The fairly mild winter has allowed us to take a few trips into Boston on the train. I worked in Boston for many years and still do when the project permits, but I really do enjoy being there with the rest of my family.
A few weeks before Christmas, we had a particularly mild weekend that permitted a visit to the Macy's Christmas windows and The Tadpole Playground on the Boston Common. Several other families apparently had the same idea because the playground was full of children. I can't believe how much I enjoyed watching them run around with other children. It reminded me of being in Moscow with P and the playground near the hotel.
The only difference here was the diversity. There were children and families of all backgrounds and ethnicities. We could hear a variety of accents and a couple of other languages. My husband turned to me and mentioned the diversity too. That is one thing we don't get at the playgrounds near our home, and it is something we think our kids should somehow get more of.
But there is another thing mostly missing from the playgrounds near our home -- other children. For about a year, I thought it was my timing, or that I was missing some secret wonderland for toddlers where all the kids who used to be on the playground were now hanging out. Occasionally you would see another family, or a pair of moms out on a play date, but mostly our neighborhood playgrounds were empty.
It took me a while to figure out that most of the children now had play structures in their own back yard. It took me a while to figure out that in order to get your child to play with other children, you had to make playdates. And in order to make playdates you had to know other mothers.
I still think the empty playgrounds are tremendously sad. We decided not to buy a climbing structure for our back yard, because we wanted to go to the playground, we wanted T to interact with other children and we wanted to know our neighbors with kids. I had imagined raising children with a group of other families, sharing milestones and experiences, in an atmosphere of support, and not in isolation. In order to meet other families you have to join in (and pay for) structured, scheduled, activities and lessons.
The New York Times ran an article last Sunday that introduced the latest thing in playgrounds, complete with play planners. In the city, playgrounds are still relevant because apartment dwellers often don't have back yards, but is guided play something that our children really need?
My children still love a playground whether it has other children or not. But whenever there are other children present, they follow each other up the ladders, down the slides and around the playground to start the game again.