I generally follow rules…especially at public spaces like city parks. You won’t find me feeding the pigeons or squirrels. Who wants lovely spaces filled with bird poop or overly-assertive squirrels? I won’t even walk on grass that has the thread barrier around it so that the nascent sprouts will take firmer root in the soil. Hell, I’ll even pick up a bit of garbage and deposit it in the park receptacle if it isn’t too much trouble. I’m no hero.
On the days that I have my twin toddlers, I take them to our local park whenever possible. Our presence is welcome there. I am an active dad; chasing my kids around the multi-colored structures or pushing the two of them alternately on the swing sets. I’m not one of the parents sitting on a park bench staring into my iPhone as my kids get into fights or hijack other kids’ toys. Conversations with other parents comes easily as we bask in the shared experience of letting our kids burn off energy without destroying our own homes.
When my kids are away with their mother, I go to the same park with my dogs. Without my kids there to vouch for my status as a dad, people suddenly regard you as a potential evil-doer as you approach the very same playground. Unless I run into a parent I know, my presence as a solitary adult male is questioned in much of the park and is even prohibited by the playground signage.
The unwritten social contract for lone adults entering the playground area appears to be this:
If there are children present, don’t make eye contact and listen to your earbuds the entire time. If a child wants to pet your dog, first make eye contact with their parents and then allow it. Irregardless, don’t linger and move on once you have completed your chin-ups, sipping from the water fountain, or other activity that intrudes on the sanctity of the playground area.
The exception to this unwritten rule is:
The more insane-looking your exercise regime is, the more acceptable your presence is at the playground.
You are permitted to do hundreds of squats, mini-pushups, or other exercises that involve awkwardly swinging appendages in a repetitive fashion. Recently, I’ve noticed both older and younger Chinese women walking backwards around the playground. Initially, I was quite confused by the practice until repeated investigations indicated that it was simply another type of exercise being conducted. Also, small groups of people engaging in the same exercise are also acceptable, including: tai chi, yoga, dancing, or kung fu with wooden weapons.
It would seem that simply walking dogs is too pedestrian to allow me unlimited access to the playground. Perhaps if I were to start walking them backwards, I would start to feel more accepted throughout the park. Training the dogs themselves to walk backwards might prove to be more challenging.