Friday, February 22, 2013

Park Explorers

When my kids were very young and the summers were long and hot, I wracked my brain for ways to get them excited about spending time outside. Just another trip to the park sounded boring to the kids, and most of them offered little shade from the scorching sun. Looking for a park with the perfect combination of amenities for me and entertainment for them, I hit upon a winning idea. We pretended to host a television show called Park Explorers. Shamelessly modeled after Huell Howser's programs, we would seek out and investigate different parks in the surrounding communities. We ranked each park based on cleanliness of the bathroom facilities, proximity of available parking, amount of shade on hot days, functionality of the water fountains, if any, and, of course, the Fun Factor. It made an ordinary trip to the park into an adventure, and we discovered some fun, new parks which stayed cool all summer long.
This game proved to be a godsend when my Mom was ill. We drove to and from the City of Hope in Duarte on a regular basis, with an hour to kill between trips. So Park Explorers ventured further afield, and we investigated parks in and around the Duarte area. I was so grateful for the diversion, taking all of our minds off our worries about Grandma's health.
I don't know what ever happened to our ratings sheets, though I would love to see them again. We never did do an actual film shoot, either. It would be so much easier now, of course, since my mobile phone records video as well as the old camera I used to have.

I do find myself back in the park, however. I'm writing a book about our relationship with nature and Mother Earth, and it seems incongruous to be sit inside to write it. Going to the park to write makes it sound more like a fun activity than a chore, too. So I'm calling upon my Park Explorers memory banks to recall and navigate to local parks with clean facilities and good parking where I can write. As with my children, I get restless thinking of going to the same park to write, however. It intrigues me to see if I can find the old parks again and I wonder if they will look the same as I remember them. Any sense of play and intrigue that I can inject into the process of writing (or any task, for that matter) makes it all the more fun - and all the more likely that it will get done.
I'm writing in Carr Park in Glendale today. It's just a few blocks from home, and I pass by it several times a week, though I can't recall the last time I stopped here. Sitting at a picnic table here today, sans children, it feels a world away. It's a small park with clean restrooms and play structures designed for young children. I wax nostalgic about the days when my kids were thrilled to play on the kiddie swings and baby slides. It seems so long ago.

Then I remember our trip to New Orleans over the past holiday season. We went to Metairie to visit with our two-year-old great-nephew, Darrell, and his parents. Their home is still being repaired from the last hurricane, so we took Darrell to play in the nearby park. Though Metairie Park is much larger than Carr Park, it too offers only baby swings and little kiddie slides. My slim, 12-year-old daughter slid easily into the baby swing, while my 13-year-old son couldn't wedge himself in. Undeterred, he rode the swing anyway, half in and half out. The kids took turns pushing each other and going down the baby slides with Darrell. Though the sun was shining, the air was cold, and all of their cheeks were rosy red. They squealed and and giggled as they did when they were little toddlers. We're still Park Explorers, it occurs to me.

For the scorecard, Metairie Park has ample parking, clean restrooms, and the Fun Factor is off the charts. From this vantage, however, I don't know how much of that Fun Factor value is based on the available play structures and how much it was influenced by my thrill of reconnecting with my pink-cheeked little cherubs. You will have to check it out for yourself.  If you're not in Metairie, I encourage you to check out the park that you pass by daily.  The game of Park Explorers has no age limit. You just might re-discover a rosy-cheeked toddler of your own.

My writing for today is done.  I'm off to hit the swings.

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