Observations from the Playground

A little girl around the age of five walked around the playground in sea-green leggings and a pink tee-shirt. Her wild wavy hair was the same color as her tanned skin, a golden brown that saw hours of sun. She walked toward the stairs of the play structure and stopped. “Oh no.” She said.

“What?” Another little girl asked.

She was smaller, thinner and darker. Her long black hair held more curls but was neatly pulled together in a tight pony tail. She followed the golden girl around – mimicked her every move – stomped on the same piles of wood chips on the concrete balance beam that lined the playground.

“Boys.” The golden girl shook her head and advanced with care.

But the little one did not follow. Instead, she chose another direction.

Four children climbed up four tether-ball poles. Their backpacks splayed across the blacktop underneath them. One of them was my daughter’s. She laughed as she struggled to climb further up the pole. The other three poles had boys dangling from the tops of them. They all looked like circus performers: acrobats doing tricks for an audience. I love to be in their audience. They always amuse and enchant me. And I never have to pay for a ticket to the playground.

While Abe plays in a baby bath tub shaped like a whale, I read to him. I love our new ritual. I think he loves it too. I know it is good for us, for his brain and language development, and for my confidence when writing and speaking.

I’m currently reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. A quote I read in Chapter 1, Desire: Sweetness, Plant: The Apple, reminded me of raising children. I wanted to remember it but I had nothing to underline, highlight or write with. And I was afraid to leave Abe because he liked to stand up in his tub, put his foot on the edge and reach for all of the bottles on the outer tubs rim. For the moment, he sat happily splashing in his little pond of water so I decided to make a run for it. I rushed out of the bathroom, grabbed the highlighter in the top drawer of my desk, and ran back in less than ten seconds. Abe sat there and smiled sweetly. I smiled in return and then highlighted the quote:

 “Yet as the modern apple’s story suggests, domestication can be overdone, the human quest to control nature’s wildness can go too far. To domesticate another species is to bring it under culture’s roof, but when people rely on too few genes for too long, a plant loses its ability to get along on its own, outdoors.”

I thought of how “domestication can be overdone.” Children are naturally wild and “the human quest to control nature’s wildness can go too far.” We try to domesticate children, to tame them, to control them. We teach them to be calm and still. But children are curious and crafty. They are explorers who naturally love to learn and play. We need to give them room to run wild and explore, in order to avoid “a plant los[ing] its ability to get along on its own, outdoors.” If we try to control them too much, if we “overly domesticatethem, they will lose their natural, inherent sense to discover, to experiment and be joyful. I believe children are happiest when they see the world as a playground.

A few days ago I caught myself telling one of my daughters, “Does this look like a playground?”

She had her roller skates on – in the house! I did not want her rolling those dirty wheels all over the floors.

But when I think of Abe splashing in the little blue whale inside of our bath tub, I see our home as a playground. He’s learning how to play here; he’s exploring: crawling, walking, reaching for things, and trying to climb up higher and higher. When he eats: he holds a piece of food in his hands, looks down at the floor and finds the perfect spot to drop it. I told the family, “It’s his art. The floor is his canvas.”

Sometimes I forget we are living in a playground. That doesn’t mean I want roller skates or food all over the carpets. But play does happen here, so does learning, experimenting, and growing. My children are beautiful plants always in bloom. And I will never again ask, “Does this look like a playground?” Because I know, it is.

With Ease. 

On the way to a birthday party with my children in the car, I felt like I couldn’t keep up with it all-the parties, the kids, the socializing, and the mess I’d left behind. I managed to get to this point through deep breaths and reminding myself, “One moment at a time.” 

The next moment, I was at a stoplight waiting to turn left. High above me flew a miniature airplane. It wasn’t actually miniature, only appeared to be so. My attention drew back to life-sized cars and the roads before me. With traffic at a standstill, I watched a butterfly cross the road. It fluttered up and down in a joyful bounce directly over the crosswalk. The perfect timing amazed me. It were as though the butterfly knew, it was her turn to go. Like every other pedestrian who had crossed the road before her, she had done so with ease. 
The birthday party was the day of Daylight Savings Time. Abe missed his nap due to the time change. I bounced and walked him around in the baby carrier until he finally fell asleep. Carefully, I unwrapped him from the carrier and placed him on a blanket in the grass. 


“That’s a dream right there.” A fellow parent said. 

He wished his kids would have slept outside when they were babies. 

I sat back in the grass satisfied for a moment as Abe slept peacefully under the trees. His sisters played nearby. I tried to read but had too many thoughts running through the fields in my mind. Had I accomplished something? 

The positive reinforcement from one of my peers confirmed I had. I wondered if, he thought, I had performed the task with ease. 

As I transferred my baby from carrier to blanket, had I done so gracefully? 

Perhaps, there was a bit of grace in the moment. However, it took more breaths than I could count and a lot more kind words to myself throughout the day. I was exhausted. Life hadn’t felt easy. But I knew what I was capable of. I could breathe through the chaos, be present enough to notice life’s blessings, and could perform at least one moment with ease.

Remember When…

Toys were scattered across the living room. A rubber duck with sunglasses was beak down attempting to dive under the carpeted sea. Another duck was spotted on the cover of a plastic ABC book which squeaked. And close by, another book sat loudly with bold colors yet, withheld its boisterous songs.

Under the coffee table, a lonely orange race car with a checkered top crashed over on its side.

A small orange basketball lost its bounce. And other oddly textured balls, brown and blue, lied motionless.

There’s another odd toy, shaped like peanuts in a shell, with a face that traveled alone and wound up upside-down.

Pink sequined slippers were separated in an abandoned stride. And an iPad was plugged into the wall hidden behind a woven toy basket.

 

There was an abundance of evidence – children lived here.

Who knew what lied down the hallway, in bathrooms, bedrooms or closets.

The treasures collected along the way said, Remember me. Remember me when…  

 

 

I followed Abe’s cry and found him on his knees with his butt sticking out of the bottom of the bookshelf. The top half of his body was shoved inside.

I laughed, surprised at his predicament, and watched as he tried to free himself by repeatedly lifting up and hitting his head on the shelf above him. Little did he know, all he needed to do was back-up like a mini dump truck – beep, beep, beep.

When I pulled him out, we laughed, and Abe smiled without a trace of tears.

 

 

The grin spread across Abe’s face revealed two baby chicklet teeth. He panted and snorted as he crawled toward me like a pig headed to the trough.

I am his trough, I thought. I am his source of nourishment, a provider of food, shelter and warmth.  

When Abe crawled toward me, he crawled home.