when did THAT happen?

Spring has sprung on the Upper West Side, and all up and down the avenues children are tripping off to Riverside and Central Park after school, to visit the many neighborhood playgrounds. The Upper West Side of Manhattan is very high in numbers of both young children and playgrounds; it is a wonderful neighborhood in which to raise a family. That being said, I have never really liked the playground. You have to be totally on top of the kids so they don’t fall off the slide, or the swing, or leave your eyesight for a moment, and while all the other parents are chatting away, I stand there feeling like I’m in the 8th grade cafeteria without a lunch table because I know no one. I have never talked to anyone at the playground.

Wait, there was one time when Laurie Berkner sat down next to me at the edge of the sandbox, and I got all star struck because I mean, come ON, and Fergus was playing with her daughter Lucy and I told Ms. Berkner that we loved her music and she was totally friendly. Super friendly, and that’s all the more weird because no one else in a NYC playground has ever been friendly to me. That was a magical afternoon (I called my sister-in-law as soon as LB walked away and breathed into her answering machine, “You would not BELIEVE who I was just talking to”) but other than that ONE TIME, the playground is not where I want to be.

Still, when the weather was 65 and sunny last weekend, I summoned my mommy reserves and told the boys we were off to Central Park. I hadn’t taken them to the playground since Maddie was born in October, so we were well and truly overdue. Maddie came along and napped in the stroller. Despite the mile-long walk to get there, I chose Mariner’s Gate Playground, which I remembered both boys loving in the past.

Then we got there, and I thought to myself: Who shrinky-dinked the playground equipment?

Cooper and Fergus just kind of stood there, staring at this totally lame jungle gym. “Go play!” I exhorted. They went down the 18-inch slide once or twice, and then said, “Can we go home?”

They used to get a whole afternoon of thrills out of this place. Somehow, in the six months since we had been there, it had become a “baby” playground.

Then Cooper had a great idea. “Let’s go to River Run!” he said. “Awesome!” his younger brother concurred. Now, that was another walk of nearly a mile, taking us back to where we started, pretty much, but I said OK. Why didn’t I think of River Run? I asked myself. They love that place. Then we got there, and I remembered why I avoid River Run at all costs:

The Merry-Go-Round of Death

I kind of can’t believe these things still exist on playgrounds anywhere. They should be called Merry-Goes-To-The-Emergency-Rooms. Every time we have gone to this playground, I have tried at all costs to keep this spinning-finger-breaker out of the boys’ line of vision. And then they see it, and run shrieking over to it, while I run up behind them saying, “Careful! Wait for it to stop! Stand in the middle! No now you can’t get off! Just hang on for dear life it’s too late nowww!” And I stand there, heart pounding, wound up like a spring, until they get bored, and jump off, barely avoiding grave injury. That’s usually around the time some other kid falls off or slips underneath and is whisked away by his or her nanny with a bloody nose.

It’s the big kids, I always told them. The big kids are too rough. The big kids push it too fast. You have to watch out for the Big Kids. Big Kids are the menace of any playground experience.

But there we were, returning to River Run after a half-year’s sabbatical, and suddenly, the merry-go-round was fine! Fergus climbed on without hitting his chin on the metal bars. Cooper WAS the pusher, and kept up a good pace without tripping and falling and getting kicked in the head. I was able to sit on a bench, ten feet away, and just watch. It was an amazing moment. My God, I thought. My kids ARE the Big Kids. When did that happen?

I would have been heartbroken, had Maddie not been at my side dozing in her stroller. Because I still have a baby, I was thrilled that my boys have become so independent. Dare I say it? The playground was actually enjoyable, even though I still didn’t talk to anyone. Once Maddie’s big enough to push the merry-go-round, though? THAT will be a sad day.