There’s nothing good about “playtime.” Ever. It wasn’t even good for me as a kid. Recess was a time during which no learning took place, and during which a weird, pale girl in pigtails would chase me, threatening to put me in a stew pot. I shit you not. The game was called “Abby Stew.” She had a rhyme she’d chant before she started to chase me: “It was a dark and dismal day…” I don’t remember the rest of the rhyme, probably because I’d already run out of hearing range before that cannibalistic little fuck caught me and pantomimed my destruction while she narrated it in verse.
“Playtime” as an adult is not any better. Even the suggestion of something sexual falls flat with me. Playtime? We don’t have time to “play.” We have thirty minutes to knock this shit out. You don’t even have time to shower. Wash your dick off and let’s get to it.
For parents, “playtime” is time you agree to spend suffering so that your child can have fun. Today’s late afternoon playtime at the park would be made tolerable by my friend Becky, who was bringing her four-year-old daughter to play with Jack. She had also brought cake pops to share. Jack and I had just come from the Tutti Frutti frozen yogurt shop, so I suppose I should have politely turned down the cake pops, but cake pops. I mean, I’m not a fucking monster. Becky and I chatted while the kids ran about and played. The park was packed. Not only was it the first sunny day in more than a week, but it was also apparently the night the local soccer leagues were having photos taken, so every soccer family in town was there.
I glanced over to see Jack standing at the top of the play structure, striking out at a boy much older than he. The boy easily held him off with an outstretched hand as I yelled out sharply and rushed over to the scene.
“He was trying to take over my tower!” Jack protested.
A brief conversation ensued in which I explained that while imagination is a commendable trait, the “tower” didn’t belong to him because it was in a public park. Also, you can’t just hit people. The aggrieved older boy looked on warily, perhaps trying to assess if he should once again attempt to breach the stronghold of an aggressive and obviously delusional three-year-old.
It wasn’t but a few seconds after releasing him from my grip that he began to kick mulch up at a girl on the bars—which I addressed, and told him that further behaviors would warrant him a quick trip home.
A few seconds after that, I looked up to find him brandishing a stick in the face of a girl riding the toy car.
We were there with friends; I couldn’t leave yet. I would redirect. I brought him over to the pavilion, where Becky’s daughter offered him another cake pop. Before I could interject, he’d put half of it in his mouth and tossed the other half into the air. It landed on the other side of the pavilion.
I made Jack apologize, pick up the half of cake pop, and throw it in a trash can. At that point, I should have ended our little comedy of errors and cut my losses, but I still thought, foolishly, that I could turn this thing around. So I put him on a swing and began to push him.
“I’m gonna punch ‘em!” he shouted gleefully to no one in particular.
What the hell?
I brought the swing forward, close to me. “Jack, I don’t like you talking like that. Stop.”
I studied his face. He was so beautiful. Button nose, hazel eyes and long long lashes. Sometimes when I looked at him I felt as if my heart stopped.
Instead of looking contrite, he smiled.
Then out of his mouth, in a singsong voice, came a thin and airy but unmistakably distinguishable tune:
“Mooom-my’s a looooo-ser.”
All right, I thought, this was getting to be just about enough. I may have nurtured and protected this kid since he was a mere blastocyst implanted in the lining of my uterus, and he may share my DNA, but he’s being an enormous douchewad. I was too surprised by what he’d said to be angry. In fact, I almost laughed. Are you kidding me? Where had he even heard that? Was it from dinner, when his father sometimes said, “Daddy’s a winner” if he cleaned his plate first? Was it something he was saying to test me, the way he’d insisted on yelling “ANAL GLANDS” at the pool last week? (Yes, we have dogs.)
“Don’t—“ I warned, “—say that again.”
All was calm for a few more moments as Jack and my friend’s daughter swung side by side. She shrieked with happiness. He belted the theme song from “Batman.” But it wasn’t long before they tired of swinging and ran off. As I watched from a few yards away, Jack scooped up a handful of mulch, and—seeing me watching him—moved as if to throw it.
“If you throw that, we’re leaving.”
He tossed up a bit of mulch and ran like hell. Unfortunately, he ran right for the red plastic tape that was cordoning off the area for the soccer pictures and toward the woods behind the park, which were no doubt teeming with poison ivy.
“GET. OVER. HERE. NOW.”
He giggled—giggled, like that fucking psychopath who tried to cook me in elementary school. As if making a concession, he ran back toward me, but stopped to lift up the red plastic tape.
I dove for him, grabbing him by the arm. Of course he tried to twist away from me, striking out at me with his other hand.
“We are going. home. NOW!” I roared.
He began to cry. “I just want to have love and enjoy!” he blubbered, like someone who’d been taking English lessons for all of two weeks. “I am just wanting to play at the park!”
As I continued dragging him by the arm to say goodbye, he sobbed, “You’re making me cry!”
“You’re making ME cry!” I returned, still dragging him along. “Do you know why Mommy is mad?” I demanded. “Why is Mommy mad? What did you do that was not nice?”
He then recounted, with frequent prompts from me, the full catalogue of his sins. He apologized profusely. I gave him the sorry-is-not-enough-I-have-to-see-a-change-in-your-behavior speech. We got him strapped in the car, and I handed him the still-half-full box of milk he’d been drinking on the way over.
It was probably over, I thought. The worst had passed. At any rate, all that making fun my husband and I had done about my friend’s kid looking like Chucky had come back to bite us. It was obvious that we had spawned a demon. Perhaps all this time the demon had been latent, waiting for the right amount of sugar to come alive so it could terrorize the town.
“I don’t want this milk,” came a voice from the back seat. “I want chocolate.”
“I don’t have chocolate, Jack,” I said through gritted teeth. “I only have regular milk.”
“But I need chocolate!” he replied. “Chocolate milk is appropriate! Regular milk makes me noxious!”
So the demon did live on sugar. Well, he wasn’t getting any more sugar, because we were going to starve that fucker.
“Chocolate milk makes me happy!” Jack continued. “Regular milk is disgustin’! It tastes like calories!”
“THAT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE AND YOU ARE NOT GETTING CHOCOLATE MILK!”
“I’m gonna SMASH THIS CARTON!”
“You better not!” I hissed, looking back over my shoulder just in time to see a fountain of white milk shoot all the way up to my car’s ceiling and splash down on Jack’s clothes.
I sort of wanted to cry, and I almost did. But I laughed. I laughed silently, shaking over the steering wheel, because I knew that I wasn’t alone, that this scenario was being played out all across the U.S. in other mothers’ vehicles. And because I could see the future, when the sugar demon would have loosed its grip on my normally mellow son and this trip to the park would be family legend.
When we got home, Jack said, “Can I have candy?”
I looked at my husband. “If you ever loved me,” I said evenly, “you will take over for the rest of the night while I go upstairs with my laptop.”
It had been a dark day indeed. But playtime was over, and I was too delirious with freedom to cry.
Besides, I had a blog post to write.