And just where were you while this was going on?

08/15/2008 By Shawn Burns

I always set the backpack down on a green patch  in the otherwise wood-chip floored park. Three play areas comprise this park, our nearest, the one Erin screams "Whee!!!!" at every time we walk or drive close by. One area is a for the swings, where Erin had her first swing on a swing; this area remains our first stop every time we go. It just isn’t the park if we don’t begin with a "Whee!!"

Another area has a low jungle gym. A narrow staircase there has helped teach her one-footed surety; a plastic bridge has given her sea legs. There are two slides, one short and straight and steel; the other long, a plastic purple tube. Erin always eschewed the slides. Timid? Probably not. She only fears vacuum cleaners. This day was no different, however. After a few stair drills and bridge crossings, she was bored. She climbed down and headed over to the last area.

This area is home to the tall jungle gym. Designed for older pre-schoolers and younger elementary school children, this apparatus has many tempting openings in the railings that lead to 6 to 10 foot falls to the chip floor below. As usual, Erin went for the stairs, and climbed her way to the top, taking her time and crawling through tunnels of opportunity.

A child approached her on the stairs. A boy-child. 5 years old? 6? Hard to tell under the massive helmet he was wearing. "She can’t be on this one. She have to be on the other one. No babies allowed on this one. The other one is for babies. Her have to go."

Erin ignored him. I listened to him, then said in a tone that covered my irritation that a little punk wearing a helmet on the jungle gym would try to get her to clear off, ostensibly for her safety but really because he didn’t like a 15 month old showing him up with her mad jungle-gymming skillz: "Well, she seems to be doing okay for herself here."

Punk. Go tell your mom that your helmet is squeezing your brains out.

Erin passed him on the stairs, as did I. And when I turned around he was gone. As though he had always and only been an avatar of my parental conscience: "Your kid should be wearing a helmet, dad; your kid should be on a lower, safer, jungle gym; your kid should be….hey! Where’s your kid??"

Erin was already at the tall, 10′ slides, watching some older boys slide down then climb up. Over and over. I could tell she wanted to try these slides, even though she had never shown any interest in the slides on the "baby jungle gym". She held the bars, and then stepped forward until her feet came out from underneath her. And she hung, demonstrating her awesome upper-body strength for the weak-ass boys at the bottom of the slide. Then she dropped and slid to the bottom.

Back to the stairs, back up the stairs, this time free of punk kids telling her to stay off the jungle gym. Back to the insanely tall slide (she’s 15 months old, folks; it’s like 7 times her height): grip, step, hang, drop, "whee!!"

And the boys were applauding her at the bottom of the slide this time.