We usually go to the park at least once a day.
This always provides a good opportunity for the children to burn off some energy and is an excellent opportunity to get our dog out for a walk.
When we go to the park, I need to have my eyes on our children at all times.
Because I have 3-2 year olds that run in every which direction, I tend to be a little paranoid.
I'm genuinely afraid something will happen to them.
Maybe they'll fall off the slide, topple from the climbing wall, perhaps they'll be the victim or offender of a fistful of airborne sand.
Like many other parents I know, my worse possible nightmare is that our children will be abducted. Just typing those words causes a wave of nausea to wash over me.
Because of my fears, I watch our children pretty closely. I'm also considering home schooling and am looking in to dual-citizenship for our children in Canada ... just in case the draft is reinstated and they come after our preschoolers.
You never know.
Charlie told me that I am a helicopter parent because I hover over our kids. I don't really hover, but I don't let them out of my sight and I don't like if they wander more than 20 or so feet away from me.
Today I decided it's extremely difficult to have my eyes on our children all the time when random kids come up and want to pet the dog.
And more random strangers inquire if our children are triplets and then stand with their mouths gaping when they learn that yes, they are all ours ... and so is the infant strapped on my body, that they oddly didn't notice until I pointed him out.
Then there are people that seem to know us, because they have driven by and seen us out walking. They know where we live, what our stroller fleet looks like and remind me that our children were dressed as pumpkins for Halloween in 2005 and chickens, last year.
What really surprises me is how many people at the park seem to ignore the children that they are there to watch. Perhaps they are talking to a friend, with their backs turned to their kids, or maybe they are engrossed in a book.
Or taking a nap under the shady trees.
Sometimes, I have no idea where the guardian is for a child that I see at the park. I just see children wandering aimlessly around jumping from one play structure to the next with no obvious supervision.
Today while we were at the park, there was a soccer game going on at an adjacent field. All the children whose older siblings were playing in the game, and who weren't interested in watching the game, had gathered en masse on the playground.
Within minutes of arriving, I was approached by a neighbor who taking me by the arm, insisted that I stand beneath one of the picnic coverings because surely I was hot, wearing a baby in the sun. This took me about 10 feet further from the children than I wanted to be - but since she was watching her daughter who is the same age as our trio, I thought maybe I was being a little too uptight. Very soon, she was talking to me about a cooking class she is taking at the local college.
While I stood trying to make conversation and watch our children play, I was approached by a little boy on a skateboard who asked if he could pat Molly. When I obliged, he started to tell me about his dog, a boxer named Lizzie.
In between hearing the best way to poach a salmon, I heard about Lizzie's diet of dry dog food and how she has full access to their 1/2-acre yard. Apparently, the vet thinks Lizzie is going to live for a very, very, very long time because she has good teeth and is in great shape with big muscles in her shoulders and legs.
Soon, another little girl came over and knelt down next to Molly.
A woman approached me and said she'd love to see the new baby. She's seen us walking around the neighborhood and thinks our children are adorable. She pointed out her two children - one who was playing on the swings, and her baby who was napping in a stroller at least 50 feet away.
I could never leave my baby in a stroller, 50 feet away, on a busy playground.
What if someone TOOK him?!
My eyes were busy scanning the area, looking for my offspring and also making sure that the baby in the stroller 50 feet away wasn't carted off by a guy dressed as the ice cream man.
William is on the slide.
Carolyn is playing in the sand.
I'm straining to see where Elizabeth went.
Feeling totally out of my comfort zone, I tried to politely ease myself out of the three conversations, by saying "Oops, excuse me!" and take off looking for my daughter. For some odd reason, I feel like I'm being rude but the reality is, I don't want to stand around and chit-chat when there are crazy people everywhere and obnoxious older children that are laying in wait to pounce on my babies.
Maybe I'm anti-social and over tired.
After a slightly panicked two seconds, I spotted Elizabeth trying to walk across a park bench.
I take up a seat on the park bench and ask her if she is having fun. She nods yes and then takes off running to join her brother on the slide.
Before I could join them, I am again approached by my neighbor and her daughter, who has found a balloon buried in the sand that she is trying to blow up. Her mother makes an effort to take the balloon from her toddler, but when the child has a conniption fit, decides that it's not worth the effort and allows her to continue blowing up the dirty balloon, while she fills me in on how to make a tasty hollandaise sauce.
Have you ever seen a 2-year old try to blow up a balloon?
There was spit flying everywhere.
If I wasn't repulsed enough by the child blowing up a filthy balloon that had been buried in the sand on a public playground, the saliva hurling through the air made me stand up, take five steps back, and thank my lucky stars that Henry had on a hat and I was wearing long sleeves because both of us would have been drenched.
Lizzie's owner comes back.
Now he's telling me about his riding lawnmower and how they're going to have burritos for dinner. Then his sister comes running over and says "Nuh-uh JASON. We're having TACOS."
An intense debate about whether tacos or burritos are on the menu for that evening ensues.
The mother with one baby sleeping in the stroller and one swinging on the swings, asks my neighbor and I if we wouldn't mind keeping a quick eye on her two children while she runs in and uses the restroom.
The soccer game is wrapping up and several more children are flooding on to the playground.
I can feel my stress level start to rise.
I want to grab and throw away the slobbery balloon from the toddler while telling her "ALL GONE YUCKY BALLOON!!"
I want to tell the bickering Lizzie owners that if they don't stop their fighting they'll have egg salad for dinner and they'll like it.
Instead, I decide that this helicopter parent is getting the heli out of there. But only after I move the baby from 50 feet away closer to where my neighbor is sitting, so she can see him when his mother returns from the restroom.
Maybe it's just me, but if I couldn't hold it ... I'd rather squeeze myself and our four children in to a park bathroom, the kind with no stall door and metal commodes, than leave them unattended with someone whose name I don't know.
I walk up to each of our three children and say it's time to go have dinner and take a bubble bath. Not surprisingly, I'm completely ignored.
I gather up their shoes that they have thrown off and tell them again it's time to leave. I walk away and inform them "Bye, bye. I'm going home!" Still, I'm ignored.
I load the shoes in to the wagon, attach Molly's leash to the side and walk back to my children.
Before I even reach Carolyn, she starts screaming "NO! NO!" NO!" I pick her up anyway, and with her kicking and screaming, load her in to the wagon.
Then I go after Elizabeth.
All of them are kicking and screaming. They are grabbing on to whatever they can - the swings, the slide, a tree. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but it seemed that everyone on the playground stopped talking, stopped playing, stopped breathing ... and had their eyes on me and my out-of-control children who clearly didn't want to leave.
Not even when I tempted them with juice boxes and chocolate teddy grahams - a true rarity.
It was at that very moment I had an epiphany.
Maybe I am too uptight. I doubt that anyone, especially a stranger, would be able to make off with one of our children without me noticing. Perhaps next time, I'll take a tip from some of the other parents and see if I can get caught up on some reading.
Or at least catch a snooze in the shade.