At This Park…

A cool September breeze blows across the playground as I sit on a bench staring at the brightly colored equipment, lost in thought. At this park, time stands still, at least in my mind. 

Suddenly the shadowy figure of my 2 year old appears at the top of the metal cargo net, grabs the bar, and swings bravely out past the edge. For a second a twinge of panic comes back to me and my heart drops into my stomach. But then I smile. The shadowy figure exists only in my memory. The memory of a time when we first discovered this park, halfway between our house and a friend’s. It felt so nice to finally have a place to meet and hang out that didn’t require a 45 minute drive.

Somehow we ended up there alone a lot, just the two of us and our kids. So this park became the place I could let my kids be daredevils and spread their wings without the pressure to keep them safe. Free from the eyes of other parents and their opinions. I could sit on a bench and outgrow my hovering as they grew into their own abilities to try out the monkey bars and fireman’s pole, or walk up the slide.

climbing

Sometimes, a mom would show up with a toddler and a new baby. I recognized the tired, frazzled look in her eyes. Then powerlessness when her oldest climbed to the highest, most precarious spot on the playground at the exact moment she sat down to feed the baby. It felt nice to be the veteran mom then. To keep a watchful lookout for the younger kids, but know and reassure her that they’d be ok. To whisper, “just watch”, as we witnessed the kids figuring it out on their own.

At this park, my boys climbed higher than they’d climbed before. They met new friends to have lightsaber battles and play ninja turtles with, if only for an afternoon. They ran far away from my reach, as long as they stayed in eyesight while I sat under a tree chatting with my friend, nursing my new baby, and remembering the time my son took off his shirt and shoes. Yep, I had “that kid” on the playground that day, but no one cared. I remembered the times we raced each other across the empty parking lot and soccer fields and they won. I remember the first time my oldest ran out of my reach. Ahead of me so far there was no way I could catch him. He was safe, of course, in an empty parking lot running toward a field with no cars in sight, with me walking toward him carrying his baby brother. Zero chance of something going wrong, but I still felt panicky.

atthisparkpin

At this park, I once borrowed wipes from another mom because I accidentally forgot to pack them and my kids asked my friend to drink the last of her water because I didn’t pack enough. Other times, I was the mom loaning out the sunscreen and extra snacks.

At this park we found a gypsy moth caterpillar in the middle of the bike path and my 4 year old lay down on the hot pavement to watch it. I wanted to capture the wonder of that moment and hold it in my heart forever.

swing

At this park, my son and I made our own new memories without his brother. We rode bikes and strolled through the woods peacefully without whining or competition. Picking up acorns, seeing how many squirrels we could spot, balancing on fallen trees, talking. He learned how to swing without being pushed.

I wonder, when the time comes to go to the park without the kids, will I remember all of this? Will there be a time I’ll come to this park and not see the shadowy figures of my kids everywhere? Be driving and glance to the back seat whenever I hear “Wish I could turn back time… to the good old days.” And not see two little boys sipping Coolattas, bobbing their heads. I hope not. We all grew up here at this park. Them from toddlers into young boys, leading the younger kids in imaginary games. Me as a mother, on the sidelines, learning to let them go.

Sometimes my thoughts race forward to dropping them off at college, or some other teenage milestone. When it’s just me and my husband here in the quiet with an empty nest. Sometimes I think of it longingly and other times I wonder how I’ll ever survive without the noise and chaos.




The Summer Before the First Day of Kindergarten

It came and went in the blink of an eye. The last summer before my oldest son started Kindergarten. I dreamed and planned to fill it with morning art projects, leisurely bike rides at the park, picnics, road trips to the beach and children’s museums, hikes to look for geocaches, play dates with friends, impromptu water gun battles, fruit picking… all of the things we did together and loved to fill our days before we had obligations like school to keep us on a schedule.

And we did do some of that. But not nearly enough. My kids watched a lot of television and I spent a lot of time working online. We traveled a lot, visiting grandparents so I could attend a conference or just get some time to myself or vacationing in Williamsburg. The things I planned to work into our routine, never became routine, and so it feels like they didn’t get done at all.

The sweet moments of brotherly love between my two boys come less frequently than they did a couple of years ago. Instead they’ve been replaced with rivalry and boisterous competition. A bike ride lasts 2.5 seconds before my youngest pulls ahead and my oldest whines and cries that his bike is too slow, because he’s losing. “It’s not a competition” has become my mantra.

Except when I need it to be a competition because it helps them finish their dinner plates.
When I first started writing this post, I had a lot of unfinished summer fun on my mind. Like not taking enough trips to the beach, homemade giant bubbles, more painting projects and science experiments… but as I sit here on the first day of school, I feel ready.

We didn’t make it to the movie theater for $1 movies but we did rent a lot of them on Amazon Prime. We didn’t paint as much as I’d hoped (with water balloons and catapults)  but we did throw back to their baby days by throwing down some paint and smearing it around with their feet, followed by a mid-day bubble bath.

summerbeforekindergarten

Last week I packed lunches and loaded up the kids for an impromptu road trip to the zoo. I didn’t tell them where we were going. I let them use the camera on my phone to take their own photos and while they got tired and squirrelly and started wrestling on the pathways I caught glimpses of the fun we’d have in the future. The things yet to learn and the projects yet to do.

Kindergarten has arrived. The time I’ve prepared my son for for years with play dates, story times, day trips to museums and farms and classes at the children’s garden.

I feel like the summer flew by in the blink of an eye. Heck it wasn’t just this summer. The last 5.5 years have flown by and if I sit and really think about all we’ve done, it has been so very full of memories and fun. There’s just never enough time to do it all. I guess that’s just how life is too.

Daniel Tiger has been replaced by Lego Ninjago and Star Wars Rebels. And my 3 year old thinks the neighbor kid who comes over to play is the coolest guy on the planet- not his older brother. Naps are few and far between, but it doesn’t stress me out as much as it did last summer.

One time my 3 year old acted silly and Joey laughed and said- “I love you Dom.” My heart melts and I picture my 5 year old as a 22 month old, laying his head on the baby’s stomach and playing this game they call “Chubby Face”. I’m crying now writing this. Because I know it will only get more bittersweet the more time passes.

The older and more independent they become, the more proud I’ll be and the more I’ll miss those days when it was just the three of us with nothing but time to kill before Daddy came home from work.

kindergarten

Ahh the summer before the first day of kindergarten.

  • When a 5 year old wears a cape and roller skates for a walk down the street and never once thinks of embarrassment.
  • Dances in paint, or the rain, with complete oblivion. Actually playing in the rain also requires a hose.
  • Builds immaculate Lego cities with story lines that never end.
  • Melts down over not being able to keep up on a bicycle because he’s faster when he runs.
  • Will still nap if I rub his back and hold his hand.
  • Can read, but prefers to be read to.
  • Can get to all the high up hidden spots, and open the packages of all the snacks himself.
  • Gets fully immersed in becoming a pirate, on a pirate cruise, and then for weeks after.
  • Wants to help me make my Usborne book party videos and actually does a pretty professional job sharing his favorites.
  • Is tall enough for roller coasters at Busch Gardens- what!?
  • Has no concept that the water level changes in the ocean, but wants to keep going out farther, assuring me he’s got it under control as he flops down in the surf and comes up sputtering.
  • Wants to go on all of the biggest and fastest water slides and can pretty much handle them all.

It’s a time of growing independence, but constant requests for me to play with him. Total passion for whatever idea comes to his mind and repeatedly asking for it until it happens. There’s a little apprehension about what Kindergarten will bring too- will there be a literacy center? What if there’s a substitute? Will I get to draw pictures and read books? What if I get kicked out? But mostly….

We’re Ready.

He had orientation and checked out the classroom. He met his teacher. His new Darth Vader light up sneakers were ready with his school uniform. His lunch box was full of all his favorite snacks.
He’s growing up. But he’s still a little kid– who wants me to take him to school instead of riding the bus. But we’re ready. He’s excited.

This morning I tried to prep him for being anxious and scared. He wanted me to walk him to his class- but I knew it would be better to leave him at the cafeteria. So we drew hearts on our wrists with washable marker and decided on a secret hand shake.

We went over the big hug, secret handshake procedure we’d do when I left and I assured him I’d be thinking about it. I told him he needed to explore and investigate and report back to me what Kindergarten was like and how it was different than Preschool.

I’m getting ready to pick him up and hear how it went. I hope he’s excited and just as ready to go back tomorrow.

If you’re sending your kids off to Kindergarten I’d love to know how you’re dealing. Are you ready? Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.