OR: Why You Are Irritating Me
Let me preface this rant with a statement - The upcoming diatribe is purely my opinion. As a human adult, I have my very own opinion. It may or may not differ from yours. If you feel strongly about your differing opinion, please feel free to let me know.
The weather here has finally rounded the corner from winter to spring! Sap is rising in our plants and our spirits. Lily Ruth has re-fallen in love with a neighborhood playground. It is an easy walk away from our house, and if no one else is around, Dottie Dog can run a few leash-free laps around the adjoining baseball field.
A few days ago, I decided to attempt to circumvent an Arsenic Hour tantrum by taking a late afternoon walk to the playground. I loaded Alec D into the stroller, harnessed up the dog, and passed out sunglasses. Away we went. As we approached the park, we noticed that it was BUSY. Soccer practice on the grass. Picnic-ers and barbeque-ers around the tables, kiddos swarming over the playground equipment. In short, the logical occupancy expectation of a neighborhood park on a gorgeous spring afternoon.
Here's where part one of my rant begins. As we entered the park via the only opening that a stroller can fit through on that particular side, a couple of young ladies were throwing a ball for a unleashed young and very large dog. As I struggled across the grass with a stroller, an excited dog and a petulant four-year-old, the ladies allowed their (illegally) unleashed dog to bound over and tackle my dog. Now, Dottie is an excellent dog who ADORES playing with other dogs, but she is young and a bit small, and if she doesn't feel dominant, she starts snapping - an issue that we intend to address with a trainer as soon as we can afford one. SO, while I am attempting to keep my young children from being bowled over by a dog interaction that is not going well, I am also being wrapped in my dog's (required BY LAW) leash. After a few half-hearted rounds of calling their dog's name, the girls finally make their way over to us and haul their dog off of mine. At this point it becomes evident that they have not even brought a leash for their dog. They simply wait until we are 'far enough' away, then let their dog go again.
Now, I am all for having a well trained dog. I understand their pride in the temperament and obedience of their dog. Don't all dog owners ultimately wish for a perfect pooch who walks calmly by your side without the burden of a leash and responds instantly to hand signals and quiet commands? It sure would be nice... But the truth is, even if your dog is perfect, you have NO IDEA what any other dog is like. What if the dog your dog approaches off-leash has aggression issues? What if Dottie had been abused and the interaction really scared her? This is not a dog park. It is a people park. What if your rambunctious, good-natured pup had inadvertently caused injury to one of my kids or to my dog because you wish the rules were different?
Ugh. Then I spent our entire park visit hauling on Dottie's leash as she whined and pulled trying desperately to get over to the unleashed dog... who was eventually joined by two other unleashed dogs. All of those dogs got to romp and play. Dottie got to wish.
Ready for part two? Absentee playground parents. Last week, a friend's three-year-old girl harassed on a playground by several six and seven-year-old boys acting as a pack and who's parents made not one appearance. That is one type of hands-off parenting that irritates me. Yes, let your kids run and play and figure stuff out for them selves, but watch them. Do not allow their freedom to include bullying. How is that ever o.k.?
Our experience didn't involve bullying, but it made me a bit more sad. Kids so starved for parental attention that they cling limpet-like to any available adult. As soon as we entered the playground, the circling started. Not at all unusual - kids are curious. They clock each new arrival and gauge the potential for interaction. I started to unbuckle Alec from the stroller, and a young boy (possibly 3 or 4, but big for his age) ran up and started to pull all of the toys from Alec's hands and lap. He proceeded to shake, prod and attempt to 'open' each one. Then the kid turns and starts poking at the dog. All of this happened in less than 10 seconds. I was prying toys from his hands and attempting to step between him and the dog before he stuck his fingers in her mouth. "Aiden. Get over here. Leave them alone. Go play right now" a voice calls out in an unattached, bored manner. Three completely contradictory statements combined with the lack of actual action by the parent in what was obviously an oft-repeated refrain equaled a pretty obvious conclusion - the kid did nothing to change his behavior. In a few seconds, he wheeled off to the next situation... which happened to be shoving Lily Ruth out of the way so that he could use something that her actions had drawn his attention to.
In the mean time, a young girl (maybe 4?) begins drifting toward us. As Lily Ruth, Alec, Dottie and I climbed up the play structure and started playing, she made laps around us. Each lap brought her closer. Meanwhile, Aiden streaked through the center of our group every minute or so. About every third time through, his mother said the same thing: "Aiden. Get over here. Leave them alone. Go play right now." The girl eventually made her way to us, and as we played, she leaned in with naked longing on her face, but never said a word or actually tried to play with us. She sidled in and made several attempts to cut one or both of my kids away from me so that she could take their place. Aiden continued to rush through and kick / bang on things as he passed. Occasionally, he poked at Dottie, grabbed her tail or announced that he was going to unbuckle her harness.
I kept my voice sweet and calm. I kept my hands light and off of kids that weren't my own except to remove other hands from my kids and dog. We just kept moving and changing our play. At each change, these kids shadowed us or ran ahead. They crowded onto ladders as Lily Ruth climbed; knocking her aside and stepping on her. The shoved into the tunnel as she moved toward it. They tried to slip between Alec and I as I guided him up steps and down slides. "Watch me!" "Help me!" "I'm gonna do THIS!" Aiden begged for my attention with loud words and big actions. The girl begged with her eyes and her physical proximity. I never heard her name. No one spoke to her (other than me) the whole time we were there.
The kids and I were quickly overwhelmed. It was time to go. I buckled Alec back in. Aiden grabbed toys and poked at Dottie's ears. "Aiden. Get over here. Leave them alone. Go play right now." He followed us to the edge of the playground. "You NO GO. STAY. Play wif me NOW!"
We walked away... right into a dog ambush from yet another unleashed pooch. Dottie whined and pulled. Lily Ruth whined and dragged her feet. Alec threw his sunglasses down. I mentally stomped my feet and outwardly gritted my teeth.
Maybe next time I will find the fortitude to say something to the dog owners. Maybe next time I will find the energy to better deflect or engage the sad kids. *sigh*