The Return of the Park. The Park Strikes Back. These are titles that denote the last couple weeks. Where parents everywhere have been unleashing their children, releasing them from the home, the monotony of the daily walk, a walk well-travelled. A welcome babysitter of slides and swings and monkey bars. I’ll be honest, it does feel just a little naughty. The logic a little hard to fathom. Scenes of kids everywhere, butting up against each other to hurry down the slide, kids racing to make it first up the ladder, little ones nearly being bowled over while others test out the swing’s capacity to go ‘higher’; juxtaposed with scenes at home behind gates, longingly watching the rubbish truck or the mailman, where our son seeks regular clarification on the day of the week, while the other son asks ‘is it morning time?’ late in the afternoon. A reel of contradiction.
As we make our way up the hill on our daily walk, the morning parks are set to reopen, I wonder how long it will be before our park is reinhabited by children. As we draw near, I see that despite the early hour, the park is already serving its intended function; children playing on the equipment, as natural as breathing air.
Our middle son, so well-versed in ‘Coronavirus’ as the explanation for everything we are not permitted to do, stands at the edge of the playground, arms folded.
‘No!’ he says, when we encourage him to go play, ‘Coronavirus’.
I often wonder about the frustrations children experience in coaching their parents – my mother used to call it ‘bringing up mother’ – how difficult that our son must be the voice of reason. I’m sure our toddler experiences this on a daily basis too, vigorously nodding her head when we ascertain what she is after; as though frequently frustrated by our incompetence.
When we insist our son go play, pointing out the other children swarming the playground, kids being pushed on the swing by their masked parents, shooting hoops, climbing, swinging, running; our son unfolds his arms.
‘Is the Coronavirus over?’ he asks.
It seems the logic of opening parks is lost on our four-year-old too – the same child who had stood forlorn in front of a sign erected beside the playground that read ‘Area closed,’ when the play equipment was still adorned with red and white safety tape.
Finally, our son relents, drawn by the lure of fun. As our kids join the other children, there is a strangeness to overcome, as though defying the rules, or defying logic. We may join a park full of children, but we are not yet permitted to welcome a guest to our home. But as our sons run, unencumbered and free, our daughter delighting in conquering a climb and swinging on the swing; I must admit, this ultra-normal, pre-COVID activity of park play; it feels, well…normal.