I lived in a converted brick Victorian condo when my son was born. A perfectly renovated three-story walk up, so beautifully and stylishly restored, I wanted to marry it. When I first saw it, I said to my husband, “Nothing bad could ever happen to us if we lived here.” But of course, I was wrong (I lost my mom to brain cancer, my mother-in-law to her high school boyfriend and my fertility to endometriosis), but loads of good things happened to us there too, just as I’d thought, like (after a three year battle with my female anatomy) I gave birth to my sun (and yes I mean sun), Jake.
We didn’t have a yard at my perfect little condo, but what we did have, just one long block away, was Emerson Park, named after Ralph Waldo and boasting scads of green lawn, flowers, decades-old trees, a sprinkler to run around in and a playground with swings, slides and climbing structures, featuring a sandbox with a colorful pirate ship made of wood. Argh!
I had no idea, when I stepped foot into the park for the first time, that it would become a second home, a place for me to, bleary-eyed, connect with other mom’s to find out if I was at all normal, or if my child was, to make friends that would be in my life, until forever, to eat dinner on hot nights with a picnic basket of great food, or a pizza delivery and lots of juice boxes and wine, to gather for birthday parties, to discuss sleepless nights, politics and potty training. I never suspected this would become a place for celebrations, last days of school, play dates and even a source of much needed and familiar comfort on the night of 9/11 when we all wondered if the world was ending.
My children played there, peed there, partied there. It was at this Town Center of sorts, that my kids learned to share toys, to pump their legs to make a swing work, to throw and kick balls, to practice soccer, to climb without falling, to run fast, to ride their bicycles. On that ground, my children made friends, learned about being good citizens, fell down and very importantly mastered how to get back up.
And so it was with a pit in my stomach that I watched a renovation of the park begin a year ago (when Jake was two, we moved just three blocks away from my original condo–even closer to the park, which was where Ally was born and our love affair with Emerson continued). They dug up every corner of the space, leaving not a trace of the original land my children had, like time-lapse photography, grown up on. I felt a certain sadness as I’d walk my dog around the perimeter, watching each phase of the massive construction, while movie clips of the past popped into my head– the time Ally fell off the top of the climbing structure and had to have stitches in her you know what, the castle cake at a party that took up an entire picnic table, the time Jake had to compromise over a beloved truck in the sandbox, the days of worry I had when I felt I was working too much, or not enough. I secretly wanted some of the dirt–dirt my kid’s tiny feet had touched. It seemed a brutal daily reminder that my children were no longer little and that I had no idea where all that time had gone.
At 23 and 20, my children’s childhood is over, and so too, is the original Emerson Park. Interestingly, and perhaps, appropriately, they seemed to coincide. Don’t get me wrong, it opened a few nights ago, with loads of celebration and it is gorgeous! The town did a fabulous job of updating and beautifying. I walked through with my third baby (Riley, my dog) last night and had a smile on my face right up until I exited. There they were, the new crop of Jake and Ally’s, accompanied by worried parents, just like me, who wondered if they were doing it all ok, how they might get their kids to sleep through the night, what pre-school they should go to, glorying in the site of their toddlers toddling, climbing, swinging, pretending, while fending off the deep exhaustion of parenthood.
Twenty million sippy cups of gratitude for what that park has given to me. And even though it’s all spanking new, I’ll remember the old landscape and knowingly smile at the new generation who presides over it now. “I was once you, and you will be me,” I want to say to the mommy’s, but they’ll find that out soon enough.
Sooner than they can ever imagine.