By Kate Wright
I recently attended a birthday party for my son's two-year-old friend. I knew only a few of the people there -- namely, the hosts and their extended family -- but that afternoon I met other moms, dads, and kids who live in my neighborhood. I settled in, keeping watch over my son, who was not yet one, as he played with the big kids. The sun was out. I had a cold drink in my hand. It was a beautiful day.
A woman approached. We introduced ourselves and she asked me where I lived. When she found out I was from the neighborhood, she seemed surprised and said: "Oh. Are you a park mom? I've never seen you at the park before."
I stood there, staring at her, until our hostess explained: "She's a friend from before the park."
"Yes," I said, suddenly feeling awkward. "I do go to the park from time to time, but we do other things as well."
The truth is, I don't want to be a Park Mom.
It's true. I live just blocks away from a lovely Philadelphia park that includes a playground --complete with swings, jungle gyms, and Park Moms. It's also true that I take my son there when it's nice outside, especially when I'm feeling guilty that he hasn't seen any kids for days because he's been stuck to my hip.
However, I only really like going to the park if I am meeting a friend there. Otherwise, I find myself chasing after my son while trying to hold a conversation over, under, and around the dinosaur-shaped jungle gym about teeth and sleep. I don't even think the other moms know what I look like because they never look directly at me. They are looking down, at their children. I fancy good conversation, but I don't enjoy conversing with someone who cares nothing about me and everything about my child's sleeping patterns.
It gets worse. I generally try to be patient, but I find myself answering a typical Park Mom question sarcastically for the sole purpose of enjoying the reaction I get. For example:
Park Mom: So, how is your son sleeping these days?
Me: Well, I've started giving him a bottle of whiskey with water right before bed. That usually gives me nine or ten hours. It was just getting way too hard when he woke up throughout the night, you know?
At this point, Park Mom typically grabs her child as if rescuing him from a child molester and hurries away.
You see, I'm not into comparing children as if they are talents or skills, as if growing up is a competition. I don't feel good about myself if my son walks before your daughter, and I don't feel bad about myself if he says fewer words than your son. My child will grow as he will grow, and I will allow him to do so without putting pressure on him based on what the Park Moms think is best.
I have had a few refreshing trips to the park that involved meeting a mom (or a dad) who made eye contact with me and asked about what type of work I do or what my thoughts are on Philly's public schools. I return home feeling accomplished, happily telling my husband, "I made a new mom friend! And at the park, too!"
Deep down I don't care about what a Park Mom thinks and I find great relief in my Real Mom friends. I like it that we can sit around drinking coffee, discussing life and the world while our kids play at our feet. I like feeling comfortable calling them in tears because I didn't get any sleep or because my son told me he loves me for the first time. I like knowing about their children and I like knowing about them -- really knowing them.
Of course I want my son to be socialized. Of course I want him to play on a playground, to run around with kids his age. That's why we go to the park in the first place.
But I don't ever want to be a Park Mom. What does that even mean? A woman who is defined by the fact that she takes her children to the park on a regular basis? I prefer to be defined by who I am -- whether I'm at the park, at home, or traveling around the world. If the Park Moms don't like it, that's okay with me. Because I like it just fine.
Kate Wright is a freelance writer/editor and doula who lives in