‘I love slides,’ my son yells with greater excitement than he has ever mustered for me, the man who has fed and clothed him since he was born, not to mention that he facilitated 90% of every slide interaction he’s had.
We are in the playground. No Big Playground, which is what we call the sprawling Byzantine ludoplex in the largest park 15 minutes away, which has six slides, eight swings, and little wooden forts. No, this is Little Playground, the smallest and most local. It’s not my son’s favorite, but we like it because it’s less busy, which means he can wear whatever he wants, and I don’t have to talk to many other parents.
Please understand that my problem is not with them, but with my own newfound inability to make small talk. I return to trivialities of such serene softness that I hate myself saying them. “He loves this slide,” I tell the mother next to me, while my son uses the slide he loves. She laughs and agrees, which is actually mad that her daughter loves that slide too, which makes me laugh too, because really, what are the chances?
Big Playground, on the other hand, is packed with people at all times, each of whom, both adults and children, seems to be on the verge of an extremely news-worthy nervous breakdown. The last time I went to the Big Playground there were, conservatively, 8 million people present and chaos reigned in all directions. Here, children eat sand while their parents extract another’s head from a swing. There, a mother begs her son, now barefoot, to be careful as he descends a giant metal loop loop, face first and tongue sticking out. It is basically a painting of Hieronymus Bosch with swings. Going there to relax with a child makes as much sense as going to Stansted airport for coffee.
We operate under the polite fiction that none of the rules apply to playgrounds, which suits me well. Nobody wants to see young children in face masks except the child with the tongue sticking out, but it gives all these interactions a feeling of hunger and feast. We spend most of our lives meticulously cleaning, cleaning, washing and sterilizing, and finding the fewest number of people legally allowed, before breaking this rhythm with occasional half-hour bouts of preschool hedonism. It’s like spending six days a week in a Trappist monastery and visiting Burning Man every Sunday.
Sometimes, of course, Little Playground is completely deserted, which is puzzling in its own way. There’s something spooky about an empty playground, the unspeakable feeling that people in hazmat suits may have finished packing the police tape 15 minutes before your arrival. Or that one day a wise and withered old woman will point a lanky finger in our direction and tell us, with growing horror, that we must leave this cursed place at once.
“Haha, okay,” he would probably say. “He loves this slide.”
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism