I took the kids to the park today. We went not to a tangled jumble of slides and metal railings, but to the open, wind-swept stillness of a pee wee soccer field. We brought along a $1 bottle of bubbles, and a Little Mermaid kite, and camped out on the lonely bleachers.
I sat with elbows propped against the step behind me, stretching my sun hungry face to the open sky. Beside me, Alexander explored the metal bleachers in his determined, 16 month old way. He carefully got on the lowest step, and walked along it with one hand out to catch himself as he navigated the narrow plank. He left a sticky trail of drool along the way, and a line of baby snot eased itself unnoticed by him onto his upper lip. His brow wrinkled in concentration as he put one foot in front of the other. Looking up, he caught my eye and grinned, "Look, Mom, at what I can do!"
Sophie had settled herself with her bottle of bubbles, and was intently trying to get the wand to produce. "Here, Sophie, let me show you," I said, reaching to take the bottle from her.
"NO!" Sophie yanked the bubbles to her chest and frowned at me. "I'll do it." I sat back a bit frustrated (why won't she ever let me just help her?!), and watched my little 3 year old as she went through the process of trial and error, until finally bubbles were floating along in the wind in front of us.
Usually, our trips to the park leave me harried and stressed. I'm constantly on alert, watching to make sure somebody's not in danger of falling, or needs to be pushed on the swings, or caught at the bottom of a slide, or dumping a box of crackers on the sand. Here, with no distractions, the three of us focused in on the simple things. I studied how the grass grew long and slender below the bleacher steps, and then was reminded how the sun creates rainbows on soap bubbles as one floated past me. How long had it been, I wondered, since I've just sat and taken in the world around me? What am I doing to my children, by not providing more simple opportunities such as this one to explore their world?
Meanwhile, Xander came upon an indentation in the grass where water had collected. He charged along full speed ahead, oblivious to the obstacle until he had splashed full force into it. Surprised, he sat down, and muddy water immediately soaked his pants. I grinned to myself and watched to see what he would do. My baby looked at me with a look of stark betrayal in his eyes - "How could you let this happen, Mommy?" - gave one surprised squawk, then thought again about being upset and decided he liked being wet and dirty. He spent the next ten minutes running out of the puddle, then in again, squatting in it, batting his hands in it, stomping on it, and poking at it.
After a while the kids got tired of our present situation, and we wandered over to explore a deep drainage ditch that ran between the soccer fields and the parking lot. "Come on, let's go on an adventure and see what we can find!" I said, grabbing Alexander's hand.
Sophie wasn't too sure, and hung back. "No, Mommy, I don't want to. I just want to stay here."
"Ok, you can just stay here and watch while Bubba and I explore," I said, letting her have the space to test the unknowns for safety. I led Alexander down the slope into the rock-lined ditch. It was really very steep, and once in it, I could not see above ground level. Sophie, her mind made up, was right behind us.
We spent the next twenty minutes or so exploring. I sat on a dry rock and watched the two little blond heads bob along as they met their world. Sophie hopped in between puddles with her feet together and a stick in her hand, punctuating each jump with, "Hop ... hop ... hop ... look, Mommy, I found a pine cone!" Her brother, on the other hand, sought each puddle out as an ocean to conquer, and splashed happily through them all. He climbed up the rocks, sliding down again on his little butt into a pile of leaves.
Soon it was time to go. I packed up the kids into a grocery laden car, gathered the half empty bottle of bubbles and discarded jackets and stuffed them in, as well. I drove away with an increased longing for a simpler life, one in which there are no schedules to follow or events to attend. A life spent befriending the sun and wind, getting up close and personal with weeds and caterpillars. A life with less clutter and more open spaces.