First published by the Sydney Morning Herald, 29 January 2014

Dear Parent,

We’re looking forward to your child joining us this year. Enclosed are our facility’s policies and procedures, and this handy guide to other parents you’ll meet in the playground.

Tribe: The Helicopter Fleet

Traditional costume: Daypack for bandaids, tissues, snacks. More bandaids.

Traditional greeting: “Just a second – I think my kid is about to climb that piece of play equipment and I haven’t checked it for entrapment risks yet.”

User guide: The Helicopter sees danger everywhere. Before having children they may have been lawyers. Or possibly safety inspectors. Many have given up jobs to ensure their children’s survival. If they do work their children’s minders will be left with long lists of dos and don’ts, from prohibited foods to exact timing of naps. The Helicopter may insist on inspecting your backyard for choking hazards before leaving their 12-year-old at your child’s birthday, but they can be useful for that time you really do need a bandaid.

Tribe: Daddy Cool

Traditional costume: T-shirt from a band that was a short-lived spin-off of an alternative 90s act. Satchel for film script/novel-in-progress/business plan for crowd-funded start-up.

Traditional greeting: “I just found this awesome new coffee shop that does an amazing piccolo latte.”

User guide: Often seen Instagramming a cool piece of street art they saw en route to the playground, the child of this carefree creative may end up dangling precariously from the wrong end of a piece of play equipment. If they survive early childhood, older children may benefit by developing a strong independent streak from growing up in such a free-range environment. Making friends with Daddy Cool might be exhausting if you feel you have to hide your Coldplay CDs whenever they drop by, but they can be worth cultivating so you’ll know where the hip new bar is once the kids are sleeping through and you’ve booked the sitter.

Tribe: The Vegan Earth Mother

Traditional costume: Hippie skirt, tote bag made by tribal African women for carrying cut up carrot and a copy of The Natural Childhood.

Traditional greeting: “We’re sending Tyler to Montessori school next year. It’s quite expensive and there are only five other children, but we think it will really help him discover who he really is and how to get along with all his fellow human beings.”

User guide: Vegan Earth Mother is rarely seen without her children, often because they are still attached to her breast until the age of six. She will proudly tell you her children aren’t vaccinated (oblivious to the fact they are only free from life-threatening illness because all the other children in the playground have been vaccinated). May initially form a strong bond with Helicopter, until Helicopter realises Earth Mother’s reliance on homemade lice treatment of eucalyptus and lavender oils leaves her children with new infestations after every playdate. Useful to know if you want a mummy friend supportive of letting your child express herself by drawing on her home’s walls during “creative play”.

Tribe: The Child Parent

Traditional costume: Overalls, Superman T-shirts (not ironically).

Traditional greeting: (As a text): “Hi [your child’s name]! It’s [their child’s name]! Can you tell your mummy I’d love you to come for a playdate next Tuesday afternoon!!!”

User guide: The Child Parent’s Facebook picture has been replaced with a picture of their offspring, and they are fond of the pronoun “we”, as in: “We are doing karate next term.” Child Parent may have started cutting the crusts off their own sandwiches and convinced themselves a three-day stint in Disneyland really is their dream holiday. Can be difficult to make friends with because they are usually looking for friends their children’s age.

Tribe: Einstein’s Parents

Traditional costume: Smug expression and doctor’s report that their child is in the 99th percentile for everything.

Traditional greeting: “We’re worried Celeste won’t be challenged this year. She’s finished all the Harry Potter books and the rest of her class are still struggling with their sight words.”

User guide: If you are ever cornered by a member of this tribe expect a full family history of how the genius gene runs in the family. Mum was reading before she was walking, dad was doing calculus before he was out of nappies. You’ll have little chance to make friends with Einstein’s Parents because they’ll be busy dashing from one after school enrichment program to another.

Tribe: High Flyer Dad

Traditional costume: Business suit. Often carrying a chip on shoulder about the money he pays to his first wife and her private-school educated teenagers.

Traditional greeting: “Does the playground have WiFi? I have to send an important contract to London.”

User guide: An infrequent schoolyard visitor, if High Flyer Dad does make an appearance he will have his phone glued to his ear as his current wife, presently on her annual girls’ week away, remotely guides him through the school grounds to the pick-up points. His children may initially be reluctant to leave with him as they have trouble recognising him, not having seen him during daylight hours for several months. You’ll have little chance to befriend High Flyer Dad because he is always at work.

We ask you to please be nice to all of these tribes: you are likely to belong to most of them at some point during your parenting career.

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