I hate taking my daughter to the playground. In my pre-child life, I would walk past parks with playgrounds and see parents standing around with coffee cups in hand, visiting and laughing while their kids scampered over the equipment and ran, laughing and holding hands across the sand. At least that’s what I remember.
My actual experience of taking my own small child to the playground is something like this. Before she could walk, I would sit on a blanket on the lawn under the shade of a tree in a circle of other moms while we shared snacks and stories. The hardest part was keeping the kids from mashing their snack into another kid’s face. Mostly we never left the blanket. It was lovely!
But then she became mobile.
Even before she could walk, my child was determined to climb. I could lift her to the top of the slide and hold her while she rode down, but at the bottom she’d flip herself over and scramble back up the slope as far as she could. Even on the new “less-dangerous” plastic slides we have around here, there was a high risk of her slipping down and off the edge, probably catching her chin on the way down.
Stairs are for climbing, clearly, but even on the toddler-sized equipment in my neighborhood park (where “toddler” means "too big for my child"), the stairs were half her body high and the platform at the top had one long open edge at the height of my shoulder. Still, she could climb those stairs on all fours faster than I could get up them on two and she did not inherit my fear of nights and edges. And then, of course, I’m at the top of the slide with her and we all know it is dangerous to go down a slide with a child on our lap, but what do I do now? She isn’t going to wait for me to climb back down to be ready to catch her before she launches herself down that delicious slope.
And don’t even get me started about the big kids who chase each other through the little kid equipment, pushing the babies out of the way as they go. I feel like a grumpy old mama but I really want to tell them to get back to their own quadrant of the park to play with kids their own size.
Also, there never seems to be any shade over the play equipment. The slides get hot. The rails get hot. Mama gets hot. Mama hates getting hot.
So mostly we just don’t go to the park. This truth is on my personal list of my failings as a mom. No baby book. No swimming lessons. No parks.
Last weekend, though, we went to Oktoberfest in Campbell with my sister and her husband. We parked a few blocks away at the Campbell Community Center. After we left the festival, Bean really needed to stretch her legs a bit after being confined in her stroller and before I strapped her into the car for the 40 minute drive home. So I released her to run on the lawn next to the pool. That was fun for a minute, but she’s an explorer, so she wandered off down the path and I followed with the stroller a short distance behind. The Community Center is an old, pretty complex of buildings with wide, shady paths and mature landscaping. Late on a Sunday afternoon the place was pretty quiet and we had most of the complex to ourselves.
She was in little Bean heaven. She’d go up the steps to a door, check the handle, come back down. Run up the wheelchair ramp to the next door, peek at me through the bars, then wander back down. Up onto a bench, around a tree, jump off the edge of the concrete into the flowerbed. I could see her practicing all of her large motor skills - all the things playgrounds are good for - but in a context that didn’t freak me out. No hot slides that slide too fast and launch my baby into tan bark. No shoulder-high unprotected edges just waiting for her to step too close. No big kids racing past and pushing her down.
Ironic, isn’t it, that an environment not at all designed for small children turned out to be a much safer and interesting playground than the actual playground?
Now I just need to find a similar place for her to explore in my own community. Because I don’t think I’m going to get over my loathing of the park playground until she’s, oh, I don’t know, 16 maybe.
Where do your kids like to play that isn’t the park?