Playground therapy

March 14,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

One thing I always appreciated about having very small kids was how easily entertained they could be by the simplest, smallest of things. If we had a long napless afternoon stretching ahead of us, I would swallow my frustration and exhaustion and walk L. down to the nearby park/lake where we could easily pass an hour looking for sticks, or rocks, or throwing small stones into the water. I used to take T. to a small mom and pop pet store in-between preschool pick-up and heading to L.'s elementary school and she was happy as could be toddling around the hamster cages and listening to me talk about the merits of one type of dog treat over the other. Unfortunately, as kids get older, they're not so easily entertained by the little things, but I've found still that the simplest pursuits with them are almost always the most rewarding.

Yesterday we had temps reaching 72 by the afternoon. After breakfast Scott headed off to play a tennis match, and I rounded up the kids (with surprisingly few complaints from L. at all), and a large bag of stale bread for the ducks, and we headed to a nearby park. 

I pushed L. in the swing, while T. climbed around the play structures, making friends here and there. The sky was bright blue, the curve of it above the pine trees so familiar. I thought about how many times I'd gazed up at that same arc of sky while I pushed a child in those same swings. So many things continue to change as my kids grow older--this is the way it is, after all, but so many things have stayed comfortingly the same: the park, the playground, the sky, the whoosh snap whoosh of the swing's chains, the silhouette of L.'s shoes against the bright light as he soars up and hangs, for one brilliant second, in the sky before falling back to me.

At the playground on Sunday I planted a push on L.'s back, sending him high. I thought in pure and simple ways about how much I love my son, my daughter. If I flounder some days lately trying to figure out this parenting business, second-guessing difficult choices, feeling guilt over too much stress-related impatience, at the playground on Sunday I felt (absurdly?) secure as a mother in that way you can when you are tending solely to the simpler parenting tasks:  applying sunscreen, pushing L. as I've done so many times, while keeping T. in view. I called to her from time to time when she slipped out of sight, reminded her to keep her Crocs on her feet, told L. we had only five more minutes of swinging to go.

There's a buying-time feeling to our playground visits these days. L. is ten years old, and T. seven. Soon, I know, our favorite playground will become another thing rooted firmly in the past. I didn't care about that yesterday, though; I didn't care that I pushed both kids in the swings until my arms hurt, or that we spent longer than I had planned feeding the geese and ducks by the bridge. I didn't mind scraping together $2.00 in change to buy a shaved ice cup from the truck by the parking lot--my kids were deliriously happy with it all, and so was I.