It was almost an idyllic scene: Three adults, eight children—four boys, four girls, ages 9, 8, 7, 5, 3, 3, 14 months, and 6 months—and one playground all to ourselves.
Well, almost all to ourselves. As the children happily ran back and forth across the grounds, it was more than a little annoying to remind them to watch out for the maintenance cart that came back again and again to ... to what?
The first time, the driver was apparently cleaning up branches from a recent storm, though he spent most of his time making worried comments about the exuberantly-climbing 14-month-old and glaring at the three adults who clearly weren't doing their duty in keeping her off the dangerous equipment. "There's an open space up there she could fall through, you know!" Yep, she could have fallen, I suppose, but she's part monkey, part mountain goat, and part bulldozer, so none of us saw any reason to spoil her fun. "Open space" or not, this playground is as safe as it can get without being of no use at all. Since the days when our children played there, we've lost the merry-go-round, the high, curly slide, and a lot of climbing equipment that was far more interesting ("dangerous") than that which replaced it.
The boys had ridden their scooters into the park, and dropped them right on the sidewalk as they ran off to play on the equipment. We'd left the scooters where they lay, because no one else was in the park to be bothered by them. When the maintenance cart came by, I quickly moved them out of his way. "Do you know whose scooters those are?" "Yes; they're ours." "Riding scooters in the park is forbidden." "Okay, I'll let the kids know." We meekly obeyed, though I can't imagine why he found it necessary to enforce the rule. Did I mention we were the only ones in the park?
Finally, the man drove away. But like the famous cat, he kept coming back. Driving slowly through the park, peering suspiciously at the children's antics, then leaving, only to repeat the process a few minutes later. In other circumstances I would have been tempted to call the police! But I'm sure he only meant well, and just wanted to be available when one of the frolicking youngsters suffered an injury, since the adults were clearly irresponsible, chatting away among themselves while the children chased each other up and down and all around.
Everyone had a wonderful time—except possibly the maintenance man, and who knows? maybe he was satisfied in a perverse sort of way for having prevented a scraped-knee scooter injury. But the experience did leave me slightly disturbed.
Reading the Free-Range Kids blog, I've heard plenty of stories of how schools, governments, playgrounds, social service agencies, and other institutions have joined "helicopter" parents in a culture of fear that deprives today's children of the opportunities they need to develop into strong, competent, independent adults. But this was my first personal experience with the phenomenon, and it was somewhat of a shock.