This morning, the girls and I headed out to the playground. It was a beautiful Wednesday morning. Sunny, but not too hot. Breezy, but not too windy. A couple of fluffy clouds in the crisp blue sky.
And when we got there, were bummed to see this. Again.
That, my friends, is a depressingly empty playground. A beautiful, well equipped, meticulously maintained, and chronically underused playground.
Welcome to suburbia.
In the month that we’ve been back, we’ve been to this playground several times and a couple of others a time or two. Once, there were two moms and kids here, obviously as part of a scheduled playdate. And once, at another playground, we actually ran into another little girl Poppy’s age, there playing with her little brother and their babysitter. P was so excited to see LIFE at the playground that she literally darted off from the van and raced to the playground at top speed screaming, “MOMMY! A FRIEND! A FRIEND IS HERE!”
This kid is absolutely starved for playmates. Oddly, the playground does not seem to be the place to find them.
I’m not the only one who finds this weird, right?
I mean, I get it. I guess.
In the suburbs, people have private yards. Many probably have private swingsets in those private yards. And all the rest of the kids are, what? Playing videos games and eating Cheetos?
In Brooklyn, we didn’t need to schedule playdates. We’d just head to the playground on a morning like this and it would be packed. Like, overpacked to the point that kids were practically crashing into each other as they ran amok. There would be kids on the play equipment, kids running around screaming, kids drawing on the asphalt with sidewalk chalk, kids sitting on benches with their parents having a snack. Kids. Everywhere.
We had two tot lots by our house — neither more than a 2 minute walk away — and although small and grubby and less-than-meticulously maintained, they were well-used and well-loved. It’s where we spent many a day playing and running around, making new friends, breaking our legs, and getting dirty.
Here in suburbia, we have gazillion dollar play structures every several blocks and no one ever on them.
I now constantly have this George Carlin skit running through my head.
[Poppy's simple obsession with sticks and rocks make me feel like I'm doing something right. Thanks, Mr. Carlin!]
Granted, my kids are as yet too young to go out to play on their own, but even if they were of age, I’m not sure there would be any other kids for them to go find and play with. I’ve been walking and driving around our neighborhood the last several weeks and have seen virtually no kids out and about. Anywhere. Not walking through town. Not in their yards. Not in the backyards I can see.
It’s summer, for pete’s sake.
Where have all the children gone?
I don’t want my kids growing up in a world of scheduled playtime and helicopter parenting. I want them to roam, pick up sticks, get dirty, and learn how to have fun without me breathing down their necks. I want them to make friends down the block, go the park alone, and have the opportunity to make me sick with worry when they come home a few minutes later than agreed upon.
I don’t want my kids growing up experiencing nature-deficit.
This is a big part of the reason we wanted to get out of NYC and not get stuck raising our young kids there. We wanted a yard to hang out in, grass to run our toes through, outdoor s p a c e to enjoy, and a big empty sky above us. We wanted our kids to run around with sticks; not iPads.
And now, here we are, with all of those things in our grasp and I can’t help but feel like we’re among the few enjoying them.
How do your kids spend their free time? How do they make friends? How do they relax and learn and build their imaginations?