Friday, January 3, 2014

There is a playground not far from us, at Les Halles, where Matt has been fantasizing about bringing Max ever since he spent some time here this fall without us.  The playgrounds in Paris are much better than those in SF, if by better you mean more exciting, built with an eye toward adventure and not safety.  This is clearly not a country where righteous parents sue because their kids get scratched on the swingset.  The structures are high, the ground surfaces hard, and very often parents congregate in chairs strategically placed outside the playground fence.

How strategically, we only just learned.

Earlier this week, we stumbled upon a great playground at the Jardin de Luxembourg where there was a circular zip line of sorts.  Kids would line up and seize a long pole at the end of which was a padded seat.  They then hurled themselves onto it, either seated or (for the taller and braver) standing.  This contraption wouldn't fly in the US, and there certainly wouldn't be 3 such metal bars, with no spacing between them, meaning that kids can hurl themselves one after another and (quite often) collide in midair.  "Bouge toi!" kids yell.  Move!  More than occasional tears resulted in parents speaking up from the outskirts, "Ca va," or "Ce n'est pas grave."  It's not serious.  You're fine.  Get over it.  This attitude gets a lot of traction in Bringing Up Bebe.  It's also one I remember from having been a student at the Lycee as a kid, and I think it has inadvertently infected me and my parenting style, because I find myself sighing with relief.  Kids are not made of china, and it's not in my nature to hover.  (OK--I'm too lazy and I prefer to read while my kid plays).

So--back to the point--yesterday we discovered the apex of laissez faire parenting.  Matt had gone with Max three times to check out this cool playground near our house, and every time half of it was locked.  "It's only for ages seven and up," some playground attendant had said to Matt, who lacked the language skills to ask where the unlocked entrance was.  He brought me back with him and we circled the locked enclosure.  He was right that the playground within looked wonderful: tall, with curving metal enclosures, especially dangerous.  But every gate had a large padlock, even though we could see more than a dozen kids happily playing inside.  Matt concluded that they must have jumped the gate, even though it seemed too tall for some of them and so we imagined their parents foisting them over it.

The truth was almost as good.  At 5 pm, we happened to still be circling the fence when suddenly a bunch of parents with shopping bags showed up along with a zookeeper/guard who unlocked a padlock.  Children were summonsed, and after a few minutes they abandoned the precarious playground to huddle on the other side of the gate as it was being unlocked.  I mustered the shoddy French to ask a waiting woman/mother what was going on, and she explained to me that kids are allowed into the playground three times per day, at which point they are locked in for 3 hours.  Parents return at the end of a three hour chunk of time to collect their kids--having accomplished their shopping, taken a yoga class (unlikely), or done whatever else they feel like doing (smoke?) during this period of free babysitting, minus the sitting.  This is in downtown Paris, mind you, not some country hamlet.  But given how impossible we found it to penetrate the locked playground, it might be a deviously safe system.  Although even the lazy/laissez-faire parent in me wonders what would happen if I wasn't even there to say "get over it" when my kid falls down.  Now we understand why it's for 7 year olds and up.  Max says he wants to give it a try, but I think we will wait until he's "fluent" enough to tell other kids to "bouge" when they fall down in front of him on the zipline.

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