Listening to an album from front to back. Three fingers of Irish whiskey over three ice cubes. A trip to the comic book store. Actually finishing a movie. The little things that I enjoyed with great frequency in my mid 20’s are now the rare treats that I appreciate even more. If I get even one of those a week now, I’m set. Dark Side of the Moon? Matt Damon’s enunciation of the f-bomb 1.56 times per minute? Nothing gives me half the joy that the Mayor gets when it dawns on him that we’re on the way to the park.
Living within a two minute walk of a playground is the parenting equivalent of pressing Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A. It’s just plain cheating. Six months after the boy was born, the city finished a complete overhaul of our neighborhood’s playground. Soft rubber ground, fully gated, a spray park for the summer, and a play structure so unique and imaginative that it must have been conceived on a night in the desert listening to Riders on the Storm. As if that weren’t enough, there’s also two little league fields, a basketball court, and a pond, complete with a small boat ramp and fishing pier. I can kill hours at a time down there, not the easiest task when the person you’re with has the attention span of PUPPY! RED! HI! THREE! WATER!
The hierarchy of the playground is fluid, depending on the season and time of day. With school back in session, the Mayor is more of a king during the morning. He can go down the slide as many times as he wants, gathering enough static to light our house for a month (note to self: call electrical engineer, make this happen). “Infants?? Out of my way, loyal subjects! The king wishes to swing!” After a half dozen times getting in and out of the merry-go-round, two rungs of the cargo net, and a walk on the wall, he’s had his fill. He walks over to his stroller, climbs up and says “Home!” It doesn’t get much easier.
The early evening, however, is a very different experience. If I time it wrong, the playground is overrun with middle schoolers, and I’m just not ready to hear about teen angst and butt-chugging yet. Maybe in another decade. There are times I’ll walk right past the park and quickly toss a graham cracker his way to avoid catastrophe. If it’s just the kids from the elementary school, we’ll be fine. The Mayor has to wait his turn a little more than he’d care to, he doesn’t always get to ride the spinning chairs or hang from the monkey bars, but sometimes the bigger kids will play ball or cars with him, so it evens itself out. But then there’s the parents…. *deep breath*
- Get out of your car and watch your kids.
- No, you can’t smoke next to the jungle gym.
- If your kid wants you to push them on the swing, put down the Candy Crush and push them.
- Don’t leave trash on the bench.
- Yes, food allergies are real, and unless you want your kids to see me stab my son in the thigh with an epi-pen, please, don’t smash peanut shells into the ground!
- Your five-year old’s bike is meant for her to ride, not you. And if you try to pop a wheelie on it, but fall and separate your shoulder while trying to show off, yeah, I’m gonna laugh at you. (Yes, this actually happened. More than once. Same guy.)
In between shooting laser beams of judgment out of my eyes, I do manage to get some serious parenting and networking done. There are some really great parents in the neighborhood, too, and comparing “war stories” reminds me that even on the days when I want to cower in the bathroom, hiding from the miniature Godzilla terrorizing my living room (and
my wife’s our cat), I’ll make it to through to fight another day. The boy is working his people skills, too. How do you think he got the nickname? He’s got a couple of seven year old girls to push him on the swing, and all the apple slices he can wink out of their parents. Ah, the perks of power.
If I happen to glance at my phone at see that we’re within a half-hour of the Mayor’s bedtime, the trip is chalked up as another in the win column for Dad. Now, I just have to get him to leave the playground: willingly, or otherwise. Crackers, Daniel Tiger, the cell phone, no bribery can quell the rage tears of a one and a half year old that just wants to stay and play until 3 AM. But wait, what’s that we see? Could it be the SUV of justice? It’s mommy, home from work to save the day! Suddenly, he wants to show off what a good boy he is (and has been all day, regardless of what Daddy says). Thanks for bailing me out there, Mommy. He’s in your hands now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have two Batman‘s, a Detective Comics, and a Nightwing to catch up on.