I won’t even try to gild the dead and frozen lily that is the winter of 2013/2014: it was atrocious. There are still multiple feet of snow on our lawn, and it’s freakin’ April. However, after months of harsh temperatures and semi-weekly dumpings of snow, there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Every day this week, the daytime high has been several degrees above zero. Double digits are being predicted for Sunday. Double digits, for the first time since early November! Spring is here. If this spring follows the typical trajectory for Ottawa, there will be a couple of weeks of dirty, rotting snow getting lower and lower, exposing layers of frozen dog turds, cigarette butts and wind-strewn trash. Then, there will be a soggy period, when the mud sucks at your boots and grey water ferments in low-lying areas. Finally, we will have spring in full bloom, and playground season will begin again. (Yes, I know there are people who take their kids to the park year-round. I’m not one of them. For years, Fiona and Bridget thought that playgrounds were closed in the winter. Now they know that’s not the case, but they know I don’t do snow-covered playgrounds – so they don’t ask.)
In the spring, summer and fall, though, playgrounds are great. We pack a lunch, go early in the day, and spend hours there. Frank Ryan Park, the closest one to us, boasts plenty of grassy open space, lovely old trees, colourful, well-maintained equipment and a wading pool with all-day lifeguards. Ryan, Fiona, Bridget and I are looking forward to the many good times we’ll have there. However, again, let’s not gild this lily too thick, either. There are a few yucky things about playgrounds, too.
1. All. That. Damn. Sand. In your shoes, in your clothes, in your hair. In your eyes and mouth, too, if it’s windy. The sand comes home with us, where it makes our floors feel like the bottom of a bird cage between April and October.
2. Playground equipment and facilities. Some people’s kids crawl all over everything like adolescent monkeys. Not mine. For years, it was “lift me up …. again …. now I want to get down …. I want to go on that thing …. lift me up …. again”. If they could manage to get up, there was about a 75% chance that they would chicken out of the steps or slide or pole, and howl for me to help them down. And swings. “Push me! Higher! No, higher …. push me higher …. Argh! That’s too high! Stop the swing!” And if the girls needed to go, which they always did, we had two choices. Pee behind a tree (more complicated for girls than boys, obviously) or use the playground washroom. Which always has a slick floor, no toilet paper or soap, and the lingering odour of – oh, I don’t know – a dead squirrel floating in vomit or something. They’ve come to terms with both the equipment and the washroom situation, now – but I’m still not over those years.
3. Found objects. If I had a dollar for every time I had to say “that’s not a balloon, don’t touch it” …. Well, let’s just say I’d have alot more time to write blog posts. Cigarette butts. Nasty days-old, rain-soaked, sun-baked, insect-tunnelled crackers. Rusted beer cans. And, one time, I kid you not – a used needle. Fiona and Bridget are old enough now to understand that you don’t pick anything off the ground unless it’s a really cool rock. Or money. But there was a time when I cringed every time I saw their eyes light up and a pudgy little hand outstretched toward the ground.
4. Sanctimommies. These come in several categories. There are the ones who drill their children in word definitions or math problems or scientific facts in an unnecessarily loud voice while pushing them on the swings. “WHAT’S 5+8, HARPER? THIRTEEN! THAT’S RIGHT! YOU’RE SO SMART!” We all know that’s not for the benefit of little Harper’s budding genius. Momma just really wants you to know what her baby knows. There are the ones who make comments that are designed to showcase the preciousness of their child. “Well, Schmaiden is very gifted in violin but he just won’t practice. My husband says it’s because he’s just too focused on chemistry. Maybe he’s right. I mean, not every four-year-old can recite the periodic table.” Then, there are the ones who feel it’s their duty to moniter all mothering efforts in their sight line. These women have been a problem for me since Fiona was about three days old. “I noticed she’s not wearing a hat – you know that their head can burn, too, right?” “Um, your baby’s eating sand.” “Just thought I’d let you know that your daughter’s at the top of the slide. By herself.” “Oh, granola bars! Those are so yummy. But they’re full of sugar and additives, so Gaylord only gets them at birthday parties.” Ugh.
5. That kid. Every trip to the playground features that kid, and every parent has encountered him (or her). He’s the one flinging sand around for no apparent reason. He takes all the sand toys you brought to make his sand-based, to-scale model of Stonehenge, but won’t let your kids breathe on his creation – or use their own pail and shovel. And, for some reason, he never brings toys of his own. He’s climbing up the slide at the same time your kid’s sliding down. He’s swinging for twenty minutes, giving your kid smug smirks as she stands waiting for a turn on the swing. (Aside: why are there never enough swings at any playground? Is this a conscious decision, or just a bewildering oversight by planners everywhere?) Oh, and he’s a snack mooch, too – but only on the days you bring a non-shareable snack. If you bring extra cookies or a big bag of cheezies, he’s busy ruining someone else’s day. But if you bring just enough for your own kids, he will position himself near your picnic table and watch you eat, like a pigeon waiting for crumbs. Even though he’s a little twit, you will feel sorry for him, and your kids will feel too guilty to fully enjoy their snack. Where’s his mother? Scrolling on her smartphone or flirting with the lifeguards, of course.
6. Which brings me to another irritating species of playground life: distracted parents. I understand that very few children have an adult’s eyes on them at all times, and I’ve looked away plenty, myself. But then there are the extreme cases …. During the many hours I’ve spent at playgrounds, I have stopped someone else’s toddler from eating their third piece of rabbit poop, caught a kid by the tail of their shirt just as they were about to run into the street, administered minor first aid after falls from a six-to-eight-foot height and waited up to five minutes for a parent to appear on the scene, and led a tearful preschooler around the playground for several minutes while she searched for her mother (who hadn’t been searching for her). The other parents at the playground are not your kid’s guardian angels – look up every so often.
Yeah, I know, I’m starting to sound all get-off-my-lawn and kids-these-days. So I’ll stop …. Anyway, I’ve got some pails and shovels to buy. One each for my kids, and one for that kid. Welcome back to my house, sand!