We live on a road that runs around a park. It is Our Park. We love our park. It has two unsightly flak towers on either side of it, but luckily, the view from our window is through the middle of them. You get used to them. To Noah, they are a sign of being home.
Over the past 16 months, the park has been ideal for picnics, scooter races, playing in the snow, bike practise and cheap ice lollies from the café (90 cents for a Twister!). It gets us out of the house. It is a place where Noah can’t cause too much trouble, try as he might. It is beautifully kept with flower beds and sprinklers and gardeners in green uniforms. On trips home, I miss the park on our doorstep.
And then there’s the playground. I am not exaggerating when I say that the playground has saved my life. Noah and I have been to that playground in -9 degrees blizzards and 40 degrees heat.
However…as with everything involving a three year old, our park has its challenges.
Challenge 1 – Buzz
When we go to the park, Noah switches to his alter ego, Buzz. Buzz is a naughtier version of Noah. Who snapped the new flag off Noah’s new bike? Buzz. Who left a pile of shoes, socks, coat and hat in the middle of the hall? It was Buzz. Who threw a plate of food on the floor because he didn’t want it? Buzz, of course.
At the park, Noah keeps up a steady stream of conversation with Buzz. If I accidentally call my son by his given name, the name that came to me in a dream when I was pregnant, I get an angry response: “I’m not Noah, I’m Buzz!”
Where is my Noah, then?
Buzz speaks to other children, not as a peer, but as a superior being, an intergalactic space ranger. Sometimes, his authoritative tones make smaller children cry, especially when coupled with Buzz snatching his spade back from someone who has borrowed it.
Austrian children don’t tend to talk to themselves at the park.
Challenge 2 – Sandpit Wars
Noah has a range of sandpit toys. As well as the bog standard bucket and spade, he has a digger, a dump truck, a watering can, ice cream cones and scoop, a brick mould and trowel as well as an array of those shape things you fill with sand and then tip upside down. Other children covet Noah’s sand toys. Neither Noah nor Buzz like other children touching their things. Oh no.
At first, I didn’t mind either. Then the sand toys started to disappear. I’d have to keep track of who had Noah’s bucket as well as keep track of what Noah and Buzz were up to hanging upside down off the slide. His spade and shape things were buried by bigger children and I had to dig up the entire sandpit with a rake before I managed to excavate them. Now I’m not so generous with Noah’s sand toys, especially if the park is busy.
Sandpit wars don’t just involve the children. Sometimes parents get involved. Other parents (who haven’t brought any sand toys with them) have, on occasion, informed Noah (and me) that it is okay for their child to play with Noah’s toys. If they speak German, I blank them, though I hear what they are saying loud and clear. Usually, they’ve heard me speaking English to Noah, or overheard Noah’s and Buzz’s conversation, so they speak English. They have that skill.
Challenge 3 – The Big Swing
Our park has one of those big woven swing things that fits about four children inside. I don’t know the official name for it, but we refer to it as “the big swing”. The big swing is Noah’s current favourite thing in the playground. The big swing is a popular feature: it’s never empty. Wherever Noah is playing, he always has one eye on the big swing. As soon as he notices it is free, he makes a run for it, yelling at me over his shoulder to hurry up. Unfortunately, Noah’s legs do not always carry him fast enough. The big swing is popular with big kids and big kids get there first. Then all hell breaks loose with Noah sobbing at the side of the swing whilst the bigger kids blithely jump aboard for a twenty minute swinging session.
Since moving to a foreign country where I speak little of the language, I have developed into a bit of a wimp. One day, Noah was waiting patiently by the big swing. There were four children sitting in it of ages from about eight to twelve. Two of them were eating ham semmels (rolls for those of you who don’t speak the lingo) and two of them were eating ice lollies. Noah waited, and he waited. They could see he was waiting. I went to stand beside him and glared at them.
“Mummy, are they getting off soon?” Noah enquired.
“I’m sure they will get off and give you a go,” I said loudly.
Except they didn’t. Twenty minutes passed with Noah waiting by the swing. Rolls were finished. When roll wrappers were taken to parents sitting ten metres away chatting, one child stayed behind to guard the swing, and to make sure the desperate three year old who had been patiently waiting to have a go, couldn’t claim his turn.
I glared at the parents. I glared at the children.
And yet. I said nothing. What a wimp. Why didn’t I politely ask if he could have a go? Twelve year olds learn English in school. They watch American films and speak English in an American accent. But I said nothing. And I have felt guilty about it ever since.
Instead, I coaxed Noah home with the promise of two jaffa cakes.
Challenge Four – The Tree House
It isn’t really a tree house because it isn’t in a tree, but I can’t think of another term to use to describe it. There is a wooden house about six feet off the ground. You can get to the house by climbing a rope ladder or walking up these wooden posts with foot rests. You can get down the same way, or there is a fireman’s pole to use.
Noah is far too young for this. He can climb up the rope ladder but getting down is a different matter: it is too daunting when he is six feet off the ground. Last year when he managed to get up there, he dropped down into my arms from the opening where the pole is, but he no longer has a two year old’s fearlessness.
I usually make sure he steers clear of this contraption, but I have always been inclined to slip into a daydream. Whilst Noah is on the slide, my mind sometimes starts to drift. I am called back to reality when I hear my son’s voice screaming at me from the other side of the playground. He has got into the not-treehouse and he can’t get down. I try in vain for ten minutes to coax him down the rope ladder. But no. There is only one way Noah is getting down from that not-tree house and that’s if I go up and get him. I kick my flip-flops off and climb the ladder. He throws himself at me and I grip on for both of our lives, rope burns cutting into the soles of my feet. I try to get him to put his weight on the rope but he’s having none of it and clings tighter around my neck. Inevitably, this results in me losing my footing and my leg falling through the hole in the rope ladder. I then have to perform a back bend worthy of an acrobat to slide Noah off the ladder onto the floor so he lands on his feet. The whole process is extremely undignified.
Next time, my Noah, I promise I will get those big kids off the big swing so you can have a go.