The Playroom: Crossing boundaries

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

My daughter skates at an ice rink that has a man-made public-works lake in front of it. The suburb built a walking path around the lake and a park. A lake, even a contrived man-made lake, is a welcome place to wait out yet another hockey practice. On Wednesdays, my son waits for his sister with me. Yesterday, we took a walk around the lake.

Five minutes into our walk he told me he had to use the bathroom.

“What do you mean you have to use the bathroom? Why didn’t you go before we left?”

“I didn’t have to go then.”

“You didn’t have to go five minutes ago, but you have to go now?”

“Yeah. I do.”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you because there aren’t any toilets.”

“It’s okay Mom, I can just go pee on a tree.”

“No, you can’t”

“Why not?”

“Because nobody wants to watch you pee on tree.”

So we walked a bit farther and he said, “Mom, eventually I’m going to go pee on a tree.”

He’s right. Eventually, when I’m not there and he wants to experiment and cross boundaries, he will pee on a tree, a bush, a curb or outside some bar on a Saturday night. But for now, he’s 8, and I know he’s testing his boundaries and testing me and he doesn’t really have to pee.

As we cross over a bridge I teach him about the dam the public works department built to block a stream, how they are keeping it from entering the lake. I don’t quite understand the logic of the engineering, but still it’s neat to see a dam in action and talk about why people build dams. Then we see three toads. At first my son can’t see them because they are covered in the mud they are wallowing in, but then he does, and excitedly he points out the third toad, a smaller, kid-sized toad.

We walk farther and talk about mosquitoes, about how glad we are the mosquitoes aren’t out, how by tomorrow, after the rain, the place will be infested and we would need bug spray.

“Why does bug spray keep them away?”

“It has a chemical in it.”

“Well, it smells really bad. So if you fart, does that keep mosquitoes away?”

“No, farts don’t keep mosquitoes away.”

“Why not? They smell really bad.”

“You have to have chemicals to keep the mosquitoes away, kiddo, you just do.”

As we circle the final bend of our walk, he takes my hand as we head up the hill. He’s a big, tough third-grader now. He no longer needs my hand to cross the street, and he seeks to cross other boundaries. How many more walks before he no longer holds my hand?

As we are walking hand-in-hand I wonder if someday 40 years from now, when my son is my age and I’m in my 80s, he will hold my hand and walk with me around the lake as we look for toads, wonder about public-works engineering and worry about mosquitoes. We’ll talk about farts, and I’ll need to pee.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. Her website is Email her at