I am a park addict.
I am discovering in my older age, that all of the things I once turned my nose up at is something I now do. For instance, birthday parties. For most of the first year my son was in pre-school, I would receive these invitations to birthday parties for other kids in his class. I would glance at them and pretty much throw them away. After all, I did not know these people. My son wasn’t personal friends with the classmate, so I figured it was just a nice gesture.
Halfway through the year, I discovered I was the only mother NOT participating in these parties, and I quickly scrambled to begin RSVPing to everything I was invited to. I had to prove myself worthy for a while, but then my son was quickly re-invited to all of the small town events and we were part of the group. I continued because I loved it – not because I felt trapped or needed to make my son part of a clique. The lure of a small town is something very special: it pulses with dark drama and gossip, homemade cookies at every turn, and celebrations of tiny events on a grand scale.
Back to the parks.
Once again, parks were something I believed stay-at-home moms ruled, along with packed lunches and mommy groups. But as the weather warms, and the need to get my children away from 8 hours of television looms, I found myself seeking out the only thing left in the world of motherhood that is still free: parks.
A box of teddy grahams, some bottled water, Goldfish and pb&j is all you need and I kill a few hours of old fashioned fun. When I first began, I only haunted my tiny neighborhood park and started a tradition of hitting the library, the park, and then a walk for ice cream. I branched out soon as I heard about the popular park with the giant lake and trails to walk. My kids loved throwing rocks into the water, skipping around geese droppings and taking a small adventure through the woods. I became ever greedy for more, and would coast through all the small towns looking for their neighborhood treasures. I found one with a giant sandbox. I found one with covered bridges that looked almost like forts where the children could huddle together in secret. One had a small creek where the kids could take off their shoes and jump around the rocks without getting too dirty.
The parks began to receive tags from my children. “We want to go to the park where Jake got stung by the bee!” “Yeah!”
or, “We want to go to the one with the lake.” or “I want to go with the one with the sand.” then “NO, I don’t like the sand, the lake.” “No, the sand!” “Lake!” “Sand!” “Lake!”
And so on…
There is something beautifully meditative about parks. Pushing my son on the swing for long peaceful minutes calms my mind. For a little while, I lift my face to the breeze and feel the warmth of the sun against me. I hear the steady creaking of the chains and the up and down motion of feet just learning to pump. I hear the children’s screams and laughter and watch the lazy flight of a bee. I become one with everything and sink into the moment.
I can also mark each year of growth by the park. When my three year old first began climbing the rock wall and told me he could do it by himself. I remembered how I would stand by the open spaces, always afraid he would take a tumble. Now, with dizzying speed his little legs fly up the stairs and hurtle down the slide with no hesitation. My older son, who was always afraid to socialize with anyone, now names the stranger beside him his new best friend. And I remember like it was yesterday how he would run over to me and hide his face and mumble, “There are other kids there. I don’t like other kids.”
So, as I circuit this summer in search of a few hours of mindfulness and child play, I am reminded to enjoy the days ahead and mark another year of growth. I know one day my kids will be too big for parks unless they are cool enough to hang out with their friends. They won’t be holding my hand or screaming “Watch this, mommy!” every two seconds.
I spent Memorial Day at a city park today. They turned the sprinklers on so the kids could run through the spray when it got too hot. The ice cream truck parked by the curb, and we all licked snow cones of bright rainbow colors and got sticky as we sat on the park bench and just enjoyed the day. And I remembered everything that was good, for a little while.