Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Parenting in the Park

arbitrary
I took both of my children to the park the other day. It shouldn't be some sort of big announcement that a mom takes her kids to the park, but I was by myself with my two children, who have very different, needs, wants, and abilities, and I am a chicken. There. I said it. I am a scaredy-cat when it comes to taking my kids out into open, uncontrolled situations by myself, unless Jack is buckled into his wheelchair. He has escaped my grasp so many times, wrenching my shoulder as he goes; there are dangerous situations around every corner, and he is fast. And as mature and amazing Katie is at 5, she really is still a small child who deserves to be looked after on a busy street, or a park... but it is summer, and my children are convincing, so I took them.

Katie providing high direction, high support
Katie was very excited about playing in the cool water fountains that are shaped like Crayons. She got to learn the word "arbitrary" when I remembered that the Park and Rec. department turns off the sprinkler fountains between 12pm and 1pm, and again from 3pm to 4pm. Because, apparently we cannot decide for ourselves when our children should have lunch, and a snack. It worked out fine because she got to play in the water puddle that had already been created, and managed to put together an engineering plan to create a dam that rivals the Hoover. She had no problem hiring the one of the unnamed boys near her to hold 'on' the foot sprayer nozzles to collect water, and the other to bring the bucket to her building site. She seemed like a decent overlord boss.

Meandering with Purpose
Then there was Jack. Precious boy who I forgot to put in bright orange before we left the house; I am rather particular about this. When he goes on a field trip, to camp, into the woods, into a crowd, okay, when he goes almost anywhere I put him in yellow, but more often, orange, actually, bright orange. He has his own hunter-safety-orange cozy jacket for camping trips. The afternoon we "lost" him in dappled sunlight when he was only 6 feet away from us was the last time I let him get near any vegetation without an easy way to spot him.
Can you see him? Yeah, Neither can I.

So of course the first thing he does is head for the only corner of the top portion of this park where I would not be able to see him. I didn't worry a bit because the chain link fence runs the entire way around the park. But wait, I couldn't actually see that corner post, and what if the fence were made by two brothers who got in a fight half way through the project and so there are really two corner posts, and a gap between them which leads STRAIGHT OUT TO THE STREET. I was only about 40 feet from him, but if that corner was open, which I knew it wasn't, but if it was, he was only 20 feet from cars pretending to drive 30 miles per hour.

myBoy in urban camo
I ran. I ran as fast as I could, and I lost a shoe on the way because I am an idiot and had thought, "Oh I can just wear my sandals because I am going to sit and watch my children play, and I will put my toes in the warm sand." I ran across the tan bark that my son loves so much with one open-toed sandal and one bare foot, and there he was, in the corner, where the fence was perfectly closed and built to code etc. I tried to give him some space, but it was very hard for me to not be able to see him, even if I knew there was no way out except past me.. because maybe today was going to be the day when he gains that fence climbing skill? We just never know. And if you are wondering if he laughed a little bit when he saw me plucking tan bark out of my sandal, the answer is, "yes." I let him play in the corner until he was done, and it may be my imagination, but as soon as I stopped being riled up about it he stopped going back there.


ooooh so close to escape.
Our visit to this little neighborhood playground, it wasn't all bad, or scary. On the busy street I had to parallel park between two cars that were over their little hash lines into my space, but we did get the safest spot, right next to the path that leads to the park. And every single family that went through the gate on that path, closed it behind them. The weather was beautiful, and Katie was a good listener the entire time, which was pretty remarkable all by itself. When it was time to go, she left the park without complaint or stomping of the feet.

And while we were there, Jack got to work on those motor skills that are so important. He practiced "jumping off", which is different than "walking off" of something. I got to practice letting my son be outside of my grasp, which feels a lot like being "thrown off" of something. I did put my toes in the sand for a moment, and the kids had a great time playing.


There will be a day when my children don't want to go to the park, not like this at least. An afternoon will come that my daughter doesn't ask me, even one time, to play with her. It's possible that Jack will live somewhere without me when he's older. I want my kids to remember playing and running around. I want the smell of sunblock to remind them of all those days of being in the sunshine in our beautiful park-filled city. I'm trying to remember that these are the days when we should paint, or make lemonade.. or do as Katie has asked and have a lemonade stand with a painted sign.

And I am trying to get over my fears that by myself, out there, in a park, or on a walk downtown, that I won't be able to keep both of my children safe. I know I am perfectly capable, but there are so many ways things can go wrong, and I've thought of them all. My brain hurts quite often with all the "choose your own adventure" stories in my head. However, I'm aware that emotion does not make fact, nor does a lively imagination, so the truth of it is, that most of the time, everything goes just fine. Everything will be okay, or it won't, but fear has very rarely led to anything good in this world, and it certainly has kept me from some beautiful days in the park.

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A version of this essay was originally posted at jennyalice.com