When I was your age, parks were different from what they are now. I was reminded of this when I read about an enterprising DC-area family who created a guide to Arlington’s 70 parks. The guide includes ratings “on the different features, like how challenging the playground was, how much shade each has and if it had bathrooms.” The kids “liked playgrounds that had more challenging features, like rock climbing walls or climbing nets.”
Hang on. What? Rock climbing walls? Bathrooms? SHADE?
As a kid on Milwaukee’s south side, my main haunts (Maitland, Copernicus, and Tippecanoe parks) featured some swings, that spinning platform thing, and maybe a wooden structure you could climb on. Think this:
(By the way, I had to Google “old playground” to get that image because simply Googling “playground” brings up the colorful monstrosities delighting kids these days. BAH.)
Among the things you DON’T see in this picture are rock climbing walls, bathrooms, or shade. The slide was made of metal and 100% exposed to sun. The wooden frame would result in your getting at least a splinter a week. The ground—if you were lucky—was littered with just a few cigarette butts.
It was glorious.
Because when I was a kid, you spent the day having adventures, often at the playground. That wooden structure was actually a castle, or an airplane, or a skyscraper, or a laboratory. You tried to swing the swing ALL THE WAY AROUND, because someone knew someone who knew someone who had done that once. You dug in thesand looking for arrowheads because we all knew Wisconsin was chock full of Native American artifacts. (Years I looked for arrowheads: 25. Arrowheads I found: 0.)
It was dirty and dangerous. If you fell off the monkey bars, you landed hard onto unforgiving sand. (From what I can tell, playgrounds today are covered in recycled water bottles mixed with condescension.) If you did scrape a knee or get a splinter, you knew exactly what was required to procure Bactine, tweezers, and a bandage without being detected. Do kids today even understand the nightmarish sting of Bactine? Is Bactine just an app now?
I don’t begrudge kids their newfangled play technology; time marches on. Particularly in big cities, where everyone lives piled atop each other and no one has yards or driveways. But I’m afraid that for every climbing wall and bathroom gained, some imagination is lost.
Safety first, I guess.