It was a sunny Wednesday evening as my son stepped out of the car and ran to the playground. The temperature was warm for this time of year, which made it a great reason to get out and have the kids get some much needed midweek energy out.
By the number of available benches, we weren’t the only one with the idea. I found a nice patch of grass near the playground to sit, watch, smile, and enjoy watching my son be a kid. The laughter heard on the playground made the smile grow even more prominent.
I look up to the top of the slide and hear my son talking with a black boy. As I try to listen to what they are saying over the laughter of the other kids playing, I understand, “Hey I enjoy playing Minecraft too! Want to be my best friend?”
The color of this boy’s skin didn’t matter. They had a common interest, and to the two of them, that is what mattered. I watched as my son told the boy he could go down the slide and he could come down when he reaches the bottom, and they can play Minecraft together.
It wasn’t until then that I looked around at our local playground and started to notice that it didn’t matter the color of skin, religious beliefs, sexual orientation: the kids were playing together. Whether they were sliding down the slide, laughing as they played tag… whatever their beliefs were, they were able to leave them at home and be new best friends, even if it was for just that moment. What my son didn’t realize was that he was experiencing another part of the world right there in our very own suburban Kansas City park.
There is a playground anywhere you go.
I flashed back to a trip that we made to Denver a few years ago.
It was the last stop we could make in Kansas as we drove to see family in Denver. It would be the last Starbucks stop that we could make for miles in the hopes that the caffeine would help us stay awake and the last chance we could grab a good meal that wouldn’t consist of Funyuns and Corn Nuts.
As we pulled into the Oasis of the Plains in Colby, Kansas, there it was: a playground. My oldest son, who was our only child at the time, had been cooped up in the car for the last 6 hours with the occasional pit-stop to grab a drink and hit the restroom. We were all tired of sitting in the car and hungry.
As I went to order our food, my wife and son went to the playground to let out the energy that couldn’t be contained by any amount of car karaoke. As I walked to the picnic table, burritos in hand, we tell William that he needs to eat.
A collective “AAAWWW!” came from the playground.
Not only did he not want to stop playing, but the boy of a family in a very similar situation as ours did not want him to eat. They were having too much fun playing and exploring on the playground.
I don’t recall ever seeing someone eat a burrito as fast as he did that day. It was almost as if he knew that he would never see his new best friend again. He needed to get back up on the playset to finish their epic quest through the dark forest to find and save the princess from some a giant man eating gorilla.
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As we cleaned up, calling William over, I hear him say, “We will be coming back through in a few days let’s play again!”
The world is a smaller place on the playground.
It’s one of those moments when you start to understand how small the world is in the eyes of a child.
It is those moments though that eventually, out-of-the-blue, your child will bring up in the middle of a dinner conversation.
“Hey guys, remember that time I played Minecraft with my friend on that one trip?”
You’ll sit there trying to rack your mind over which trip and which friend? You’ll think about every single playground you visited on all of your road trips and try to remember all of the friends that your children met along the way, which are too many to count and you will inevitably have the wrong answer.
It is those moments that your child will remember the most from any trip that you will take. Whether you find the free city playground in Central Park New York City, your kids play at the City Museum in St. Louis, ride life-sized toy trains, or play in the city park of a small central Kansas town with their cousins, they will remember the fun they had and the people that they meet.
A playground is a unifying place, whether you are playing in the local park or traveling through Europe with your family. It will be the place memories are made.