Playground Observer


Playgrounds in NYC tell many stories.

When we first moved here, one of the first things that I noticed that was so blatantly different than the Bay Area was the playground life. On the weekdays, most (7 out of 10) children are accompanied by nannies. Saturdays are a mix, and on Sunday’s there are mostly fathers with their kids. In the Bay Area, there are definitely nannies, but not the full-time kind (USUALLY, of course there are some).

The nanny culture is fascinating to me. Children that are basically raised by their nannies are SO prevalent here in NYC. Most, if not all of the nannies that I have had personal experience with were absolutely wonderful. I have seen some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful relationships between families and their nannies. Families that nearly adopt their baby nurse and she becomes a part of their family like a relative, a “big sister”.

That being said, I’ve also seen situations that made me really sad.

A 3 year old boy standing under the play structure, sobbing, not knowing where his caretaker went. Upon further investigation, she was sitting outside of the gated park so that she could be in the shade.

A little girl, also three years old, swinging on her tummy in circles on the swing set, over and over again. Then standing in a corner by herself, not talking or playing with anyone until we invite her to draw with chalk on the concrete. She has brand new twin baby brothers that their nanny is tending to. She also denies that she has any siblings at all, and runs away when I ask.

Then today, the most disturbing. We were at a park playing in the sprinklers, when a little boy stops dead in his tracks in front of us and starts screaming. He isn’t wearing any shoes and his feet are burning on the hot rubber ground. His mother is sitting on a bench, not paying any attention to him until we called for her. She nonchalantly walks over and picks him up without saying a word. An hour later, we are getting ready to go, and I see the same child (who can only be about two years old) riding a big wheel, wearing one shoe, following a man who is pushing a stroller out of the park. I assume it was his father that came to pick him up. Ten minutes later, a different man brings the child up to us followed by an older woman. He is carrying him, still missing one shoe. They had found him sitting by himself at the end of the road that the park was on. We motioned in her general direction, and his mother(I am assuming it is his mother but I don’t know for sure) was sitting by herself talking on a cell phone. Completely oblivious. Completely un-phased when two strangers walk up to her, carrying her frightened son. She then sent him off to find his other shoe and that was the end of it. Again, I don’t know this particular woman’s situation. I don’t know if she was this child’s mother or Aunt or babysitter, but I do know that she was in charge of him. I see things like this happen all of the time (not quite that extreme, but still). There is nothing for me to do about it because this is their life.

I cannot let a single minute pass without checking to see where both of my children are. And if I don’t see them with in those 60 seconds, my feet go numb and I feel the panic start to well up in my stomach. I can’t help but observe what the other children are up to. I don’t remember doing this at the playgrounds in California. The general population factor makes the parks here that much busier and chaotic. Like every mother does, I’m taking on the pressure of watching everyone else’s children along with my own. I was not the only one horrified at this situation, but none of us confronted her. One mother turned to me, mouth agape and said “He doesn’t stand a chance”. I wanted to say something to her, I wanted to tell the boy not to be scared. It isn’t my business though, until something really bad happens. But what constitutes as really bad, if losing your child for 10 minutes in busy Manhattan isn’t enough?

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