Playground Paradise

When my kids were little, trips to the playground were a must. Their energy expenditure was critical to my ability to make it through the day sanely, and I’m sure that they benefited from not only the fresh air and exercise, but from the time to play and explore. After they were dressed, the stroller was packed with snacks, dig toys and a beach towel, we would head off on foot to one of the many kid friendly areas in our neighborhood. One of their favorites was the ‘The Grandma Penny Park”.

This park had all the prerequitsites for toddler paradise: a climbing structure, swings, a slide, soft woodchips to land on and best of all, the merry go round.  For kids who needed to test their boundaries and get their wiggles out, this was heaven.  For moms, the shady bench in close proximity to the playground was a perfect place to observe-just far enough away to give the kids some freedom, yet close enough to catch them when the fell.  And they always did.  I was there to scoop them off, brush off the woodchips, pull out splinters, offer sippy cups full of juice, and swallow a few Goldfish crackers before testing their courage all over again.  Cries of ‘Watch this, Mom’ resonated throughout the park nearly every second as my babies tested their balance, speed and courage.  Playmates screamed, laughed and occasionally argued over who was going down the slide first or who got more ‘under doggies’ on the swing.
Once elementary school began, life was so much more structured.  The “Grandma Penny Park’ was visited less and less, as t-ball, gymnastics, karate, rock climbing gyms and play dates because locations of paradise.  Occasionally we would stop by to take a quick swing or spin, but the twice daily trips to the playground became a thing of the past.  Energy was now expended in a more focused manner.  Shouts of ‘Mom, check this out!’ caught my attention as my children back flipped, tucked, and shimmied down every imaginable object.  Gone were the splinters and sippy cups, replaced instead with rope burns, blisters, bruises and Gatorade.  Hurt feelings from learning how to navigate friendships were soothed with hugs, talks and mommy time.

These days, trips to the playground are virtually non-existent.  Teens and preteens are much more likely to find their paradise  ‘hanging out’ with friends downtown, at the pool or bowling alley, or gulping down a Starbucks Frappuccino before shopping. Trying to hang onto the innocence of childhood becomes a balancing act between their quest for independence and my thirst to hang on to childhood.  Statements of ‘Can I hang out with my friends’ frequented our conversations.  Squeezing in the family vacations before college became our mission.  So many places to visit, things to teach them, and experiences we want to have as a family.

When we recently stumbled upon Fern Canyon, we were thrilled to watch our kids run, jump, swing and spin in nature’s playground.  Gone were the iPods, cell phones, playmates and Facebook connections.  Instead, our kids rediscovered their childhood pleasures among the fallen trees, dripping waterfalls and trickling stream.  Wooden board bridges offered just enough stability to cross back and forth while presenting them opportunities to test their boundaries.  Many times I called out, ‘Be careful” as one child scampered too high up a fallen log, or came close to soaking his only pair of shoes.  Declarations of, ‘Watch this!” echoed down the canyon as he darted from one wet rock to another, making it safely every time.  There were no swings, slides, or sippy cups in sight, just a mom, a dad and two kids creating their own bliss.
What I’ve learned is that all of us need to find our own paradise.  Sometimes we need  the structure of other people or events, and sometimes it takes the apparatus of a structure, or the companionship of friends.  Sometimes, though, all we need is our imagination and the opportunity to unleash it.
What I’m still learning is  how far away to watch, and how fast I need to rush in when they fall, as they always do.  I’m learning when to hug, when to wipe the tears, and when to stand back and let them handle it on their own.  Paradise found.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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21 thoughts on “Playground Paradise

  1. Kathy says:

    This is a perfect post for me!!! I just love it!! I too loved my playground days, and though I have a 6 year old and a 9 year old along with my tween 12, our days are dwindling rapidly. I love the idea of our own paradise! I love that you had that time with your family. I had a small glimpse last week when we took the kids to a childrens museum on our way back from a family reunion. The three of them were so cute and so great as they discovered the museum together and then would call and say, Look at me!!

  2. Michael Ann says:

    This post put a lump in my throat! Those park days are but a distant memory, but I walk by “our” neighborhood park everyday when I walk our dog. And every single time, I get wistful…. I love seeing my boys grow and mature, and yes, hang out with friends. But I miss the innocence of those days too.

  3. Shannon Milholland says:

    Thank you for this reminder of how precious these days with my kids are. From trips to the shallow end of the pool with my four year old to trips in the passenger seat while my fifteen year old drives. Each moment is one to savor. One to remember.

  4. Nan @ Playful Decor says:

    My guys are just starting school and I’m sure I’m speaking from ignorance, but as I exit the terrible, tantrummy toddler years, I’m REALLY looking forward to the structure of planned activities. Plus I love driving so I’m ok with driving them around. Maybe I’ll change my tune in 10yrs and then I’ll eat my words here! Super nice post!

  5. Jenn says:

    Beautiful post! I remember the freedom I had as a child and how much time I spent roaming the neighborhood and riding the mile or so to the river to play by the banks or collect “hoppy toads” on the little island between the river and the canal. They were glorious times, and looking back, I’m amazed at the sense of security we had.

    My parents never worried about us being more than a mile from home, on our own with just our bikes… there were no fears about child predators back then, and they were glorious days.

    I worry about how I will handle this when my kids get old enough to go to the park or the woods on their own. How much freedom will I be comfortable giving them? Will I feel the need to accompany them everywhere (I hope not!). But the idea of just letting them go wherever, unsupervised, scares me to death at the moment. Maybe when they get older I’ll feel better about it.

    Anyway, I was really dropping by to thank you for reviewing me on Stumble! I went to return the favor, and as it turns out, I’d already reviewed you! LOL Hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend!

    Smiles, Jenn @Misadventures in Motherhood

  6. Nekky says:

    This is what I’m doing right now. I’m in the middle of it all. Some times I want my toddlers to grow up so that I can do something different but reading some of the comments here, I better enjoy the time while it lasts.

  7. mamawolfe says:

    I remember when my kids were little thinking how there were definitely things I would miss about that age, and wondering how could it be any better than it was. Now, I can say that there are things I DON’T miss, and it is still amazing!

  8. Sandra's Fiberworks says:

    Great post — I so agree. My kids are only 6 and 7, but I see all this coming. By the way, there was a great article I read somewhere about how playgrounds have become too safe; our kids have little enough freedom to take risks, to even roam freely in their own neighborhood, or climb trees. This will all be missing from their development. But maybe things are changing with this crappy economy, and parents my have to scale back on all the activities that start earlier and earlier, pulling our little ones awy from the playground even as preschoolers, for soccer, gymnastics etc all that seem to start as soon as the can walk.
    Thanks for the blogfrog follow and following you back here, as I find it easier to follow my favorite blogs.

  9. Dayna Musto says:

    Hi there – great post. I too have teenagers and remember the playground days. Especially the ones where I carried my child crying and screaming down the street back to my home. They never wanted to leave. I think we need adult playground. I miss swinging and climbing. I hope you get a chance to read my post http://www.greatbeautybuys.com/?p=432 – it’s about parenting teens. Have a great week.

    Dayna

  10. mamawolfe says:

    Thanks Sandra-I did read that article somewhere, and it really made me think about a lot of parenting behaviors that have changed since I was a kid. Dayna, I remember those tantrum times, too! Yikes! And adult playgrounds…have you ever tried a zip line? Scariest thing I’ve ever done!

  11. Sarah says:

    What a sweet and tender post! My son is only 17 months old and this had me with tears welling up in my eyes!! Hard to imagine a day when he won’t want to spend 24/7 with Mommy. Just another beautiful reminder to treasure every moment.
    Following from the Meaningful Monday hop.
    Sarah @ made in usa challenge

  12. Erin says:

    Wow,
    What a trip down memory lane, Lisa. I took my own journey back in time as I read your words. Now, with grown children, I have to watch from a distance and think “Be careful” quietly to myself. Thanks so much for this post. It brought back a lot of sweet memories!
    Blessings,
    ~Erin

  13. Karen Dawkins says:

    Awwwww, what a sweet post!!!!
    My oldest heads to college next year, and I feel much the same as you. Cram it in, remember, do, experience, cherish…. I want to hold on to time and never let another tick pass by… and I can’t wait till he goes and discovers his life as an adult!

    Happy to be new follower #100! Welcome to the century mark 😀

    Love,
    Karen

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