My son, Cooper, is standing by the monkey bars, oblivious to the small boy above him going hand over hand as his father spots. Cooper touches one of the support poles and gets excited because it’s vibrating. Then he backs up and rams his chest against it. He does it again. And again.
Cooper has a blanket he sniffs for comfort. I carry a small piece in my purse so I can hand it to him if he has a meltdown in public. I recently discovered that rose-scented body lotion has the same effect on me. I’ve taken to surreptitiously sniffing my own arm in public.
“Hey Coop,” I say, running my nose down my shoulder, “you’re going to hurt yourself, buddy. Let’s go play in the sandbox.”
I rise from the bench and lead him away, ignoring the look from the dad.
I show Cooper the sand toys we brought and try to teach him how to fill up a pail. But he’s more interested in smacking the sand with the shovel. Good enough, I think, and take a seat by the perimeter.
Other mothers are sitting in groups, drinking Starbucks and chatting, occasionally getting up to admonish their kids for not sharing. A woman with a ponytail whines about the daily fights she has with her three-year-old daughter about wearing socks that match.
I see an arc of sand shoot skyward and rain down on the other children.
“No, Coop! No throwing sand!” I rush to him and grab his hands, but it’s too late. The other mothers are all over their darlings, dusting sand from little heads and faces. I aim my nose toward my shoulder for a quick whiff and try to interest Cooper in the slide, but he wants to go back to the monkey bars, pulling me in that direction.
The other boy is still flying from bar to bar like a baby primate. Cooper is fixated on that vibrating pole.
I ignore the father’s stares. “Feel the vibrations, Coop?” I say. “The boy is making the pole vibrate. See the boy?” I turn Cooper’s face toward the boy, but he turns back and presses his ear against the pole. I imitate him.
“Hear that, Cooper? The vibrations make a sound.”
The boy on the monkey bars is curious, and he jumps down and puts his ear to the pole, too.
“I don’t hear anything, Dad,” he says.
His father raps the top bar with his knuckles. Cooper goes wild with delight, flapping his hands. He pushes the other boy away, wanting the pole to himself. The kid looks stunned, shaken.
“I’m so sorry,” I mutter to the dad, unable to even meet his eyes. I pull Cooper to the slide and coax him to go up the ladder with me following behind. I glance back at the man by the monkey bars, and he’s staring at us. It’s not a freak show, I want to scream. This is my boy. My glorious boy.
Cooper and I ride down together, and he delights in the sensation. I can’t share in his joy because I’m too preoccupied with the man watching us. Finally, I just can’t take it any more. Pulling Cooper by the hand, I march up to the man, armed with heady words.
He smiles, which throws me off completely. I fight the urge to sniff my arm.
“You were staring at us!” I accuse.
He shrugs. “I’m sorry,” he says, looking embarrassed. “You have cute legs.”