When I was a kid, I lived in the neighborhood behind our local hospital. It was a quiet neighborhood, and everyone kept extremely to themselves, to the point that I didn’t know that my absolute best friend in middle school used to live in the exact same neighborhood, literally three blocks down. The one exception to was that there were two parks within easy walking distance, where everyone who had kids brought them to play. The park right behind the hospital was where I made most of my “friends for a day.” We’d play all day long, making up intricate games and running the full length of the park from Sunset Drive all the way to the woods across from my little house four blocks down, and at the end of the day, we’d share a hug, our parents would say “we should do this again!”, and we’d part ways knowing full well we never would. The other park was one we called Dry Lake, even though that’s definitely not the official name. It was so-called because the drainage canal that ran the length of both the park and the nature trail that went off from it was just a long sandpit for three seasons of the year and a mildly muddy trench in the spring. That one was my favorite; the park was made in a wood, which was thin and scraggly and barely a wood, that eventually got thicker along the trail, and it felt like magic. My mom would take me and my siblings down to that park with our bikes when she wanted to tire us out, and we rode up and down the trail back when it was a real endeavor to do so because it was just a packed dirt path. I still remember when it was paved over, and we spent the whole day flying along at previously impossible speeds, yelling about how cool it was. We spent hours running around in the park, spinning each other sick on the merry-go-round, jumping over concrete picnic tables as our parents warned us to be careful, and climbing up the “rock wall” that was only five or six feet tall. I used to swing so high I swore I was going to fly off into the speckled sunlit branches high above me. I liked that park. It made me feel like something magic was happening. This past February, I brought my three-year-old son to that park for the first time, and I got to be on the other side of that interaction. I watched him make “friends for a day”, and run about like a madman for hours, having a wonderful time. They banged on the plastic instrument sets that’d replaced the merry-go-round, climbed over concrete picnic tables as we warned them to be careful, and played with little dolls and toy trucks that scraped up the dirt under the jungle gym. When we were leaving, we smiled at the other children’s parents and said “we should do this again!”, knowing full well we never would. I never realized it was just as much fun to be on that side of it, to be the parent sitting on the bench with a book and a silly grin. It was surreal watching this place that had been a huge part of my childhood become a place I would forever associate with my son’s bright smile and the laughter of him and his one-time friends. I couldn’t stop smiling in the car home that evening, because it occurred to me that the magic went both ways.
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