Let's talk about Wheaton Regional Park, shall we? Now, I know that the renovated playground over there opened at the end of September, but I didn't get a chance to visit with my kids until a couple of weeks ago.
The first thing I want to say is that my kids had a blast. There are giant slides, a climbing mound, swings, a climbing web, plentiful sand, and more than enough playground equipment to keep my three children happy for hours.
I, on the other hand, nearly had a panic attack. The playground seemed intentionally designed to help kids escape from their parents. For instance, there is a giant, fenced, raised boardwalk bisecting the playground. Its sole purpose seems to be to obstruct parents' view of their kids and to provide child-sized escape routes for those same kids.
Like that cement pipe in the photo above that runs under the walkway. That seems like a good habit to encourage—stuffing ourselves into ground level pipes.
I remember back in the day when the playground at Wheaton Regional was made entirely out of splintery wood, metal slides, and that dangerously long blue slide. It was awesome. It was also a little intense to go there with my three kids because at the time they were younger and didn't stick together and I tended to lose track of them and I always joked that if I were a kidnapper, Wheaton Regional was the first place I would show up. (I'm the mom that makes inappropriate jokes at inappropriate times.)
I have to say, though, that I think they managed to make it worse.
I wrote about this over at my personal blog the other day and I got some mixed reactions. Some people were all, "Yeah. I KNOW." and some people were all, "I find your parenting irresponsible. How dare you make an effort to keep an eye on your kids in a public place? You are one step away from being abusive."
I'm not kidding. I was called "oppressively observant" in the comment section. I didn't even know what that means.
I have a 10-year-old whom I gave up on trying to keep track of entirely. I figured that he was the least likely to wander off. That is the price of competence. Sorry, oldest kid. My 6-year-old needs supervision because, well, he is the most likely to ricochet off of the six-foot drop disguised as a climbing wall. We're saving our money to send him to clown college.
Then there is my 8-year-old. He is autistic and he doesn't seek out a parent when he suddenly decides that he wants to go see what is on the other side of the train tracks on the other side of the park. Trust me, once you've had to call 911 because your kid slipped away from you, you don't want to have to do it again. Not to mention that when you have a kid with communication difficulties, it's a good idea to hang out near him to facilitate conversation between him and other children. Otherwise someone is going to end up in tears—and it's not always me.
My reality is that I have to keep eyes on most of my kids most of the time. I don't, you know, make them hold my hand at the park, but I can't sit down and read a magazine—or carry on a coherent conversation with another adult. It occurred to me at some point that we should have arranged a meeting spot so our kids could always know where to find us. Unfortunately "at some point" was long after we had returned home.
I'll probably go back to this playground, but not with three kids by myself, because it is literally (and I mean that in the most literal sense) impossible to keep track of multiple kids at that place.
I did some extensive research (read: quickly Googled) the park and came up with maybe the greatest quote ever on Montgomery Parks' very own website: "The playground promises to be so much fun that we wish adults could enjoy it too!" Me too, Montgomery Parks. Me too.
I am dying to know what you think about the playground. Am I crazy for being flipped out over this place? Am I really oppressively observant? Maybe I'm viciously vigilant? Maybe I didn't find that magic observation point where I could see the whole park? Or am I right and this is the most terrifying park in the history of parks?
Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland. Check it out for far more detail about her afternoon at Wheaton Regional. She also runs an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.