Childless people at playgrounds freak me out.

I know this might make me horribly unpopular but it’s the truth.

Perhaps my paranoia stems from my new surroundings. I am in a huge and unfamiliar city, mostly alone, and know pretty much no one. I look over my shoulder often.

The only playground within walking distance from my home is off-limits to my family because it’s teeming with transients, men sitting in cars with heavily tinted windows, and possible prostitute activity.

The first time I visited the park there was a mountain of trash. Garbage overflowed from the bins and covered nearly every patch of grass. It was disgusting. Several parked cars with dark tinted windows loomed menacingly in the distance. I watched. What were they doing? The only children at the playground were my own.

Freaked me out.

My husband and I drove past the park last weekend. The garbage was gone and a mother was playing with her son on the merry-go-round. I thought maybe my last visit was a fluke. I gave it another shot.

We visited yesterday. The garbage was gone but the seedy element was not. A man emerged from the woods and passed through the park several times before returning. A van was parked in the lot. A man was inside with his seat reclined. He watched me. I watched him. In the passenger seat there was a woman fixing her hair. They stayed there for over a half hour. I half heartedly pushed my daughter in the swing and my son on the merry-go-round. I couldn’t take my eyes off these people.

I asked for Twitter’s opinion everyone agrees that it was a shady situation. Some suggested I call the police.

No. Freaking. Way.

After the way that man was looking at me the last thing I needed was to be outed as a snitch.

I walked home and then called the police.

Dispatch – “Sorry ma’am but it’s not against the law for people to be at the playground without kids”.

Ya no shizz but perhaps you’d like to investigate what looks like obvious illegal activity.

“Ma’am I can send an officer out there next time you visit if you’d like”.

Awesome! I can be the obviously new and alone mom in the neighborhood AND a visible snitch. Sounds great.

“You don’t have to go to that playground”.

No, I don’t. Let’s leave the only playground in the neighborhood to the prostitutes, drug dealers, and weirdos. Yes. I am the problem. You’re totally right. Thanks for nothing.

Indianapolis is a massive city and I know the police have more important things to tend to than weirdos on the playground. I’m from an “urban” area myself. I know how it is. Trust me. It doesn’t ease my disappointment.

It seems the world is becoming a hostile place for children. Tacky restaurants putting up signs banning kids. People harassing nursing mothers. I’m not going to deal with it and I’ve resorted to profiling.

Lone man in a van with tinted windows who won’t take his eyes off me? Maybe he pulled over to safely send a text message? Probably not. It’s been a half hour. What the hell is he looking at?

Woman fixing her hair and mouth in another van with a man. Perhaps freshening up after a long road trip? Probably not. I assume there’s sex work afoot which is totally fine but not near children.

Man emerging from the woods looking confused and covered in filth. Probably a perfectly nice homeless person who could use my compassion. Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve worked with the homeless population in a long-term volunteer capacity and I know the statistics. Many are sex offenders. Do I offer him a meal or assume the worst and make a run for it with my children? Jesus wouldn’t run. Am I an awful person?

I’m almost ashamed to admit the things that run through my mind. “Will this man assume I’m taking pictures of him and his lady friend? Am I going to be murdered in front of my kids and rolled into that canal? Will my husband find my body? Why didn’t I bring a knife? Could I really kill someone in front of my kids?” On and on.

I’m not saying that I haven’t watched too many Chris Hansen specials. The problem might be me. I am doing my best to protect my children in an unfamiliar place.

What other options do I have?

I don’t want childless people banned from public spaces or parks. Not at all. I was once childless too. I know the world doesn’t revolve around me because I am now a mother. I am talking about an area where there is nothing but a playground. What business do adults have there? There is a parking area, basketball court, and park area less than a block from this playground.

Why aren’t these people conducting their business right.over.there?

I wish playgrounds (and only playgrounds) could be the safe domain of families and children. There are parks, parking lots, museums, coffee shops, seedy $20 a night hotels, and a million other public places adults can visit freely.

Why lurk around a playground?





Should playgrounds be reserved exclusively for families and kids?

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  1. While that all does sound very sleazy, can I add another option? My husband takes his lunch to work. However, if he stays at his office to eat, someone always tries to get him to do something while he is attempting to eat his lunch. So he (occasionally) will drive to a park nearby, just to enjoy the quiet while he eats. We are the parents of 2 small boys, and I know my husband gets a kick out of watching other kids play, much like he gets a kick out of watching our kids play.

    However, if I saw a single man (or woman, really) just hanging out at the park, not eating or doing anything other than leering at kids? Yeah, I’d freak out a little as well. You can never be too safe anymore.

    • Sorry the last comment accidentally replied to you : )

      I totally considered that possibility last week which is why I chose a non lunch hour time to visit. No one was eating. It sounds crazy but just a simple sandwich would have made me feel safer which is probably the dumbest thing ever but then at least there would be a reason to be there right?

      Thanks for stopping by :)
      Veronica recently posted… Childless people at playgrounds freak me out.My Profile

  2. that is beyond scary. it’s really unfair that the closest park to you is so run-down and suspicious. i would be freaking out and assuming the worst of everyone around me, too. i’m a country girl and cities scare me half to death anyway, but you mix in the possibility of truly dangerous people all around you and i would never want to leave my house! there’s got to be something that can be done to clean up the area. it made me furious to read the part about the operator and the lack of care for the safety of children. maybe carrying a taser, knife, or mace wouldn’t be a bad idea. in the heat of the moment, i’m sure you wouldn’t hesitate to protect your children and yourself. better safe than sorry, right?
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    • Yes! I think youre totally right and am definitely entertaining that option. I think Im like you. Although I am from an urban area Ive never lived in a city of this size and its definitely a little overwhelming.Ya the dispatcher was kind of a jerk. Like You dont have to go there. Awesome. Thanks for nothing!

      Thanks for stopping by : )
      Veronica recently posted… Childless people at playgrounds freak me out.My Profile

  3. I 10000000% agree with you. It even bothers me out if there is a large group of older teens hanging around (taking over) the playgrounds around here. I freely admit to my paranoia. I think it’s one thing for these people to chill out at a local forest preserve or something but something as specific as a playground? FREAKS ME OUT.
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  4. We went on a family vaca to San Francisco when my eldest was 4. I distinctly remember visiting a playground that had several posted signs indicating that in order to be in the confines of the playground (fenced in) you had to have a child with you. That said, there are parents who are pedophiles, too, so really, you just never know. But ferchrisakes, you’d think the po-po would at least drive by your playground on their routes and scatter any roaches that might be lurking. What’s the point of having the playground if families aren’t safe to use it?
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    • Thats how all playgrounds should be. Totally. Anyone can be a sicko but the sickos there with their kids will at least not grab my kids and run (or so I have rationalized in my crazy mind).

      Who knows. I heard the cops here are crooked. There was something in the news about it. Sigh.
      Veronica recently posted… Childless people at playgrounds freak me out.My Profile

  5. First-time reader, here. This article was RT’d by a reader, and I only clicked through because of the title. My first thought was the overly analyzing “she can’t really mean all childless people at all playgrounds” blanket statement (yes, term papers were a nightmare for me to find the right words to write), because I’m a childless person (and again my over-analyzing mind says technically your kids are childless, as well) that likes to take walks and if there’s a playground nearby that is not in use, I’ve been known to briefly swing on a swing. But, I’ll give preference to kids or families who come to use it and continue on my way. Obviously there are people that don’t do that, but since you asked the question at the end of your post, no, I don’t think playgrounds should be exclusively for anyone. For one, they’re built and installed with taxpayer money, but two, I think to exclude everyone but families and kids limits personal freedoms (like my being able to swing on a swing). What I do believe is that you should take back your playground. Get to know other families in the neighborhood and ask if they use the playground and if no, why not? Do they not feel safe either? Propose going as a group (safety in numbers). Likewise if they do use the park, go when they go. If it’s the same lurkers, see if anyone knows who these people are, maybe it’s innocent enough. If you keep going maybe the lurkers will get uncomfortable in having people around. If they stay, when you’re with your not-new-to-the-neighborhood neighbors, confront them, so you’re not the new neighbor being a snitch.

    • I totally considered this which is why I visited again at a non traditional lunch hour and boom. Strange people milling about again.

      Parks are built with taxpayer money but legislation has been proposed to keep certain people away from playgrounds. Sex offenders pay taxes too but they cant hang around schools. I pay taxes but I cant throw a party on a highway. Know what Im saying?

      Thankfully I am only in this neighborhood for the summer. it isn’t a bad neighborhood per se but it is newly gentrified and “up and coming” which is part of the issue. The building we are in is mostly interns (childless undergrads mostly) who are interning with my husband at a local company. So this shady park doesnt really have an effect on anyone but me ;-/ Youre right though and if this was my permanent neighborhood there is no way Id be leaving with my tail between my legs.

      As for getting to know the other people – the ones that dont live in this building – its not safe enough. I walked through that neighborhood and was made to feel very aware of my “newness”. So youre right but sadly I just have to deal for the time being.

      Thanks for the alternate viewpoint. You are definitely right. Thanks for stopping by.
      Veronica recently posted… Childless people at playgrounds freak me out.My Profile

  6. hey V! At least the kiddos look like they’re having a good time. Weird how that is, huh? As sensitive as they are to us, they can still have a grand ole time while we’re freaking out. Gotta love ’em.

    Hmm. Sucks to find a nearby park only to have it suck. Same thing happened to me after we moved to this neighbourhood almost three years ago. The nearest park, within walking distance, is one where the structures are covered in grafitti and the grounds are littered in broken glass. To top it off, there’s often strange cars parked overlooking the structure with folks seated inside. So, needless to say, the first time we went there we didn’t get out of the car… or even stop the car… and the second time was just the other day when the hubs and I were on a walk and just strolled through it. Still covered in litter and scrawled ramblings. My hubs suggested that perhaps we ought to get a neighbourhood cleanup organised so we could reclaim the park. Not sure if we will. There’s a few parks we can get to within a five minute drive.. plus other places like libraries, splash parks, state parks to hike through and picnic in, beaches, lakes etc. So, for the moment, we’ll probably just drive.

    I definitely recommend signing up for some yahoo or google parent groups for your new neighbourhood and seeing if you can connect with folks that way. And also check out libraries and other kid friendly places- they usually have bulletin boards where someone may have posted something. Check out cafés and craft stores with kid classes too. If they have a blog you could connect with local families there.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to trust your instincts. And since you’re only there for a short while, focusing on connecting with families and finding safe/fun places and activities for your kiddos seems like the best use of your time. Good luck!
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    • I totally agree. As moms we need to be proactive with when it comes to our children. We have those instincts for a reason, and its a good one!

      Maybe I am lucky, but I have never had the situation you have had V, my experience could still be helpful:
      I am a mom of four, been married as long as many of you have been alive, and when my hubby and I were starting our family I was new to the city, he wasn’t, it was his hometown; but still I was feeling isolated and alone, and I didn’t want that. Which is what is happening with you and this playground problem, it is making you feel isolated.

      Well, I took the bull by the horn and began to search for things to do, places to go and people to met; kids are great at motivating us to change aren’t they. I found many things that were just the right fit for our little family and the by product was I also was connect to the city and the nieghbourhood.

      Just because you live in married student housing doesn’t mean there isn’t a moms play group, or a moms group for that matter, that you can connect with. You are at the Library, librarians are great resources for all things; maybe they can help you find what interests you, helps you, supports you.

      This issue really has you smoking, and I would be too, there is no reason you should ever feel unsafe anywhere! Sometimes we are called to great acts from “small” things. Maybe if you can get to know other moms in the area, student moms, SAHMs you can get together to begin to solve this playground issue. The Playground is public, but if a group/gang can take it over why not a group/gang of moms?
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  7. I freak out when we’re at Barnes and a lone man will follow kids around the aisles of the kids section. This hasn’t happened once but TWICE we’ve been there so now I just follow the dude around and pretty much let it be known ain’t shit going down on my watch.

    Back to your topic, I don’t think parks should just be reserved for families and kids. My son’s elementary school is right next to a park and when if I get there early or Chris does or we both do, we hang out in the park… there are a lot of men there that wait for their kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews and some walk around the park. It is creepy but we just have to be vigilant and teach our kids to be the same.

    Instead of calling the local PD, maybe call the Vice Dept. and ask if that particular park is known for johns and hookers. That might help you in deciding to stay there or move to another park…
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  8. See I’m so in two minds about this. We’re lucky, because our two closest playgrounds are both part of larger parks. So there are lots of people of all kinds, with or without children around at any given moment. And that’s the thing I think, isn’t it? If it wasn’t just you and your kids… but lots of other kids with parents too then it wouldn’t be so creepy… I’d hazard that you might not even notice some guy sitting in his car.

    To be honest I probably wouldn’t bother calling the police again, they really don’t sound at all interested. But perhaps try the alderman’s office (or equivalent) for your area and see what they have to say about it.
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  9. Im always bothered when we go to our neighborhood playground and there are teenagers there. Really? Can you get on the swings?? And I live in the suburbs( kinda sorta). You are not crazy. I wouldn’t have come back!
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  10. It’s definitely sketchy if they were IN the playground- sitting in benches and meandering about. I’m sorry, girl commenter who just loves to swing on swings, but you have to understand the double standard. If I saw a 30-something female swinging alone on a swing, I wouldn’t bat an eye…but if it were a guy? By himself? I would be eyeballing him like a crazy person.

    The playgrounds in Park Slope had signs that said adults must be accompanied by children, and it was never a problem. Parks and green spaces are for everybody, but playgrounds are not. Sure, you might not be a raging psycho pervert as you go for a joy ride on the swing: but they exist. The thought of some person sitting on a bench in a playground watching my kid running around in her bathing suit under the sprinkler…I’m sorry, it freaks me out. Call me paranoid, call me a helicopter parent- just go fucking find somewhere else to sit and stop being so creepy.
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  11. With all that I have learned, Mama intuition is normally spot on. About a year ago, the park down the road from us around 9:00am would have a guy sitting alone in his car. Then another car would show up and yet another. The park is not off the beaten path but it is definitely somewhere where you wouldn’t suspect bad activity. Well it would creep me out when I would take my son for a walk in the stroller. I wouldn’t even walk all the way down to the park. I told my husband so he drove by one day to check it out and he got a bad feeling too. We ended up calling the cops. They went and checked it out and as they were pulling up one of the cars sped off. They ended up suspecting drug activity but couldn’t prove it because the guy had nothing on him. The car hasn’t been back since! Crazy stuff happens in good neighborhoods all the time.
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  12. Sol

    I like that NYC has regulations in place to make playgrounds for families only or caretakers with children. There are plenty of other places for people to hang out in. Not necessary to do in the playground. Our town has the same rules in place and if the cops see you in the playground? They will tell you to leave. I don’t like to be an alarmist but some shady ass people doing/acting how you described? Do not belong in a playground.

  13. This happened to ms a couple of years ago and I left with my daughter. I almost threw up afterwards because I was so upset with myself for assuming these teens alone in a secluded park dressed in gang colors were up to no good. My students dresses the same way. Bit in the end, I have a responsibility to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but my responsibility to mine and my daughters’ safety is more important. I still feel bad but I would do it again in a heartbeat.