John's hockey team won their morning game today, so we had some time to pass until they played in the finals at 2 pm. We went back to the hotel to swim (Bess) and nap (Harry), but I wanted to make sure the kids were good and tired before we packed them in the car for a long and potentially traffic-filled trip home.
We went to a nearby playground so they could blow off some steam. The place was great - they had a big play structure for the big kids and a small one for the little kids (perfect for Harry's size), and a skate park, basketball courts, and walking/biking/skating/scootering trails. I unleashed the kids, and then noticed something that I had observed a few times before. They didn't really care for the play structures and seemed kind of bored. Harry wanted to play with a basketball he found, rolling it down the stairs and watching it bounce, and all Bess wanted to do was make new friends. Compare this with the time they spent at the Botanical Society yesterday or Walden Pond the day before, where they were entertained for hours making fairy houses, watching the fish swim and wandering through the woods.
I began to think about this as a metaphor for modern parenting in general. We structure so much of our children's time and give them ready-made playthings, when all they really want to do is check out their world and use their imaginations. We want their playtime to be efficient, and give them slides, swings, and monkey bars to play on so they can get their exercise in a limited amount of time and space. (As a side note, the play structure also had the alphabet, the numbers through twenty, and several geometric shapes with their names carved onto the side, I guess in case the structure itself were not enough intellectual stimulation for the pre-verbal children using it.) In the city, I can see why this is desirable as places for safe play are in short supply. But Marlborough, Massachusetts? You can't throw a stone without hitting a beautiful outdoor setting where children can run, play and explore.
All in all it ended up fine. Some of the sisters from the team played Aliens with the kids while I watched the game, and we made it home in record time and with minimal screaming from the backseat. But consider the lesson learned.