Anxiety episode # 12: One or more of the kids fall off a jungle gym, get kicked by an aggressive child on a swing, or slide incorrectly down the slide, thus requiring urgent medical care.

It’s summertime—or nearly, at least. And that means it’s time for parks and playgrounds and all kinds of outdoor fun, and accidents waiting to happen. At least, that’s my fear.

My husband and I took the kids to one of the local parks a few weeks ago to burn off some energy after dinner. At first, both girls stayed on the ‘toddler’ side of the playground—the side where I am able to play the role of relaxed mom—climbing up stairs and sliding down gradual, slow-moving slides. They crawled safely through tunnels and crossed a short bouncy bridge, all of which they handled nicely, considering there were no big kids running around and jostling them all about.

The big kids were all on the ‘big kid’ side of the playground (where my role shifts quickly to that of extremely uptight mom)—the side that the girls wanted to move to, of course, just moments after I had settled into an easy rhythm of bouncing the baby in the sling and joyfully watching the two of them play.

Now, I should say, that I am all about letting the girls take risks and be brave and build confidence when it comes to using and refining their gross motor skills while playing on playground equipment. It’s just that I can’t stand to actually watch them do it. It’s terrifying. I prefer to close my eyes, or simply look away, when things become too intense for me. Like, when my kid’s climbing the big rock structure, makes it all the way to the top, and then bounces around slightly with pride at her accomplishment. I, of course, just see her, in my mind, falling from the top and landing unconscious, or at the least needing stitches or even suffering from a concussion. 

Gratefully, I don’t say or even yell things at the kids, like that which I’m really thinking: “Oh sweet Jesus, get down from there this instant before you give your mother a heart attack or crack your skull on the pavement!” So, I think the kids are able to take risks and feel confident because I’m fairly good at hiding my fear. They do get quite a few Be carefuls! though. I’m working on this. I really am.

Still, when I see the girls tackling steep stairs or ladder rungs with lots of big kid bodily commotion around them, I am not able to look on fondly, watching them hold their ground; instead, I must hold my breath and count to ten and pray they don’t get pushed around and fall ass over teakettle off the jungle gym. Incidentally, why do playground designers deem it a good idea to build jungle gyms without side rails, especially on the way-up-top parts?

Another playground hazard is the running, or crossing in front of, high-swinging swingers. My kids love to do this. They either run from the swings without looking, or run toward the swings without looking, narrowly missing getting kicked in the face and knocked to the dirt every time. Although, I suppose if this were to happen, they’d likely be more careful about the placement of their wild bodies the next time they chose to dart to and fro across the mulch.

Once, about a year ago, I was at a different local park when the girls were even younger and less capable than they are now. We went to a playground where two other women were sitting on a bench while their two girls played. The girls looked to me to be about four years and eighteen months, not very much unlike the ages of my girls. The two women chatted busily away while the four-year-old and the toddler were on the jungle gym. The four-year-old spent much of the time carrying and lugging the toddler about, lifting her over obstacles and helping—well, forcing—her down the slide.

I looked on both in horror and amazement. I was horrified because at any moment the toddler could have fallen to her death and the mother—whichever one she was—seemed not to notice or care. And, I was amazed because at any moment the toddler could have fallen to her death and the mother seemed not to notice or care.

I wish—truly—that I could’ve been as trusting and unbothered by playground shenanigans as that mother was. Instead, I stayed near my toddler, helping her about when necessary, and not trusting her slightly older sister to do that for her. 

I think, if I do nothing else in my life, but can manage to relax even half as much as that mother that day in the park, I will have won at life. 

How is it that one mother can be so free from anxiety when her preschool daughter hefts her barely walking other daughter about many feet above the ground, precariously perching her on the edge many, many times, while another mother, faced with the same scenario, freaks out and only sees disaster at the end of the tunnel?

It’s a mystery to me, but I wish I could solve it, so I could apply some of its magic to rid me of my fears.

Most times I need only to remind myself of my own childhood experiences for reassurance. Like all the times I swung upside down on playground bars and then did a sort of flip-like dismount. Or the climbing of rickety old pine trees that took place behind my grandmother’s house with my cousins—which I’m sure no adults ever knew about. Or all the round off back handsprings, the diving board back flips, and the fierce games of playground dodgeball. Surely, if I didn’t break my neck from falling back then, I don’t really have all that much to worry about with my own kids, right? Right? 

That’s what I’m going to keep telling myself, like some kind of mantra, to prevent me from being a hovering helicopter parent, and to reassure myself that the kids will be all right. 

The kids will be all right. The kids will be all right. The kids will be all right!

   
 

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