We have been the happy owners of a backyard play structure for almost 2 years now. And let me tell you, we have loved it. To be able to send the kids in the yard to play, slide, swing, laugh, explore and not have to worry about what they are getting into or where they are wandering is amazing. To watch them imagine up all sorts of new games with their best friends. To watch them become more daring in how high they swing and in how quickly they climb. To watch the chickens be introduced to new flying heights.......well that has been downright amusing. As we disassembled the play structure last weekend and sent it off to a new home where it will be loved into the ground by 5 adorable friends of ours as well as all their cousins and friends....I cried. I wondered what sort of parents we are to uproot our children, take away all these little things that mean so much in childhood and cast them aside for this journey that we are to embark on.
Last night we went to the playground down the street. The one we used to walk to regularly before we had a playground in our own backyard. Not the kind of neighborhood playground that is filled with mom's and strollers and yoga groups and kids sharing sand toys and families eating picnics. The kind of playground where teenagers talk on their cell phones and 4 year olds are left in the care of their 7 year old brother. The kind of playground where boys ride their hand me down bike with pink streamers and their knees knock the handlebars and they've never even worn a bicycle helmet despite the fact that this bike is their main means of transportation. The kind of playground where you are skeptical of those who approach, where you keep your kids close when there is a dog on the premises, and where you don't ever talk to the rare other parent you see because more often than not you don't speak the same language.
We walked away from the playground after having stayed twice as long as planned. I cried. I knew now the downside of having a playground in our own backyard. In our own backyard, I don't run up the ladder after the kids and race them to the bottom. I don't push them in the swings. I don't slide with them in my lap. I don't race them to the fence. I don't teach them how to share with the other kids who are there. I don't play Simon Says with that little 4 year old and her 7 year old brother who rode their hand me down bikes to the park. I don't acknowledge the strangers who speak a different language than me with a smile. I don't come home exhausted, scrub dirty little faces, and tuck them into bed with a kiss quite the same way when we're just coming in from our own safe, quiet, protected, hidden backyard.
Not to say that we will not replace the play structure with some sort of backyard fun once we are moved and settled. But whatever we do it will not replace our evening walks to the neighborhood park where we have the opportunity to engage our kids in the life that is our community. Because regardless of what it seems to the outside eye, that community is full of life, of beauty and of moments that need to be experienced.