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.

An Anxious Trip to the Bookstore.

If I bounced and paced my baby across the living room one more time – I was going to lose my mind.

I’d been shut in the house for too long. Away from the outside world yet, inviting so much of the noise inside my head. The only relief was fresh air and fresh faces. With baby in tow, I headed to Barnes and Noble.

On the way there, I trailed behind a car with a succession of 1’s on the license plate. I saw the 1’s as a sign I was headed in the right direction.

After returning some merchandise and receiving store credit, I went straight to the reference section in search of books on writing. As I stood there bouncing baby Abe in the carrier strapped across my waist and shoulders, my heart raced. I was anxious with indecision: Which book should I get? Should I buy one at all? I do have store credit. But I’m trying to be minimalist! I don’t need another book. If I do buy a book, I better make sure it’s worth owning…

The first book that caught my eye was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont. It was on my list of books to read. I flipped through it and realized it wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted something more instructive. So, I picked up The Art of X-Ray Reading by Roy Peter Clark. I could work on my reading skills, I thought. I read a few pages and considered it a possibility. But, I really wanted something on structuring and plotting a story.

I grabbed Plot Perfect by Paula Munier and skimmed through it. This had more of what I wanted, a step-by-step process with examples and exercises.

With Plot Perfect in my hands, and Abe asleep in the carrier, I stood there dumbfounded with reservation.

By that time, more people had invaded my space. A man searched the shelves beside me. I shuffled to the left and noticed another person ruffling through the discounted bins nearby. Had they noticed me? Were they witnessing my struggle over choosing the perfect book?

My face was on fire. I wore a sweatshirt underneath a 20 pound baby in a sweat suit fastened to my chest. I wanted to run out of there but I still hadn’t decided on a book!

I looked to the bookshelves one more time and spotted a tiny green dragonfly on the bind of The Art and Craft of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb. I picked up the book. I thought, maybe this is the book for me. But, am I just picking it because it has a dragonfly on it? Or was it the best choice?

I decided to take the dragonfly as another sign and fly out of there.


*I am currently reading The Art and Craft of Storytelling, underlining sentences, writing in the margins and taking notes. It turned out to be the best choice after all.

Used Books & Hidden Treasures.

I recently ventured to a local used book shop to stock up on books as I wait for my little prince to make his grand entrance. The days are longer now, filled with longing and impatience. Reading is helping to pass the time and occupy my mind.

This year I set a goal to read 12 books. One book a month. It’s June and I’m halfway through book 11.

My “pregnancy brain” is getting a good work out and my vocabulary is improving. When I write, I notice new words popping-up to wow me. I smile, pleasantly surprised, and grow a little taller in my chair.

At the book shop, I picked out four memoirs to further study The Art of Memoir (book 8 by Mary Karr). I’m traveling down the non-fiction road, writing my own path, and plotting along the way.

Book 11, A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, was one of the purchases I casually flipped through and decided to take home.

As I opened it to read, I discovered an inscription from the author: For Ariane – Hope you enjoy my little story…bon appetite! Cheryl Tan June 3, 2011.

This is what I love about used books. There’s always hidden treasures inside.

In book 3, Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, M.D., I found a green juice recipe on the back of a piece of paper torn from the “Daily Teachings” of The Secret. This page is Sunday, Day 70, and has a quote from Buddha on it: “If a man’s mind becomes pure, his surroundings will also become pure.”

The recipe, titled “Juice,” is written and underlined in black ink with the following ingredients listed below:

1 bunch Kale

4 stalks Celery

1 Cuke

2 Granny Smith Apples

½ Lemon

Ginger Root

Each ingredient (including the title) is highlighted. I don’t know what the purpose of this is. Is it a way of checking off each ingredient as she purchased it? Why is the title highlighted? Was it just for fun? A way of showing enthusiasm for health?

And in the last book I read (book 10), The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, I found a ticket to Cass Park Aquatics Center dated July 28, 2009. The phrases, “GOOD ONLY FOR DAY ISSUED” and “SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK” stood out in bold letters.

The warning to “swim at your own risk” screamed at me. I was reading a book of mystery at the time. Everything seems risky when you’re looking for the answers to who done it.

I wonder if the person who went into the aquatics center felt risky or if they ignored the blaring words on a ticket they might have purchased numerous times before. Maybe, he/she is an avid swimmer. However, the ticket in the book would indicate he or she sat on the sidelines reading and faintly watching the water fun. After all, the ticket did make for a good book mark.

I’ll never know for sure. But I love these little clues to the book’s previous lives. The hands that held them and took them along their travels.

I have books with notes in them. Lines that are highlighted or underlined, help me peer into other minds and wonder, what were they looking for?

Lines marked to remember, remind me to remember. The words, the books, the hands and minds that connect us. The people who loved and let go. My finger prints on theirs. I become a part of their journey.

And here you are, passing along the words.

The journey continues…