Today, I took my daughter to a playground we had never been to before. I had seen some photos online, but when we rounded the corner and I saw it in person for the first time, the little girl inside of me–the one I mentioned back in Week 3 of the Artist’s Way–ached to play on it.
It was a castle. A giant, sprawling wooden castle chock full of nooks and crannies and bridges and towers and slides. Huge slides. When I was a little girl, this style of playground was always my favorite. They were by far the most magical places to play–a magic lessened only by my fear of splinters.
After taking my toddler on a tour of the castle (I had to carry her most of the time because she’s still pretty little and hasn’t mastered climbing yet) and pushing her on a swing for a little while, it was time to head home. She enjoyed the outing, I’m sure, but the epic nature of the playground was lost on her. As we walked away, I felt both nostalgic and a tad grumpy. I still wanted to play.
Sure, when my daughter is older, she will probably run me into the ground with her incessant desire to play imaginary games with me. She will want me to be the bad guy or another princess, or a horse or a dragon. Who knows what roles she will come up with for me? It will be magical. But it will also be play largely dictated by a tiny someone else. Not me.
That sounds incredibly selfish. But hear me out. As I walked away from that playground, I noted with a pang that it would be strange for me to go back and play without my daughter present. People might think I was there to kidnap a child or at least that I was very odd. They might think that I’m actually a teenager, taking over a space that wasn’t designed for “big kids.” The sad truth is this: I’m too old. Playgrounds are designed for children. Not for parents.
Maybe that’s only a little true. Parents love to take their kids to playgrounds. I know I do at least. It’s wonderful to have somewhere outside of the house to go and explore. It’s delightful to watch my daughter experience new spaces–learning to climb, and slide and sample wood chips is all good fun.
But let’s be honest. Playgrounds are also stressful places for parents. There are so many hazards. Maybe I’m more anxious than I’d like–okay I know I am–but come on. There are so many ways for kids to get hurt even in spaces designed for their recreation. So many high places to fall from. So many crevices to get lost or stuck in. So many other kids to bump into. And splinters. Let’s not forget splinters.
Depending on how we look at it, playgrounds can be places of fun or ripe for disaster. I know the healthy thing to do is to balance caution and a sense of letting go. But achieving that balance can be tough. And our children are blissfully unaware of how much we have to juggle just to take them out to a public park and let them play. Even if we play with them (and I hope we do) it’s not just playtime for us. We’re on the job.
Week 5 of the Artist’s Way focuses on recovering a sense of possibility. So I’m going to share a little daydream with you. Maybe it actually exists (please tell me if it does), but I left that playground today dreaming of an adult-sized version. A huge castle play space designed for imaginative grownups. A place to run around, explore, and let off steam in a truly playful way. I don’t just want to go to the gym or go for a walk. I want a playground. A legit playground that I can play on without being a creep. I guess this is why we have things like laser tag and Renaissance Faires–for those of use who still want to play pretend and dress up. But an actual castle type play space for adults? I want that to be real. I want that to be a new normal. That would be a whole new level of magic for this artist mama and her inner child.