Archive for June, 2007

Playground “safety”

June 29, 2007

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                      My eight-year-old and I went to the elementary school to play for an hour after dinner last night—only to find the play structure fenced off for renovation.

    Renovation. Again. The local school and park playgrounds have been under constant renovation as long as I’ve had kids, each change designed to make them safer, each change making them less fun. Swings, for example, either go away or get a lot shorter; forget long hypnotic swoops into the sky, that’s way too dangerous, our kids tick-tock frantically; we used to fly.

    Let’s see, at this school alone in my kids’ years there they’ve ripped out the monkey bars in the kindergarten playground (thin metal bars don’t make safety code; thick enameled bars don’t fit kinderhands; so bye-bye monkey bars). They pulled out the set of six metal chin-up bars that was the place for second grade girls to play, chatting, and swinging, and building arm muscles while socializing. The giant gridded half-dome went too; again, it didn’t meet current safety codes, and yes, arms were broken. But the boys of my eldest son’s third grade class had amazing arm strength thanks to hours playing “spider-tag” (chasing each other but only using hands to navigate); my younger children are definitely weaker without this game to play.

    This time they’ve torn out the one remaining chin-up bar and the nearby metal balance beam in the playground reserved for the older-than-kinder kids. Coincidentally, these were the only parts of the play structure on which my kids had any interest in playing. They would shinny up the side poles to reach the high bar and then swing from their hands or hang by their knees. They didn’t have to bend their knees to avoid sweeping the ground, they could let their bodies extend and feel like they were flying, and sometimes even let go and have that blissful airborne moment.

    But I can imagine that kids on the ground occasionally got whacked by flying feet as they passed by without looking. Oh no, better rip that nasty bar out! (Forget that maybe looking both ways wouldn’t be a bad lesson to learn in a playground instead of on a busy street.)

    And about that metal balance beam six inches off the ground. Yes, metal. Really hard metal with corners. You probably could trip over it and chip a tooth. And yeah, my kids and others played on it in an unsafe manner (they didn’t walk along it with their feet, they tried to do handstands on it and launch themselves off of it). But they could play on it for hours, something they can’t do on the fake rock climbing walls that only look challenging; they are conquered in seconds.

    Giant boxes wait to be unpacked next to the play area. I spot yet another plastic peaked roof, fat support poles, and a stack of blocklike stairs that a two-year-old could climb. This, for the “big kids” playground. I could be wrong, maybe there’s an amazing new piece of playground equipment in there that is going to thrill my children, but I think not.

    There is a move afoot nationally to rethink this whole playground safety trend, to go back to letting playgrounds have an element of danger, of controlled risk. To let the occasional broken arm happen. Because, it turns out, kids will find ways to take risks. (Watch kids play on a safe playground someday; they will try to figure out a way to get up on the very top of the highest plastic roof peak, the one place the design attempts to protect them from going, the one place they can still feel challenged.) And completely safe playgrounds simply don’t encourage the kind of physical play kids need. For example, have you noticed that every playground has a tic-tac-toe game? What is up with that? Shouldn’t kids play tic-tac-toe on a napkin while waiting for dinner, and spend their playground time trying to figure out how to fly?

    Aahhh, progress!

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Streets safe from Veggie Booty

June 29, 2007

Toddlers going through withdrawal
seen eating peas straight from freezer

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Well it’s about time store owners pulled Veggie Booty, aka “Baby Crack” off the shelves. It’s a gateway drug. It’s green, it tastes faintly of spinach or chard or kale, if that spinach or chard or kale had been sitting in the attic for several years. And it’s definitely targeted at the toddler set; my kids fondly recall their Veggie Booty years, even though these days they won’t touch the stuff.

The big problem of Veggie Booty, just recalled for salmonella contamination, is that it leads to hard core green vegetables. Spinach, in which, we all know, thanks to last year’s recall, that e.coli lurks. Green onions harbor e.coli again, and sometimes hepatitis. Lettuce; dangerous, nasty stuff, return it to the store. Even basil was recalled in 2005 for contamination (how quickly we forget).

Clearly, these recalls prove, if it’s green, it’s dangerous. Most babies recoil from green foods, and now we know why. We thought those “white food only” babies living on pasta and mashed potatoes needed to expand their horizons, we gave them Veggie Booty to get them used to the idea that something green could be edible. Oh, how did we go so wrong???

Yo, dude, what ARE you staring at?

June 28, 2007

  Milkshakecol_jpg                        My husband and I took the kids out to the Creamery for milkshakes Saturday evening, celebrating good report cards and a last family outing before the biggest two went off to sleepaway camp. I looked around the table contentedly, a happy family portrait. My daughter, as always, hair brushed neatly and clothes matching. My youngest son, overgrown blond hair a complete mess but his usual big grin on his face (people often mistake him for a girl, he doesn’t mind, he just likes the way his long hair feels on his neck). And my teen son, dark stubble growing on the head he shaved last week (“Just to see what I look like bald”) and his fashionable lavender t-shirt (from American Apparel, he loves that new store) bringing out his green eyes and his summer tan; I was thinking he looked like a rock star.

    Then I noticed the guy sitting alone at the next table staring at my teen, first in puzzlement at his shaved head (skinhead? cancer patient?), then taking in the lavender T-shirt and switching to an expression of distaste (ah, I imagined he thought, I’ve got it now, one of those gay pride people).

    My teen glanced at him regularly out of the corner of his eye, the rest of us whispered about it then tried to let it go. But the staring continued.

    We eventually finished the ice cream and left without commenting. The mama bear in me wanted to confront him, “This is a great kid here who just got all A’s on his report card even though he was having a really hard time in French, so what if he shaved his frickin’ head, I actually think he looks OK.” My teen said he had also been tempted to say something on the way out, but decided to let it go. Yeah, a confrontation would have ruined our peaceful evening, and the opportunity to educate about jumping to stereotype people would likely have been a waste anyway. But still…..

Working moms’ summer redux

June 13, 2007

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Last year around this time I was suffering from summer envy; envy of the SAHMs who didn’t have to book their kids into a patchwork of camps, keep straight complex drop-off and pick-up schedules that changed weekly, and could instead make the spontaneous trip to the beach or the pool or hang out with each other drinking ice tea while watching their kids frolic in the sprinklers. (Yeah, I know they’re thinking about the muddy towels they’ll have to wash later, but it looks relaxing.)

    A year later, and, for the first time in a decade or more, I’m looking at a summer that might just be a tiny bit more leisurely than the school year. Oh, this isn’t something that I brilliantly planned; it just happened. And I might be able to enjoy it, once I forget that we had to raid the savings account to cover the last Visa bill, when all the summer camp charges hit at once.

    Week one (next week, that is). Teen boy has no plans; I’m assuming he’ll just sleep and eat. Tween girl booked herself up with mother’s helper gigs and will fatten her wallet. Youngest boy is off to theater camp, all day, every day. And I will not even be pulling carpool duty on that one, because I’ll be in New York, as in, "Oh my, dear, look, our annual meeting hits the first week of summer, here’s the carpool schedule, have a nice time!" (Smile and wave, dear husband, smile and wave.)

    And then, for an entire month, I will be living in a one-child home. After the kids made their various sleepaway camp choices and mailed in their applications, I finally wrote it all down on the calendar, and discovered that except for the occasional Saturday night, I only have one child home at any one time; a different child depending on the week. (We also have an insane weekend in which we have to pick up one kid at the airport on Saturday, another  that same day at a camp five hours away, and do dropoffs Sunday and Monday, also at said far away camp. But perhaps I’ll be so rested from my easy weeks, it’ll be snap.)

So, in the same way that swinging one bat after warming up with three feels oh so easy, my summer is looking like a walk in the park. I’m thinking summer concerts, dinners out that don’t break the bank, trips to the movies that don’t take hours of negotiation. And weeks and weeks and weeks in which I do not have to referee anything; not who gets the last scoop of coffee ice cream, not who made the mess in the bathroom, not whose turn it is to push the button on the Cuisinart; not who is taking up too much room on the couch. And that alone will feel like a vacation.

Here’s to summer! (I say, as I raise a virtual glass of ice tea.)