How I Stopped Hovering & Learned to Love the Playgroud

To a child, the playground is a mountain to climb, a challenge to conquer, a good time to be had. But to a parent operating on a constant low-level anxiety buzz, it is torture. I’d watch my daughter scramble up the stairs and I would be there, arms out, ready to boost, catch or grab at the first wobble. She would slide down the slide and I would run like mad to catch her. I stood beneath fireman’s poles and climbing walls, barking at my baby to keep moving to the safer environs of the twisty slide.

And at the merciful end of our visits, I would scoop my daughter up and plop her into the stroller, wondering how mothers with children more active than mine survive.

I would soon find out.

My second child walked late, tricking me into thinking that she would be mellow. She was not. She jumped, climbed and swooped without fear. And a trip to the playground with my second-born? It was my nightmare come true. In addition to having no fear, my youngest had the desire to follow her older sister. I could not stay on top of both kids, so I shifted my focus to the smaller, more insane child, and tried to keep up.

I panicked as she catapulted herself onto the apparatus, leaned into the abyss and dared me to have a coronary. I only hoped my body would make a soft landing pad for her when she plummeted off the side.

This could not go on. And what I mean by that is, I deemed the playground Daddy territory, and refused to go anymore. If the kids were going to perish at the park, it would be on his watch.

Then, in the summer of 2011, we moved to Chatham, where the deer and the children run free. And where a huge, state-of-the-art playground had just opened nearby. How could we stay away?

At first, the wrangling wore me out. Between the splash pad and three playgrounds, the kids wanted to go everywhere, and it was never together. My kids wanted to play. I wanted to cry.

Then I looked around. Nobody else was freaking out. Kids were running everywhere, but parents were not in a frenzied rush to keep up. Everybody was having fun. Was this some magical place where kids didn’t get hurt or stolen or try to give their parents heart attacks in their spare time?

It kind of was. We were no longer in a big city. I had no other helicopter moms to catch a buzz off of. Shouting at my kids to watch out for every little thing felt ridiculous rather than necessary. They were having fun; they were being kids. We came to the park more and more often, and more and more often I saw happy kids playing with other happy kids and chilled-out parents chatting with other chilled-out parents.

My younger daughter, the fearless one, started school this fall, where she plays on the playground virtually unattended. And when I pick her up at the end of the day, the first thing she and her wee friends do is run right back to the equipment. There she shows me what she’s been practicing – flips on the bars, jumps off the platforms, heights climbed on the apparatus. She is proud of herself and her physical accomplishments, and for almost the first time, so am I. I do not yell, Be careful! or the less manic version, Pay attention!

Show me again, I tell her. And I mean it.

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