The local park looks shabby now. The tops of the play structure have turned a light blue and yellow. It’s all kind of run-down looking and you wonder- did it always look like this?
My kids are at home or at school, working and doing homework on iPads and computers. Checking their grades on school portals. Practicing their instruments. Selling Girl Scout cookies and attending Boy Scout meetings where they plan the highlight of their scouting career- the infamous Northern Tier trip. Everything seems heavy and carries an air of finality to it. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m too sensitive or too serious.
I drive past the park at least once a day. I think a lot while I’m driving. I do a lot of driving. I remember our park days.
There was the time we landed there early- like 8:30 in the morning of a muggy summer day. We met friends there- the usual suspects. There was no plan, soccer balls, food nor blankets. Our kids didn’t ask us to log onto our hot spot. They didn’t complain they were bored. Half hour in- the sprinklers came on throughout the park area. We had the whole park to ourselves. The kids and adults shrieked with delight as we ran free through the sprinklers, our damp clothes sticking to our bodies and hair hanging in our face- a moment frozen in time. A moment of complete freedom and joy.
I remember being a young mom at this park. Nursing one baby in a sling and chasing the other. Pushing my babies in the infant swings. Then transitioning to chasing after them to make sure they didn’t fall off the structure. To our dismay, they loved heading to the big structures where the big kids were. Then finally graduating to teaching them to pump their legs and swing high. We held picnics and potlucks there. We flew planes and kites there. The mountains were our backdrop to our life. There was always a new Mom to connect and pass the morning with. Our conversations were always interrupted and I recall we would tell each other- just wait until they are older- we will have all the time in the world- then indeed we will be able to finish this conversation.
Our days seemed like they’d just go on for all time. The plan was always this- let’s run them ragged for 2-3 hours- then go home, throw them in the tub, make a quick Mac and cheese dinner so they’ll be in bed by 7:30. A glass of red wine was always our reward before going to bed and doing it all again the next day.
I go to the park every now and then- between the soccer games and farmer’s market – always on the way to somewhere else. The park is no longer the primary destination- it is merely an interruption on our journey to somewhere else. I don’t recognize any of the faces anymore. I’m at least 10, okay maybe 15 years older than everyone there. I feel like an odd duck- an imposter- my face is not shiny and new and that optimism and open-mindedness that accompanies new parents is no longer in my DNA. That belongs to the new ones- with new babies in slings and swings- calling after them with that sing-songy voice. You know the one. The one you used to use that now drives you nuts when you hear new moms using it.
My kids? They are at home. He is stressed out because there’s 38 honors geometry homework questions that are on top of the test, the history quiz and spanish homework. Due tomorrow. Real dinners with equal amounts protein and veggies need to be made and someone needs to be picked up from somewhere- every day of the week. There are parent-teacher conferences, awards ceremonies, PTA meetings, reading nights and school fundraisers to attend. The red wine has been replaced with Kombucha because alcohol keeps you awake at night and between the pre-menopausal night sweats and anxiety over how you will pay for college – sleep is something you need so much more of these days. That and our thickening waist-lines simply cannot tolerate the alcohol any longer. We wave to our mom friends in the school pick-up lane and text in case of more urgent matters. Sometimes we get together with those who have’t yet returned to the workforce- we grab a bite to eat, we hike and we talk- all uninterrupted.
Sometimes things just change. And you have to change with them. But you still drive past the park at least once a day and you remember.