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plaid blanketWho knew I was such a rebel? Such a free-thinker? At the playground a few weeks ago, Baby and I hung out while Husband chased Toddler from the slide to the swing to the sprinkler. Now Baby is at the marvelous stage where she can't walk, but she wants to walk. But she certainly does not want to be held.

Sitting on a sticky park bench wrestling with a feisty (and freakishly strong) eight-month-old is a shred embarrassing and not an activity one can sustain for more than a few intense moments, so I looked around. And spotted our waterproof picnic blanket in the base of our stroller.

I pulled it out, unfurled that trademark plaid, and placed it down on the padded playground floor. And then I placed Baby in the center of it and surrounded her with toys and non-toys on which I was (reasonably) confident she wouldn't choke.

Then came the stares. Parents looked at me like I was crazy. Like I was giving my infant a cigarette. A few times, I caught their eyes and shrugged. A few nice parents came up and whispered: "genius."

And I felt like a rebel, bucking tradition, breaking those tacit playground rules. Who knows - maybe I've started a trend and by the end of summer Upper West Side playgrounds will be patchworks of plaid?

On a more philosophical note (and you know I love me my philosophical notes), this experience made me realize that conformity is very often 100% unconscious. We go about our days, we do what we do, but we often don't think about why we do what we do. Nor do we very often find ourselves pondering why we don't do the things we don't do. This is hardly an earth-shattering thought, but could it be that many of our habits, our routine activities, are not products of pure choice or free will, but are rooted in adherence to tacit societal and behavioral norms? Do we not do things like have makeshift toy picnics at the playground because of the power of convention, or simply because we are not very imaginative creatures most of the time?

Maybe, just maybe, this has nothing to do with conformity or convention or imagination. Perhaps, this is just a matter of old school etiquette. A playground is a designated space for kids, yes. But for kids to run freely. There are permanent obstacles of course - the swings, the slides, the water fountains. But perhaps we are not meant to create more obstacles by taking up a sizable footprint with a picnic blanket? If we get all Kantian here and think of what would happen if everyone threw caution to the wind and threw down a blanket, there would be no room to run... Anyone have any thoughts on my admittedly bizarre inquiry into convention and creativity?

Amen.

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