Swinging alone at midnight in a strange park in a stranger city, I had nothing but the starlight and the creak of the metal chains to keep me company. Well that and the squalling baby pinned to me in the front carrier. Norman Rockwell it wasn’t. Any wildlife had fled the scene hours ago. Nor was I worried about getting attacked as my son was louder than any airhorn. See, this was no thought-filled quiet moment of reflection stolen out of a busy life – this was my life. Night and day. For a year. I had a baby – our second son – who had The Colic (and yes, that warrants capitalization) and the only way to get him to sleep was to swing him. Rocking chairs, gentle swaying and those fancy baby swings with eleventeen settings didn’t even register on his radar. You had to be seriously moving that kid to get him to chill.
I believe it was my husband who discovered the magic of the midnight park swing but after that, no matter where we were, often one of us would trek out to a park, strap my son in to his carrier and swing until he conked out. (Our rainy day option was to sit on a big blue exercise ball and bounce like we were on a trampoline while we watched TV in closed captioning. This completely ruined 60 Minutes for me forever.) I’d say I have wonderful memories of those close times together in the park, just he and I. Except that I’ve pretty much blocked out his whole first year of life.
But the park was my salvation and as our kids grew older, parks have only become more important in our lives. I’d say that after our home and our church, the neighborhood parks are the most important place to our family. We’ve picnicked and had playgroups, ridden bikes and ridden dogs (long story), firework-watched and bonfire-toasted, played in them and peed in them (hush, I have 3 boys, it was inevitable someone was going to drop trou). And of course we’ve worked out in parks!
Parks are America’s anchors.
For the past 10 years we’ve been at a park nearly every day when the weather allowed and even many days when it didn’t. Basically parks are like one big yard that I don’t have to mow or rake! With built-in buddies! And then came last summer and thanks to miserable politics here the entire Minnesota state government shut down. Yeah, I didn’t know they could do that either. Until they did. I never realized before how much upkeep parks took until those mysterious city elves stopped keeping it up. At first it was just a shortage of hand sanitizer in the potties. Then the potties were padlocked shut (the ultimate horror for a mom of preschoolers!). Grass grew long and garbage accumulated. And then things started to break and fall apart. Yes, in just one month. One one hand, neat science lesson for the kiddos: Behold the mighty force of entropy! (Take that wimpy x-ray vision and shove it, Superman!) On the other hand: Aaaagghhh!
I’d been taking our parks for granted. Just like when Arrested Development went off the air, sometimes you don’t realize how much you love something until it’s gone.
So when Coca-Cola contacted me about their “America’s Favorite Parks” program I was really excited about the idea. They describe parks as “the anchors of our communities” and I totally agree with that. I think that building up America’s park system should be a priority in every city — unfortunately budgets are tight everywhere so often parks take a backseat to other priorities. But Coca-Cola is offering $100,000 to makeover the winning park of their Live Positively community program, plus money towards many other parks, with no strings attached. It’s just a goodwill effort.
This really struck a chord with me since my children’s elementary school — and its attendant park — was shut down last year because of budget cuts. We still like to go to the park but what used to be my kids’ favorite place to play has now become a serious health hazard. One feature is entirely missing its safety glass, one of the slides is boarded up and heaven help you if you need a garbage can or a bathroom. Next year the city is planning to use part of the old building as a preschool and I cannot imagine tiny tots going near it. (Free tetanus shots with registration?) So I’m nominating my park!
*For years I thought R.E.M.’s “Night Swimming” was actually “Night Swinging” – makes the line “they cannot see me naked” a little different, no??
Do you have a great park memory? Do you have a favorite park? (You can nominate yours to win too!) Any of you have a favorite lyric that you sang wrong for years?
NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Only legal residents of the 50 U.S. (and D.C.) who are at least 13 years old and reside within the U.S. at the time of participation are eligible to vote for a Park. Participate on behalf of a Park by: July 15, 2012. The 3 most popular Parks will be offered a grant and there will be 1 Wild Card drawing at the end of the Contest to award an additional grant. To participate, for Official Rules, and complete details including grant descriptions, visit www.LivePositively.com/parks. Void where prohibited.