The Playground Structure that Taught Me Something About Myself

Most of the playgrounds in San Francisco have been remodeled, rebuilt, revamped. And they look great, and modern, and they’re lots of fun. Take a look at these pictures of the completely amazing playground at Dolores Park for an (exaggerated) example.

There are a handful that have not been updated since, oh I don’t know, the 70s? 80s? The dangers and hazards at these things are a work of art, yet they oddly draw me in as a mom. They look like the playgrounds I grew up playing at. And I like that.

One such park has no official name, but has been dubbed by the neighborhood the Blue Boat Park, or more simply, the Boat Park. It’s close to our house, and is a neighborhood favorite, and we’ve been there many times for play dates, birthday parties, or just the Mom-needs-to-get-out neighborhood jaunts.

There’s a bunch of stuff at this park for the kids to play on, including, as the name suggests, an old blue boat that rests in the sand, a gloriously tall and skinny metal slide, old school monkey bars and wood, tons and tons of unfinished wood. There were, until recently some amazingly dangerous baby swings, but those have been replaced.

There’s one structure in particular that at first had me a little worried. It’s a wooden structure with a crazy, curvy, old school metal slide and a fire pole. The only way to get up in order to go down the slide or fire pole is to first go up a simple ladder made of metal tubes. Or to go up the slide the wrong way, a neighborhood kid favorite. The structure is also really tall, so you can’t lift your child up onto it.

┬áThe tendency, I think, for a modern American parent is to go up on playground structures with their kid, at least the first few times. Especially if they’re under the age of 3. And especially if it looks like this one. But on this structure, you can’t. There’s just no easy way, or safe way for that matter, to do it. So, Bowie, like all the other kids, had to patiently wait until he was big enough and coordinated enough and brave enough to climb the ladder himself. And that day did eventually come.

I didn’t think a whole lot about it, beyond our first day visiting that park, and being a little disappointed about it. Until the other day when I saw a mother trying as hard as she could to carry her small daughter up onto that structure. She tried and she tried until she realized that it’s not safe to do, and then she finally gave up. But she said, “The city should really just take this one down.”

What? A play structure that’s been there no doubt for decades, and has delighted thousands of kids, needs to come down because you can’t carry your 18 month old to the top?

Now, some parts of my momming are very Type A and helicopter-y. I will admit it. And it’s a constant struggle for me to try to keep all of that anxiety at bay and sometimes just let my kids be kids. But, until I saw this frustrated mom at the Boat Park, I had no idea just how well I was doing with that, and also how far I’ve come since being a new mom.

Once I figured out Bowie was going to have to tackle that playground structure on his own, that was it for me. I didn’t put any more thought into it. I didn’t think the structure was a hazard, or that the way it was built wasn’t fair to the smaller children, or that it needed to come down. I didn’t get worried when he finally did figure it out and went up there all alone. I just shrugged my shoulders and went about my day.

That playground structure is a parental exercise in letting go. And I learned from that exercise that I can let go, when they’re ready, and when I need to. We’ll chat about this again when they’re teenagers, but for now, I’m proud of myself.

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