sibling on a swing, translates to any and all designated play areas equally, I have found. There will always be a few guardians who get more involved, a few who remain aloof and remote, and the majority watching out of the corner of their eye from the sidelines. The Playground Benchwarmers are a stalwart bunch, braving the afternoon sun on an August afternoon or huddling around a steaming cup of coffee on a crisp November morning. Where there is a playground, we will be there as Protectors of the Peace, like mundane super heroes keeping an eye on petty criminals.
At the slightest sign of discord, the more alert and attentive of the bunch will call out a cease and desist cry, warning of the terrible consequences of non-compliance as the offending children pretend to listen before finding a sneakier way of breaking the rules. This is the way it has always been, and the way it will always be. One generation makes way for the next, but the bench will be forever warmed.
Finally the call has been made by one of the monitoring elite, and soon the rest follow. Momentum is a powerful force, not to be understated when children must be removed from a playground. Once one child has been suitably convinced of the need to leave, the rest will be much easier to persuade. It is imperative, therefore, the Benchwarmers work together as a group so as to avoid disruptive meltdowns and lengthy arguments. Slowly the playground clears out save for a few stragglers, and the sweaty children are led to their chariots to be carted off to the familial snack huts.
The Playground Benchwarmers have done their job, and the playground has been used and vacated without bloodshed or tears. Tomorrow is another day, and another chance at mutiny for the children. Against the Swingset Supervisors they stand little chance, however, and life will proceed as it has for generations.
I carry the bounty of second-grade math papers and left over lunch on my back as my son exchanges his last remaining potty jokes with his guffawing friends. As the sun sinks lower in the afternoon sky, we finally make it to the car and climb in, contentedly weary. All is right with the world now, as we head for home. Proudly I offer the bounty of Goldfish I actually remembered to bring this time, to which he replies that he has suddenly decided he hates Goldfish and is desperate for water, which of course I forgot to bring. Seven years in and I still have no idea what I’m doing.
This article was originally published at lifeoutsidethebox.me.