After four months in Los Angeles, we feel more acclimated to the concrete surfaces, artificial turf, urban gridlock, and drought-resistant perennials. In this starstruck metropolis, city parks and playgrounds provide a natural setting for us to meet fellow Angelenos.  To date, Ouisie has made 16 17 best friends.

In the raw, a playground is common ground for children of varying ages, races, and religions to interact. Whereas society labels us by the neighbourhoods we live, the cars we drive, and the schools our children attend; a playground does not compartmentalized. All children are welcomed to explore, learn, and reach the top of the playground structure. On the whole, our playground experience has been positive and nurturing. However, it just takes one ornery kid to upset the dynamics and mood of the park.

I struggle to remember when Ouisie was the youngest at the playground. The other day as we were playing make-believe fairies,  a group of pre-teens stormed the playground. I shuddered at the thought of my awkward prepubescent years.

The elder kids attacked the play structure and suddenly we were in the middle of a coup d’état. While I wanted to establish order, they were not my wild things to tame. As none of the parents felt the need to calm their rambunctious rascals, Ouisie and I eventually surrendered, and left the playground.

Let’s put an end to the myth. A playground is not designed for parents to catch up on social media posts, phone calls, or local gossip. We need to engage with our children at the playgrounds and monitor how they interact with others. Just by being present we can praise good performance, and stop mischievous behaviour and bullying.

During our first weeks in Los Angeles, Ouisie was bullied by two bratty girls. It was a minor offense, but I am certain the girls were not first time offenders. With me just ten feet away, this happened.

OUISIE: Hi, I’m Eloise. What’s your name?  Wow! You can climb high. I can climb high, too.

The two older girls look at each other, roll their eyes, ignore Ouisie, and shove one another in a race to the top of the platform. Ouisie is persistent. 

OUISIE: I said, wow, you can climb high! I am three. Hey, do you want to play?

The bickering besties are not amused by Ouisie’s advances.

CROW: We are six. You are only three.

SEAGULL: Why do you want to know our names?

CROW: Watch this– I bet she can’t even touch the ceiling.

Ouisie walks to edge of the bench to stretch for the unreachable roof. I lunge forward and scoop up my daughter to avoid a nasty fall. I am premenstrual and the girls’ flippant manners have further ruffled my feathers.  I scan the playground and pinpoint the mother hen. She has the same profile as the crow. Her beak is buried in a book and clearly unavailable for parenting, so I address the squabs.

ME: Hi girls. Quick question. Were you not three a few years ago?

CROW & SEAGULL: Um, yeah.

ME: Are there older kids at your school?

CROW & SEAGULL: Um, yeah.

ME: Do you like when they include you in their play?

Crow and Seagull turn and look at each other for the answer.

CROW & SEAGULL: Um, yeah.

ME: Eloise just wants to play with you all.  Do you think you could include her in your games?

The birds’ jaws drop. Crow mouths to Seagull.

CROW: OMG. Is that her mom?

Crow and Seagull flip their long frizzy hair, shove each other, and (blatantly) ignore me. Ouisie turns to follow them, blissfully unaware of their patronizing. Much to my relief she is distracted by a 15-month old toddler. 

OUISIE: You can’t ride on that because you are little. See, I am bigger than you. You’re just a baby.

Ouisie brushes past the wobbly tyke and climbs the rocker to prove her stature. I gasp, my daughter is a bird of prey. I yank Ouisie off the rocker and scold her. I compare her behavior to that of the Crow and Seagull and watch as her eyes fill with tears. She finishes her time out and apologies to the baby and father. 

MOM: Good job, Ouisie. I am proud of you. Race you to the swings?

We praise our children for reciting their ABC’s, but do they know their P’s & Q’s, too? Bad manners are not a socioeconomic issue. Neither the government nor the schools are to blame. We, as parents, are at fault. We are letting our kids down.  None of us are perfect, but we must strive to be great role models for our children.

Good manners start at home with the parent(s) acting as the ambassador(s). The parent’s etiquette filters to the child who, in turn, becomes respected amongst her peers and community. Teaching good manners is a daily chore. And like any routine, it soon becomes a habit.

I was raised in a household where good manners were as much a priority, if not more than, a stellar report card. Good manners open doors, ease networking, and establish rapport amongst our peers.  Implementing good manners into our daily lives creates a home environment grounded in respect, and holds us accountable for our actions.

Parenting is hard work. But like anything in life, the more you put in, the greater the results.

Be aware. Be concerned. Be polite. Be a parent.

Thank you.