I have spent hours sitting on park benches, playing in the sand, pushing swings, digging sunscreen out of strollers. I have noticed there are cycles at the park, movements around the playground equipment.
In the morning, bright-eyed toddlers and preschoolers, up early, show up to play with tired moms. By afternoon, older children race through the swings and sand boxes. They are free from school and not yet ready for soccer practice. By early evening everyone heads home, it’s time for dinner and bath, for spending time with family, reading stories, going to bed and the last words spoken, “I love you,” before turning off the lights.
Today at the park three young boys came together and were playing. Two of the boys decided to play a game they called “Super Spy.” I smiled and watched them imagine, create and become super spies. A younger sibling or cousin, a third boy, approached the two already playing and asked, “Can I play?”
The two boys answered, “No.”
The boys’ mother overheard them and interjected, “He can play.”
So the other two boys decided that the third child could play, but he would be the bad guy. The mother told the other two boys not to be exclusive and explained that all three of them needed to be either good guys or bad guys.
The first two boys tried to bargain with her, “Next round we’ll be the bad guys and he can be the good guy. “
She answered that wouldn’t work because the third child would still be left out. So the older of the two boys said to her, “Okay, Mom, then you be the bad guy.”
She responded, “Okay, I’ll be the bad guy.”
I never used to care about being the bad guy. I never cared if my children liked me or not. I assumed they did, even if I was the bad guy. I was confident, knowing that although there could be tears and tantrums at the sand box, the day would end peacefully with the walk home, stories, cuddles, hugs and “I love you,” the last words spoken before turning out the lights.
My older daughter is now in junior high and I’m beginning to sense she doesn’t like me anymore. All of a sudden I care about being the bad guy. I find myself rethinking my actions and wondering if I’m a better mother, or if I cook her favorite dinner or if I buy her a new pair of shoes, maybe she’ll want to spend time with me. I am realizing now that she won’t.
She doesn’t play at the park anymore. She hangs out with her friends and they walk around the edges in their identical shoes. The sign on the fence they pass reads “Tot Lot Ages 2-5.” I remember bringing my daughter here when she was 3, pushing her on the swings, playing in the sand. I watch the girls approach an ice cream truck and my daughter comes running towards me.
As she comes towards me, I wonder if there is any part of her I can take credit for, if the hours at the park matter, or if she is just her own amazing and beautiful self who has no idea why I’ve got tears in my eyes over an ice cream truck in the park next to the playground equipment, next to the “Tot Lot.”
“Are you okay Mom?”
“I’m fine. I’m fine”
I think she needs more sunscreen, but I say nothing. She’s running towards me because she wants money. I dig out my wallet. She thanks me, turns and runs off to buy popsicles with her friends.
There are cycles at the park and movements around the playground equipment. I am sitting on a park bench, teary-eyed, missing the child she used to be, celebrating the girl she has become, watching her play.