then and now

There are times in my 4 year old daughter's life where I stop and take a mental snapshot of where she is in that moment and compare it to when she was younger. I think about how far she's come in her life in such a short time and remember all the work we've done to help her become a functioning member of society. It can be anything, like seeing her brushing her teeth on her own, listening to her say 'please' and 'thank you' (mostly) without being prompted or reveling in her ability to parallel park a car on a crowded New York City street without the help of a rear facing camera. 

Recently we decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and visit one of our favorite local playgrounds. We've had many visits there, and while plenty of them involve positive memories, some are not so positive. There have been times when Olivia wanted to do nothing but sit in a swing, exert no energy and interact with no one at all. She's demanded to sit on a bench for entire visits, eating snacks and drinking juice, while watching other kids play, as if they were there for her amusement alone. She's hustled other kids, and their parents, out of money with an illegal 3-card Monte setup, which she's still doing community service to atone for. 

It had been months since we'd visited the playground, and I wasn't sure how the experience would go this time around. As we neared our destination, Olivia began peppering me with questions: "Will there be kids there to play with me?" "Can I go on the swings?" "Are the police still after me for that whole illegal gambling thing?" I reassured her that her wanted status was all clear and that, since it was such a nice day, there would surely be kids to play with (and I would join in regardless). When we arrived it was clear she'd have no lack of kids to play with because it looked like our entire neighborhood was there. It was as if Mother Nature decided to give us all a break from the cold, dreary days we've been having and yell out, "RECESS! Everybody outside!"

The playground has 2 sides: one for the younger kids and one for the older. We began on the younger side and right out of the gate it was clear that the Olivia I had brought that day was raring to go. She's still small enough to fit in the toddler swings, so we hit those first. All I heard from her was, "Faster, Daddy, faster! Higher!" She was hell bent on having fun, showing up all the babies on the other swings and letting any movie execs within earshot know that she was ready to be cast in the inevitable Fast and the Furious reboot where they show Vin Diesel's childhood backstory. She could play the smart, headstrong female lead who takes no shit, pulls no punches and plays a mean game of hide and seek.

After the swings and some time on the slides, Olivia was ready to head to the big kid part of the playground. I was anxious at first, because I saw how many older kids were there and worried that she might get knocked around a bit, but she acted as if they weren't even there. She took on the big swings like a champ, holding on to the chains for dear life, face clenched in concentration as she went back and forth. She called for me to stop the swing and then said, "I want to go on the big kid slide." In my head, the entire population of the playground stopped what they were doing, gasped aloud and collectively called out: "The big kid slide?!?!" In that instant I could swear that I heard a record scratch while multiple women (and one chihuahua) fainted and my heart skipped a beat.

In order to get to the big kid slide you must first hire a Sherpa to lead you to the infamous "yellow ladder of doom". Once that has been traversed, one must next climb the "thousand wooden steps of enlightenment" while simultaneously dodging the "big kids": a roaming band of misfits and cutthroats who want nothing more than to hip check or push you out of their way in their search for the fabled "lost treasure of fun". If you can make it past all that, and you are worthy (aka brave enough to go without the assistance of a parent), then you may ride the legendary slide. Ok, maybe it's not that treacherous. There's a bit of a climb, sure, and there are all the big kids to maneuver around, but it's really just an ordinary corkscrew slide and not something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Although it would be incredible to go down the slide while being chased by a giant boulder...

Anyway, my point is this: Olivia normally either avoids this slide altogether, watches other kids go down it or sits in our lap to go down it. Not this time, my friends. She climbed, juked and made her way to the top of this thing so quickly it made my head spin. Our daughter, who used to be timid and mostly afraid of this silver menace, was about to bravely and boldly go down the big kid slide BY HERSELF. The first time down, I welled up inside watching her go. As she landed at the bottom I scooped her up, gave her a huge hug and told her how proud of her I was. She immediately went back for more. Each time she went back up I stood back, beamed with pride and cheered her on. This was one of those parenting moments that you tuck away in the back of your mind and hang on to for the rest of your life. Seeing your child grow and overcome obstacles is such a rewarding thing, and I'm so glad I was there for it. 

In that moment, my secret hope was that each time she went down the slide it would be more enjoyable and she'd become more of a thrill seeker. I say this partly because I want her to be a bit braver and partly because I want her to take risks and see what life has to offer. But more selfishly because her mother gets motion sick very easily and DAMMIT I need a partner to go on roller coasters with once Olivia's old enough.