Sitting in the petri dish of a playground at a nearby fast-food chain, I watch my grandkids jump around like just-released-into-the-wild baboons. Like every other adult in the room, I hoped this stop would be a fun diversion, a place the kids could play while I read War and Peace.
Kids on playgrounds are fascinating the same way the Spanish Inquisition was fascinating: lots of violence, torture, crazy zealots and tattletales. Sitting with the book I won’t be able to read, and eating cold French fries, I’m the Jane Goodall of the toddler kingdom, as I study their animal-like behavior.
There’s a hierarchy to the madness, with the older kids sitting at the top of the pyramid. They push toddlers out of the way and block slides until little kids cry.
The next level down are kids between the ages of 4 and 8. Not quite ready to be the bullies on the playground, they tail after the leaders hoping to be included in any dastardly plan.
Toddlers make up the lowest level of the playground food chain. These cute little kids are a pain in the asset as they try to establish a presence without being trampled by oblivious 10-year-old boys. I’ve witnessed several toddler smack-downs, including my granddaughter who started a fistfight with a little boy over a pretend steering wheel.
The fast-food playground smells like a mildewed diaper pail. It also has a fine layer of mucous coating every possible surface. Everything is sticky. Bacteria gleefully thrives.
There’s a logjam of kids at the bottom of the slide, backing up traffic and causing overall mayhem. Older siblings shepherd brothers and sisters through the throng of screaming and thrashing little bodies, in search of fun and excitement, while being screamed at by their mothers.
I watch kids scramble through the maze of colorful gerbil tubes, listening for the sound of my granddaughter’s screech as she fights her way to the slide, where she refuses to go down, triggering an uproar in the playground ecosystem. Her brother finally convinces her the slide is fun and they both tumble to the bottom. They run back up and do it again.
I hear snippets of conversations. “That boy is taking off his clothes.” “She put ketchup in my ear.” “Look! I can fly!” But when the Lord of the Flies Preschool bus pulls up in front of the building, that’s my signal to skedaddle.
Easier said than done.
As soon as I announce it’s time to leave, my granddaughter scurries up the tunnel, refusing to come down and throwing poo at anyone who approaches. I send her brother up to get her and hear his bloodcurdling scream as she kicks him in the head, and climbs higher into the hamster maze. He finally drags her down, both of them crying, before she steals someone’s shoes, and runs toward the restroom.
Security tackles her and wrangles her back to the playground. She’s covered with either BBQ sauce or blood and tries to scuttle away as soon as I put her down. Chaos has erupted. We duck tranquilizer darts as we run serpentine to the exit.
I finally wrestle them into the car, wearing the wrong jackets and without socks. I spray them down with Lysol and have them take a big swig of hand sanitizer. I just survived a primate attack. Jane Goodall would be so proud.
Originally published in the Davis Clipper – https://davisclipper.com/it’s-a-jungle-out-there-p5616-103.htm