I take Em to the playground a lot. He uses the kiddy swings and I let him run around for a while even though it makes me nervous and I usually need an antacid afterward. You see, Em doesn’t always have the physical ability to necessarily do what he wants to do without causing himself harm. He climbs things and sometimes has no idea how to get down. He trips over unleveled ground. Sometimes he gets shoved to the ground accidentally by the older kids. I constantly walk after him, erratically. Trying to figure out the motions of a toddler is like trying to model fluid dynamics.

He enjoys talking to squirrels and pigeons too. But I think one of his favorite pastimes is picking up sticks. Sometimes he picks up big sticks and sometimes they’re small ones. Usually they’re prime eye-poking instruments and so I snatch them from him before he gets too attached and break them down. I end up giving him a smaller piece in return.

Sometimes he picks up a sticks that are really long—long enough that they don’t pose too much a threat of impalement. So I’ll let him hold onto them for a bit until he grows tired of lugging around such a large item. I’ll then take the stick and sometimes I’ll put it on his stroller. I have learned that if I keep a stick around and he fusses later, it will appease him for at least five minutes. This is a perfect item to have around if I have run an errand or he starts screaming on our walk home.

On Monday we were at the park and Em ran over to the fence to grab two long, lovely sticks up from the ground. They were in that gray area. What I mean is, they were short enough that he could fall on them. So I traded with him. I gave him two smaller sticks and took the longer ones away. I sat there holding onto both sticks.

A brown haired boy walked up to us.

“Give me those sticks” He said.

“What?” I asked him a little shocked.

“Give me that stick. I need it. I neeeeeeed that stick.” He whined and pointed.

“I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you one stick but I want to hold onto the other one.” I handed him a stick.

“Give me the other stick. I need it.” He said.

“No. This is for my son.” I answered. I felt like I was doing somebody else’s job.

“I neeeed that stick!” He said.

“No.” I looked away from him.

He gave up and walked away.

That’s when two aryan poster children walked up to me. They must have been related. One was a tow-headed boy, the other a tow-headed girl.

The thing about children that I have always been wary of and it’s also part of the reason why I never really wanted one of my own, is how downright ignorant they are regarding personal space and privacy. These kids walked directly up to my nose, unaware of my body and its real estate. They’re freakishly direct.

“Give me the stick.” The sister said.

“Yes, we need that stick.” Said the boy.

“We need that sick. We need it.” The pale-headed girl demanded.

“This stick is for my son. He picked up the stick and I am going to save it for him.” I said.

“But we need it. We need that stick.” The girl continued.

“No one needs a stick.” I said. “This one is for my son. There are plenty of sticks. Why not go get your own stick?”

“Because we need that one.” The boy said.

I was arguing with children. What’s wrong with me? I thought.

Finally the aryans gave up. They walked away empty handed.

A third child walked up to me.

Now, I know this next part is going to come off as really politically incorrect. But I have no idea how else to tell it. I’m going to just tell it like how I saw it. Forgive me in advance.

The third kid was just weird looking. He looked like someone you might find after generations of inbreeding. He had blond hair as well. He was tall and very lanky. One arm was under his coat tapping something he had shoved up there. The other one dangled lifelessly next to his body. His hair hadn’t been touched by a brush in some time. And his eyes were so far apart, an entire finger could have rested on the bridge of his nose lengthwise without blocking his view. He was a perfect example as to why drinking during pregnancy is a terrible and risky idea.


He wasn’t particularly mean about it. It was more like I had entered a game he had been playing in his head, one where I had a specific role, a role I was very unaware of.

“You want this stick? Let me guess, you need it?”

“YES I NEED THAT STICK!” He yelled back, squinting.

“I’ll tell you what, how about we split the stick?”

“OK!” He was very excited.

I broke the stick in half and gave him the longer part. “Here you go. Now run along.”

He didn’t leave. Instead, he started to hit himself in the chest with the stick. He hit whatever hard object lay underneath his shirt repeatedly.

“I’M TOUGH! HIT ME WITH THIS STICK! SEE! I’M TOUGH” He yelled this as he beat his chest with the stick. “I AM SO STRONG! WATCH ME HIT MYSELF WITH THIS STICK!”

As he continued to beat himself in the chest with the stick, I broke up the other half and threw it down. I looked around and saw that the first kid who wanted the stick was urinating on the ground with his father’s instruction. His pants were down around his ankles and he just stood there, pissing, while the bums on the park bench across from him drank from brown bags and tried to focus on something they do regularly as well.

I sat there defeated and stickless yearning for a yard of my own, a yard dressed in urine I’m familiar with if dressed in urine at all. What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to react to these children? Was it my job to tell them no? Is it right to ask a kid to go away? Is there a class one can take to learn playground politics?

Was I dreaming?

Where were this kid’s parents anyway? Had they taken a few minutes to do a couple of shots at the local bar? Were they copulating with other relatives? I know, I sound unfair, after all you can’t pick your parents, but I was irritated. Where were his parents? Did they think I asked him to beat himself with half a stick, the half I wasn’t going to take home with my son?

And more importantly, is this what need means?

I need a stick a stick that will thwart poorly supervised children.

I need a stick that won’t hurt my son.

I need a stick that will direct us home.


  1. Just how do all of the weirdos in your city always come to the park when you are there? It kind of freaks me out. I know I sound like a broken record, but you really need to GET OUT of New York City for your safety and sanity.

    Are you sure you don’t want to move to Canada? Vancouver seems much more parent-friendly than NY!

    I’ve had to tell other people’s children that they don’t own the slide at the playground, but that’s about the only unpleasant interaction I’ve had at kiddie parks. Mind you, I don’t go more than once per week…but still.


  2. You don’t even know how bad I want to run out and buy you the book “It’s not a stick” by Antoinette Portis right now. Ha Ha.


  3. Sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone. You handled it better than I thing I would have! Weird kids.

    Also, Autumn- we have “It’s not a box” by the same author and love it – off to see about getting the book you mention. :)


  4. Love you guys and absolutely will check out that book. Keely, that’s the thing, it really felt like I was asleep. I could not figure out why everyone wanted the stick.

    I waited for cameras, but then that kid took his pants down and I realized that it was just a strange day. They do happen, after all.


  5. That post brought tears to my eyes, especially the last line. You handled the situation perfectly…I would have panicked, grabbed Em and bolted home. I wish more than anything I could help you guys find the perfect little home. It will happen, I have faith.


  6. sounds like you had an interesting time at the playground. We just returned from a playground as well, but we were the only ones there. My daughter, just a month or two older than Emory, was having a blast, but then started getting tired and sort of hungry. She still gets pretty wobbly when she is tired, and she starts to get more and more irritable. I get really nervous because she listens less and seems to want to play on more dangerous (to her) stuff. So, I told her we’d be leaving in about 5 minutes, and that we could slide one more time. When the time was up, I picked her up to go home and she had one of her most massive tantrums ever. With her, these just keep getting worse, so attempts to appease her don’t always work. So there we were, walking to the car, screaming, screaming as I try to brush off playground bark and get her into the carseat, squirming and wiggling like a cat the entire time. I was sweaty, she was angry, we had a little snack, and then we drove home. I’m sure all the houses surrounding the playground were wondering what the heck was going on out there (she can be incredibly loud). Now we are home, and guess what? No nap. We must be right between one nap and two and I never know which day we’ll have two naps and which day she’ll just take one. Right now she is snacking on some fruit, and I told her we could go back to the playground later.

    Anyhow, I wish us both peaceful and fun playground days tomorrow.


  7. Just re-read your post to my husband…that really must have been one surreal trip to the playground.


  8. That is a really weird and distressing story. Makes you want to live in a small town.


  9. Oh, honey. I hope so hard you guys find Home soon.


  10. Whoa… what’s with the stick fixation? Or rather the stick-you-have-in your-possession-fixation? Three groups of kids in a row? It just seems that it would have been much easier for these kids to pick their own stick up off the ground rather than have to interact with an adult. Weirdo day at the park. Definitely!


  11. The strange thing is, when I reread this myself, I think it’s made up—fiction. But it happened just like that. OVER A STICK. I still don’t get it. When I told TJ about it later, he said, “What the hell is up with the stick?”

    We really have no idea. It was odd. I’m wondering if maybe they often do that? The kids that play there? Have stick wars? I know that sounds silly, but I could see it. Kids play games. Maybe I was supposed to give the stick up and then the stick would end up with others? I have no idea.

    I do see the same kids at that park a lot. The third kid that came up to me is a regular. I kind of feel a bit badly for him because his parents are always on a park bench smoking and ignoring him basically. But I guess at least he gets to the playground.

    I want you all to know that I tend to write about the things that are not so great about living here. But there are great things about it as well.

    I’m sorry if I come off as a curmudgeon (ette?) I don’t mean to. I have a lot of joy, too. :]


  12. Clearly podpeople…just walk away, don’t show emotion, everything will be fine.

    Mah stick I needs it!


  13. …and you stay in New York WHY exactly? Too expensive…urine soaked playgrounds…why?

    Come to Texas!


  14. Oh, it’s funny. You are pining to get the heck out of NYC and I would do anything to get back. Ha! But your un-PC description of the child with wide-set eyes made me laugh out loud! Frankly, I think (city, in particular) parks just attract weirdos, and I guess that is not limited to adults. I am embarrassed to admit that I have never really enjoyed going to parks, and that includes Central Park (too big—I get lost!). I’ve often wondered if I’ll get better about it as E ages (she is not yet walking, so it’s not really an issue yet). In Baltimore, we live equidistant from a nice park in one direction and coffee houses and shops, etc, in another direction. I always opt for the coffeehouses. Guess I’m going to have to face my fear of parks on the near future!


  15. Oh, Kate. I haven’t done a very good job explaining how I feel. hahhaha

    I actually would LOVE to live here. I really would. But it’s just too hard. We can’t really afford a place and even if we could, the daycares have year-long waiting lists. It’s just become so hard.

    I will always love and miss NY once we leave. But I think I simply have to give up. We just can’t get what we want. :[

    I would stay in a second if money weren’t such a huge issue. But it’s become so difficult for us. I guess maybe we’re just too tired? I dunno.


  16. I hear you. That’s one of the reasons we chose Baltimore. I like it, but it doesn’t compare to NY. A lot would have to happen for us to move back-my husband would have to continue to work in finance (which he hates-when we lived in NY he was a financial journalist) and I would have to go back to work full-time. Even then, it’d be hard to swing if we had more than one kid. My (rich) brother and his wife just bought a loft in the Flatiron district (I KNOW!) and had their first kid. It was well over a million bucks and when we saw it, we thought, “That’s it? This is what a couple million gets you in Manhattan?” Man. Money is one of the reasons we decided to move to Baltimore instead of back to NY. But man, how I miss it (weirdos and all)!

    Sorry you’re having such a tough day with Em. I hate those days. So far, I find having a toddler (well, pre-toddler in my case) much, MUCH harder than having an infant!


  17. Yikes! I kept waiting for you to say it was all just a dream…


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