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So, this is a new one for me. I’ve turned into an old lady at the park. How? How in the name of all things Indigo Girls and incense did I let this happen? As a high school English teacher I was cool, at least as cool as you can be as a high school English teacher. I still made them write thesis statements and read The Great Gatsby. But I also taught creative writing and we took fieldtrips to nature centers and yelled slam poetry into the sky. We fought nerf gun wars to relieve tension. We laughed, collectively, and not at one another. We had a good thing going, me and the teens.

And then I had babies and grew censor ratings like horns overnight. Or at least that’s what it feels like when I go to the park. When I’ve got my five-year old and three-year-old twins trailing behind, all I see is the wake of destruction those same teens leave when the sun rises over their late-night haunts. If there’s a cigarette butt in the sandbox, my kid will find it. If there’s an empty beer can under the swings, my kid will pick it up and shake it over his open mouth like it’s the last drop of water in the canteen. Adults can drink and smoke (almost) anywhere, but the sixteen-year-olds have to play their grown-up games in remote locations, like covert spies. It’s only natural they would choose the park. It’s still theirs, or it was, not so long ago, when their moms used to push them on the swings and help them climb the ladder to the slides. I understand the itch for freedom mixed with the last bit of comfort the park can bring. But it doesn’t comfort me, the mom on the other side yelling, “Don’t touch that!”

Here’s what I see with my mom-eyes. Graffiti on the slide, like it’s the side of a train, a train that isn’t going to pass me by and let the images head west. I’ve got to look at the hand flipping me off and that crooked penis over and over again while the kids scramble back up the steps. How long will they believe that it’s just a hand? When do we have to have that talk? Is it at the same time I explain what that girl and her boyfriend were doing in the tunnel by the monkey bars we passed on the way in? Does my toddler need to know how many steps it takes to get to third base?

I actually kind of like it when those same teens get into their cars and sit in the parking lot with music so loud it vibrates the soles of my feet—if it’s good music. Let’s rock on and play an homage to Chris Cornell. But can we tone down the tunes with f-bombs at 10 a.m. on a Saturday? Or at least relocate them? Last week the twins sang a litany of curse words all the way home, rhyming them like Cat-in-the-Hat. I tried not to laugh. Because it was a little funny when to them it’s all nonsense words. Soon, though, I’m going to have to explain what that nonsense means and still convey that it’s nonsense. Let’s let them hit preschool first.

I’m probably wishing too much, searching for sanctuary at the park when it doesn’t exist. I know this. I wish I could be the cool teacher again, or the cool mom now and let it go. I was a teenager once. The light of self-absorption is blinding. It holds you in its glare and keeps you there until you’re twenty-something and emerge, blinking, into the rest of your life. But I also want a little bit of space, some green grass and a swing or two, where my kids can be little before they have to face the glare themselves.

Jamie Sumner

Jamie Sumner is the author of the middle-grade novel, Roll with It. Her second and third middle-grade novels with Atheneum Books for Young Readers will be coming out in 2020 and 2021. She is also the author of the nonfiction book on motherhood, Unboundand the forthcoming bookEat, Sleep, Save the Worldfor parents of children with special needs. She is also mom to a son with cerebral palsy and she writes and speaks about disability in literature. She loves stories that celebrate the grit and beauty in all kids. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee. Connect with her at Jamie-Sumner.com   

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