I think I’ve reached “peak mom.”

Beyond taking to wearing a utilitarian backpack instead of a purse on the weekends, I’ve started living in yoga pants outside of work. I drink a lot of coffee. I never leave the house without Goldfish crackers and emergency juice boxes. My hair is in a perpetually messy bun.

And now, as a woman firmly in my mid-thirties, I’ve crossed into commenting on the behavior of “youths.”

Out for a good Sunday wander, we found ourselves on the shores of North Beach. Friendly faces, excited kids — it was a peaceful morning. Hadley and Oliver ran around until they had matted, wind-swept locks and sand up to their necks. We’d brought a change of clothes for each and, in a rare moment of parental coolness, Spence and I decided not to worry about the lack of bathing suits. They could get dirty. It would be OK.

Any mom “cool factor” I’d earned quickly disappeared, though, when a couple of teen boys came on the scene. We were hanging out on a wooden pirate ship that also serves as a kiddie jungle gym. It has a plank, a slide, and a lookout. There’s nothing to say this thing is for kids, but c’mon — it’s clearly for kids. It was teeming with toddlers.

With children watching, Friend 1 hoisted himself into the crow’s nest and onto the roof of the pirate ship — a heavily slanted thing that looked like it could pitch him right off the side. Friend 2 stayed down below, looking bored. I imagined Friend 1 slipping and breaking a limb, which was bad enough, but also carrying this out in front of an impressionable audience. That’s when I turned into the Playground Police.

“Wow,” I called out. “You are really not being safe.”

Safe. I said the word “safe” to a 16-year-old . . . and not my 16-year-old.

I knew immediately that I was starting something, but apparently I was in the mood to start it. The response was swift. As soon as the words left my mouth, Friend 2 called up to his out-of-sight companion.

“Did you hear that, bruh? You’re not being safe!” he jeered.

Does your mother know where you are? I thought.

“Whatever, dude, it’s fine!” Friend 1 called back. “I do this all the time!”

“OK, well. This is a children’s playground,” I pressed.


I heard the scolding, prim tone to my voice, and I should have left it alone. But Friend 2 looked like he was ready to do this, too, and thought he could stare me down. He just didn’t realize I’ve been perfecting my withering stare longer than he’s been alive.

“It’s a children’s playground, bruh,” Friend 2 drawled, mocking my rebuke. He pushed curly hair out of his eyes, and I had a flash of Oliver in 10 years. “Did you know this is a children’s playground?”

In hindsight, I should have just minded my own business. The boys weren’t hurting anyone — except possibly themselves. I’m responsible for talking to my own kids about risks, and we didn’t own the beach. I didn’t need to insert myself in whatever they were up to.

It worked out, though — with zero injuries. Friend 1 and Friend 2 horsed around for a while, climbing and jumping off the ship until my schoolmarm eyes became too much for them. Little kids were within striking distance of some of their shenanigans, and I’d started coaxing my own kids to safer ground when Friend 2 abruptly hurtled down the slide.

“Let’s just go,” he muttered, or something similar. We watched them bound off the beach by climbing onto the boardwalk with some impressive “American Ninja Warrior”-like moves.

And that? Well, that is how I became queen of the pirate ship.

If queens nag with their messy buns, anyway.

Twitter: @rightmeg