independent play · slice of life

On the Playground Again

My kids haven’t set foot on a playground, other than the play set in our backyard, since early March 2020. Even though I know COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that typically spreads indoors, I also know little kids get extremely close to one another on playgrounds while waiting to use the same piece of equipment, at the top of a slide, etc. (Also, I know someone whose kids got COVID last summer after playing on a busy playground unmasked!) Therefore, I haven’t been too keen on going back to playgrounds with my children.

However, I decided it’s time for them to play on play structures again so long as they wear a mask, are willing to sanitize whenever I feel it’s necessary, and keep their hands off of their face. Think that’s overkill? Well, there’s one more thing they have to agree to. If there are too many unmasked kids on the playground, then we’re out — no matter what.

Yesterday, I brought this proposal to Isabelle. She agreed to my demands without hesitation (and was ready to leave the house, in the rain, to head to the nearest playground). This morning, I shared my non-negotiables with Ari and asked him if he’d like to go to a playground before my work day started. He agreed to my rules knowing we might leave at a moment’s notice.

“Which playground are we going to go to?” Ari asked.

I was thinking about an awesome play structure about 20 minutes away, but Ari didn’t remember what it looked like from pre-COVID times. He said, “I’d like to go to the one near the library.” It’s a much more basic playground, but since it was closer, I drove him there.

When we arrived, there was only one other woman and her son there. Ari climbed on the stairs, slid down the slides, and touched a variety of surfaces. For ten good minutes, I was cool.

As time passed, the unmasked boy bolted away from his mom, came right up to Ari, and pulled on Ari’s arm. His mom was several steps behind him so I asked him, “Do you have a mask?” He didn’t answer. (In all fairness, he looked no more than three and I was a stranger to him.) His mom ambled towards us. I was assertive, but polite, when I asked if her son had a mask. (He did.) I told her I’d appreciate it if he’d wear it if he wanted to play with Ari. She encouraged him to come over to their stroller to don the mask. He followed her, but wouldn’t mask-up so they stayed away.

As the minutes wore on, Ari’s confidence on the playground grew as he climbed steeper structures than what I remembered him being able to do over a year ago. As ten o’clock approached, more unmasked kids and caregivers arrived at the playground. By the time there were about ten kids, I looked at Ari and said, “Listen, buddy. Remember I said we’d have to leave if it got too crowded and kids weren’t wearing masks? It’s almost time to go. I know it’s earlier than what we expected since I don’t have anything until 11, but I’m not comfortable with how many unmasked kids there are since kids like to stand close to other kids.”

Shockingly, Ari didn’t put up a fight when I set the timer for five more minutes. Once the timer went off, he asked to take two more trips down the twisty slide, which I let him do despite two unmasked girls — whose caregiver was busy on her phone yards away — coming towards us. After his second slide, I said goodbye to the girls and told Ari, “Let’s sanitize.” He held out his hands, accepted the sanitizer, and rubbed it in.

Once Ari rubbed in the sanitizer, I held out my right hand, which he held. We walked a bit in silence. Once we neared the parking lot, I stopped walking, knelt beside him, and thanked him for being willing to leave since it was getting crowded. “Can I remove your mask for you?” I asked.

He nodded.

Once his mask was off, I noticed he his hangdog face. “Are you sad because we had to leave or sad because Bubbe and Zayde left this morning?”

“Because Bubbe and Zayde left,” he said.

“Are you sure? Because I want you to know, we will go back to more playgrounds — this one and other ones — this summer. Next time, we’ll just get out even earlier so that we aren’t there with lots of kids. Okay, buddy?”

“Okay,” he said.

My heart hurt. I truly didn’t know if he was upset about my parents leaving or about leaving the playground. All I knew is that I felt bad about leaving early. Even though I stipulated that we would leave if the playground got overrun with unmasked kids, I didn’t think it would actually happen. I guess, next time, we will make it our business to get to a playground by 8:30 or 9:00!

Head over to Two Writing Teachers for more slice of life stories.

13 thoughts on “On the Playground Again

  1. Oh my heart is with you! I have my grandson during the week and our nearest park is also a school playground. He is not yet 2 so no mask for him yet. We go early so he has time to play before others arrive. Now that kids are back in school we are off the playground even earlier. I have often needed to grab him quick out of the play house as kids come running to take over the equipment. It is so hard. He lets me take him but you can tell he is sad and confused. He knows he doesn’t play there when the kids are there. I will be happy when we move a bit further alone in this recovery! Thanks for you post!

  2. I feel so for the kids in all this! One of my third graders was half realizing today that we may say goodbye to third grader through computer screens (seems very unlikely that we will return to school) and my heart broke for him (and me and our classmates). Bit by bit things will get better, but kudos to Ari for handling it as well as he did at the playground.

    1. He’s doing a pretty great job! Of course, later in the week we went to the park for a walk and he said louder than necessary, “All of those people might get coronavirus since they aren’t wearing masks.” Oye!

  3. I just read a tweet acknowledging all the ways that kids of all ages have handled all sorts of extra demands related to COVID precautions with such grace and flexibility. There’s still so much uncertainty to navigate as conditions shift. Ari has learned his lessons well and is working with the new tradeoffs. Your post captures all of that with remarkable clarity.

  4. It is so, so hard to see everything starting to open back up and feeling left out because the kids aren’t vaccinated yet! It’s nice to see that we aren’t the only ones who haven’t even been going to playgrounds and everything. I’ve thought about it, but we have such a nice backyard swingset that it just doesn’t seem necessary… and yet I get that it would probably be fine. I liked hearing how you talked it over with your kids, and I’m sad for them that so many unmasked kids showed up. I wish more people would embrace masks to make this all a little easier, because there are so many things that I’d feel fine about at this point if everyone was masked, but when they aren’t, I don’t feel ok. Hugs to all of you!

  5. My son also misses playing in the park’s playground, especially the slides. He is 9-year-old and He is very aware of the danger. But I know that he suffers. He wants to go there with his buddies and play without restrictions like any kid should do!

  6. It’s so hard. I feel you. What a good job Ari did at just going with the plan though! And I’m sorry that people aren’t having their kids wear masks at the playground,. That’s annoying.

    1. We went by two playgrounds later in the week. Both were crowded. At one, we saw a caregiver and two kids in masks. That was it… at both playgrounds. It was so disheartening.

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