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July 02, 2008

Aged out of the Playground

Nancy You know the kid:  He's a little too big to be totally unaware, as he douses the slide with his water gun, that your two year old was just about to attempt that slide on her own.  He's a little too crazy to be trusted around your toddler near the slippery sprinklers.  He's a bit too big for the playground, isn't he? Is that a five-o'clock shadow you see?  I mean, he must be at least eight years old!

I know that kid, too.  He's my kid.  Too big for the playground, too small to just hang out in the park with friends, and too stuck with a mother who is biologically incapable of playing a decent game of catch. (That would be me.)

Face it, it's HOT in New York City right now.  And without camp to go to (yet), my kids crave water, and want to be outside.  (We can only mooch off our suburban friends with pools so many times before we'll have to chip in for their mortgages.) NYC Playgrounds are filled with great sprinklers, but alas, not with too many kids older than five or six.

Maybe my kid is too big for the playground, but this is New York City, and I can't utter the hallowed words "go outside and play." So here we are at the playground again, with all those mothers of cute  swim-diaper-behind-ed little ones giving me the evil eye. 

My son is not exactly the threatening type.  He's great with little kids.  My next door neighbor sometimes rings our doorbell looking for him when she needs help with her own eighteen month old twins.  "Is A. here? " she asks. "The babies would really like to see him."  Translation:  she'd really like the babies to see him.  They love him, he loves them, and sometimes, he can get them to stop crying when nobody else can.

True, he is bigger than the other kids. (Gasp-inducingly skinny, but TALL)  He runs fast, he plays hard, he still LOVES the playground.  But the playground police (aka other mothers) and the Babysitter Syndicate don't love him back.

"How old is he?" asked one mother, leaning on the word "old" as if my kid was 80 instead of eight.
"Eight."  I answered.
"And you still come to the playground?"
No.  I'm not really here. You're having a hallucination about a big kid and his big-haired mother (humidity is not my friend), while actually, my old kid and I are reading existentialist literature at the Public Library.
"Well, it's a hot day." I said.
She gave me a look that said "Oh really????"  and walked away with her baby  in her arms, safely protected from my huge, evil spawn.

You know the sad part?  I was happy to at least have somebody talk to me!! There is nothing    
more boring than hanging out at the playground when your kids don't need or want you around and you don't have any friends to talk to. 

So why do I still go?  I want my twins to be outside.  I want them to get wet.  I want them to run around and pretend the sprinkler is a monster that's out to get them. But I don't want my son to be the big, bad big-kid, either.   (My daughter escapes the evil glare of new mothers because she's small enough to pass for a six-year-old.)

I don't think that the problem is that my kids are too big, but that there are so few playgrounds geared for them.  Hey, I remember being the mom who was wary of the bigger kids.  I don't really begrudge them their feelings (well, maybe a little), but where else should I go? In my neighborhood Hippo Park is fabulous -- but only for the six and under set.  Elephant Playground was my favorite when they were toddlers, but they really haved aged-out of that one.  River Run is OK, but that's where the "oh really" mother was.  There used to be The Ancient Playground, on Fifth Avenue near all of the private schools, that catered to school-age kids.  But first of all, it's water-free, and secondly, it's under renovation, and I have a sinking feeling that when it re-opens, it'll be all about large land mammals, without a big-kid rope-swing in sight.

So maybe some people think my kids have aged-out of the playground, I think The New York City Parks Department  has aged them out.  The playground is where two eight year olds belong.  If only the city had a playground where they wouldn't feel like modern-day Gullivers traveling to The Land of the Little People.  For now, though, Gullivers they'll be.  And if you see us in the playground -- be nice.  After all, all those impossibly cute little ones will be big kids one day too.

Original post to NYCMoms Blog.  Nancy also blogs at agelessbodytimelessmom.wordpress.com


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