One of my local parks has a cafe. There is a fenced off space nearby. They have put tables and lots of toys for kids in the space. The vast majority of the toys are for under 5s. Most of them are for 2-3 year olds. They have mostly been donated. It’s usually a very nice place to go.
I was having a cup of tea and I noticed that my daughter was being spoken to by a middle aged woman (she looked about 50) in what might have been a telling off. I went over to see what she had done wrong. It turned out she had been playing with a toy that was clearly for 2 year olds and was being politely told not to otherwise she might break it. I explained to her why she shouldn’t play with it and she went off and played with something else. After that most of the toys she played with were appropriate for someone her age and size.
I had a chat with the woman who had spoken to her and she told me that her granddad had left her some money and she had spent it on toys for the local children. She donated them and she regularly cleans and repairs them. She tries to make sure kids play with them properly as quite a lot of toys have had to be thrown out because they have been broken.
I took my daughter off to do a few things and when I got back after about 20 minutes my girlfriend asked me to help the woman I had spoken to earlier because some kids were being rude to her and had ignored Lucia. I went over to find out what was going on.
A 9 year old and a couple of kids that looked about 7 years old were playing with a slide clearly designed for 2 year olds. There were four or five 2-3 year olds trying to play on it. The older kids were also playing on little cars and buggies they were clearly too big for.
The conversation went like this:
Me: Do you know these toys are designed for 3 year olds?
Them: So what?
Me: You’re too big for them.
Them: So what?
Me: If you keep playing with them they will eventually break.
Them: We’re not going to break them.
Me: It’s stupid to think a 9 year old can play with toys like this for 3 year olds without breaking them in the end.
Them: We’re not stupid.
Me: So why are you playing with toys for 3 year olds?
Them: We’re bored. There’s nothing for us to do here.
Them: Can we play with this?
Woman: That’s fine, that won’t break.
…and off they went. Problem solved I thought.
Then the mums of the kids arrived.
The points they had to make were:
- The woman was lying because she had not donated ALL the toys (a claim she never made)
- That particular part of the park was a public space open to all so their kids had the right to play with any toy they chose to.
- That slides and cars designed to be played on by 2 year olds would not break if 9 year olds played on them.
- That the kids hadn’t broken any toys on that particular day so there was no problem.
- That they had donated toys too and so their kids had the right to play with whatever toys they wanted to.
- That nobody asked the woman to donate or maintain the toys.
- That it was none of our business.
- That they had been coming to the cafe for longer.
- That it was ok for the kids to be rude to the woman next to me because she kept going on at them.
Point 1 is just obnoxious, rude, irrelevant and unnecessarily hostile and aggressive.
Point 2 is absolutely correct but missing the point.
Point 3 is stupid.
Point 4 is missing the fundamental point that if kids the size of their kids go on plastic toys not designed to support their weight then the toys will eventually break.
Point 5 is correct but missing the point.
Point 6 is obviously correct but you’d think that someone spending their own time and money to benefit kids in the local community would get a little respect for doing so.
Point 7 displays a complete lack of understanding of the notion of community. What happens in a shared space is the business of everyone who uses that space.
Point 8 is wrong. I grew up in the area and have been using that space since 1978. I didn’t see the point in arguing this with them as it is irrelevant to whose argument is correct.
Point 9 is frankly ridiculous in my opinion.
The points we were making were simple:
- Plastic toys like slides, cars etc will break eventually if kids much bigger and heavier than what they were designed for go on them. This point was not accepted.
- We don’t want the toys to end up broken. This point was not even registered because point 1 was not accepted.
- If they have the right to play with whatever they want in a public space then freedom of speech gives us the right to say what we like to who we like in a public space unless we break the law.
This incident raised several questions in my mind.
- When the woman and my girlfriend were talking to the kids for 20 minutes the mums didn’t care. Why?
- Almost as soon as their kids did as I asked they involved themselves. Why then?
- Their kids were spoken to politely. There were no raised voices and nobody got told off. Where did the hostility come from?
- Most of their hostility was directed at the women next to me. She did little different from what I did so why was the hostility directed almost solely at her?
- Why do they want their kids playing with toys that are for 2 year olds so much? Is it really worth having a row about?
- Why do the kids want to play with toys that are clearly not age appropriate?
- What do they imagine they are teaching their kids by behaving in this way?
- They must know that toys designed for 2-3 year olds will not support the weight of a 9 year old for long so why put forward the ridiculous argument that they toys won’t break?
- Why do they think having the right to do something means that it’s something people ought to do?
It’s a shame really because I used to feel that the cafe was a nice space for my kids to play but if they are regulars there then I won’t be taking the kids there any more as I have no wish to share space with people so selfish, self absorbed and inconsiderate.