There is a certain class of people out there who live in a world of dreams and dissatisfaction.
These feelings have little to do with life itself but remain rooted in the current condition and availability of their local city park.
What should be a centralized haven for city-dwelling parents and kids alike can sometimes become a mess of daycare buses, sticky-coated Slurpee slides, wild-eyed children doing Tarzan impressions and over-trusting guardians enjoying an afternoon break with their good friend Facebook.
In efforts to avoid the high probability of “park let-down”, adventurous city-dwellers are now exploring in neighborhoods and areas far outside their economic zones.
Now, I am sad to have to report this to all the fine readers of my blog…we are those people.
This happened merely days ago when we grabbed some Chicken Express and ended up at a neighborhood park surrounded by homes that would probably use our house as a place to store their pool equipment.
It was both nerve-racking and exciting at the same time.
You know you don’t “belong” in the traditional sense of the word, but having the opportunity to watch our daughter enjoy playground equipment without randomly placed chewed-up gum, carved phrases of profanity or smatterings of cigarette butts amongst the wood chip-covered ground is just too hard to pass up.
Here’s the thing, though…the problem is not with the kids.
Children do fine together. They adapt and everything is great as long as nobody cuts in front of them for the slide.
But then, you have a parent who wants to talk and “shoot the breeze” while you are both pushing your kids on the swings. And, eventually, casual conversation turns to neighborhood issues and the dilemma fully presents itself.
Remember, this is supposed to be a covert mission. I specifically wore my American Eagle polo shirt for this reason…to blend. (When you get to a certain financial level, even your casual wear should have some sort of sown-in emblem.)
We might want to come back and visit this park again in the future so I don’t want to give away too much personal information in case the HOA has bugged the area waiting for “park poachers” like ourselves to reveal we should not be here and give them cause to ban us (and our chicken strip/mashed potato combo) for life.
So, the only real option is to fake it. Thankfully, I am pretty good at this. I have been faking “goofball” for my entire life and the world has completely bought it.
Now, the trick here to be vague and just echo back what they are saying without giving the other person an opportunity to question or expand upon your answers.
For example, when the nice lady with the cute little boy starts to complain about not having picnic tables near the park/pool area, I would say, “Yep, it’s probably something that should bring up in the next meeting.”
When she agrees and does the thing where she is talking to her son but really, in a very indirect way, hoping to elicit a response from you, says, “Colton (I guess that’s the kid’s name), do you want to bring your gold-plated remote controlled helicopters out here next time to show your new friend Natalie?” you are getting into more dangerous waters. The best response here would be to shut down the kid directly with something like, “Wow, Colton. You have remote controlled helicopters! Natalie’s daddy flew hers right into some power lines, but that would be fun to play with yours.”
In this case, both parent and child should be thinking, the little girl is really nice and sweet, but the Dad is making me re-think pursuing this play date idea, and then things will go back to being nice and casual.
If, on the other hand, they are still as excited and the parent starts to talk about her schedule, the safest move here is to give your child a slightly harder push on the swing than she likes and use the ensuing fear in her voice to interrupt the conversation.
Pick her up (out of “concern”, of course) and whisper in her ear “let’s go get some ice cream” while walking away from the area completely. This ensures she won’t act like she wants to stay and gives you the perfect moment, now that you are yards away and still heading to the car, to turn and say “goodbye” to Colton and his mommy.
Either way, you have lived to “park poach” another day.