|   Jun 14, 2017

The antisocial chicken never got cooked. Following the birth of my daughter, I had happily announced just the opposite in one of my posts. Being a scientist I can find no better way to allude to that post than putting it here as a reference (Ref: Alas, I realized recently that all that I had said in that blog is untrue.

I am a self-proclaimed social clam. At work, my social awkwardness has earned me the epithet of being from Jupiter unlike most women who are from Venus (is it?). In the years before my daughter's arrival most people would have noticed me coolly seeing through them. My daughter's birth made me peep out of my shell a teeny-tiny bit, just enough to say the occasional hello to the oft-encountered (friendly?) parent faces. Hence, I patted myself on the back for having successfully donned the social garb and wrote about what I did. 

However, I am slowly beginning to realize that even mundane social gestures like flashing a smile or a casual shake of the head is not my cup of tea. Under the guise of a working mother who leaves for work at an unearthly hour when most sane humans are only beginning to stir in their beds, I succeed in avoiding most such encounters. Often times, the cellphone comes to my rescue as I dig my head deep into its 'enlighten'ed world and forget having to bother about whether I acknowledge a presence in the elevator or wave to someone at the gym.

My social acumen (if there is such a phrase) is particularly heavily tested when I am at social gathering points with parents and children together. You meet them at birthday parties, parents-teachers meetings, and libraries. But none of these places are as daunting as the dreaded children’s play area. This feeling of dread probably stems from my discomfort around fellow humans. But what makes it worse is that you go there every, single day. And you meet a variety of parents and their children who are evolving under the influence of the resulting gamut of parenting styles.

One could argue about how different that is from the regular adult world. The answer lies in the question. Our regular world only has adults, but when you encounter this unique mix of children of different ages and their parents – the former trying to play and the latter trying to entertain themselves – for that one odd hour, that is when the going gets tough.

Just when I thought nobody would be as complicated (read anti-social) as me to even think (let alone write) about the idiosyncrasies of play area parents,  I was wonderfully surprised to actually come across a survival guide – albeit for dads – explaining children's play area etiquette (Reference again:

The author describes children's play areas as minefields. I agree. Most other parents saunter into this area (heavy with tension for me) and start chatting with the existing brood. I seldom spot a loner like me who is looking only at her own child. Most parents have already been absorbed (comfortably) into the existing parental groups and others are slowly inching in as they smile and churn out a deluge of personal questions. They randomly bark out some remarks at their kids and slide back into their interesting conversations. 

Interestingly though, the seasoned ones are watchful enough to spot the slightest hint of misbehavior in other's kids and are quick to smirk or remark. To my surprise, providence favors these 'absorbed' parents, who do not even bat an eyelid at their son or daughter attempting to defy gravity on a slide or swing. Their kids never get hurt.  Fate however, seems to be meting out some cruel punishment to anti-social chickens from Jupiter like me. No matter how carefully their kids maneuver their way around the park under the watchful eyes of their parents they end up getting hurt. 

If you are 'fortunate' (again?) enough though, however socially inept, to somehow camouflage yourself and listen in on these groups, you will notice that the parental discussions primarily oscillate between increasing their kids' weights and reducing their own weights. But beware of the consequences if you wander too close. I remember one time when I was forced to come within hearing distance of one of these cliques courtesy my daughter's shoe (that she flung away before climbing up the slide) ending up near them, I actually thought that someone shot a nasty glance at me and the clam slid back into the darkest corner of its shell. 

Everyone at the park (except the aliens from Jupiter that is) is equipped with more information than a trained paediatrician. They can rattle out information (mostly irrelevant and uncalled for) at the drop of a hat (literally, if your kid drops her hat there will be a good Samaritan in the wings who swoops down to train you on how to secure it in place for next time).

Therefore, I follow the author's advice from the previously penned survival guide: Avoid eye contact, look at your shoes, look at your phone (I know that is a strict no-no for quality family time but you need some shield, come on!), make funny faces at your unsuspecting kid (they will most likely reciprocate… score you earthlings!), dig a deep hole into the park sand with your big toe if you want to but stay away from any kind of adult conversation.

Anyhow, when I read through that article I thought about renaming my current post to "Idiosyncrasies of the Play Area Parent". But then I thought that readers might find me more idiosyncratic than the regular (read gregarious) parents. Underlining this unanimous feeling then the current title is apt, I believe, and to take it a step further let's say "The antisocial chicken never got cooked and probably never will". Not that I want it to. Amen!


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