I dog-sat for my neighbor a few years ago. I'd never dabbled in New York City dog-subculture before, so I remember immediately telling my cat-subculture friends how strange it was. In NYC most of us don't have yards, so if you have a dog you have to walk it a few times a day for exercise and other business. My first dog-walking encounter was me facing another human who didn't respond to my 'hello.' We silently stared at the dogs deep sniffing butts for what felt like an eternity. I was invisible. I still remember this? Yes. To be clear, I only did this for a week. But recently as I described the playground scene to a friend without kids, my dog walking experience was the first thing I thought of.
Since we don't have yards we also have to walk our children in NYC, and take them to playgrounds. We stand around with strangers, staring at kids and interacting through them. "Isn't she great at sharing? I like his coat!" You may introduce your child, but probably not yourself. If the parent or nanny isn't on their phone maybe we'll talk about daycare or how dumb it is to bring toys to the playground until your impending doom threshold is met and you have to cut out mid-sentence and save your kid. My daughter is two, so we've been going to certain neighborhood playgrounds enough to see familiar faces, but the interactions are strange and the relationships peripheral.
Playgrounds are a place for parent and child to let go of some fear. They're a semi-controlled environment to set kids loose and let them navigate obstacles while unpredictable things fly by. Lately I've realized I'm giving my daughter more space when she climbs ladders, and I'm inching back when she gets near open ledges on play structures. I'm more inclined to give her a chance to resolve certain issues before stepping in. Like that boy gnashing his teeth, roaring like a dinosaur, refusing to let any kid go down the slide while his mom's over there on the phone. I'm nourishing her to function in the world on her own. She isn't my pet.