As I panted and limped, climbed, slid and jumped on the play forts, I felt like the lame gazelle attracting the murderous attention of the lioness. There were two other people to chase, but I was picked on every time; I was an easy, too tempting target - caught again and again. My children thought it was great fun to have Mama joining playground tag, and even the four-year-old took advantage when my knee gave out.
But never mind. I enjoyed the exercise. I enjoyed feeling like a child, racing to the bottom of a slide ahead of my toddler or scaling the faux rock wall after him. I enjoyed trying to avoid my children's outstretched arms, though I failed miserably, but I did not enjoy being chased. I have a horror of being chased. It feels like the harder I push, the slower I go, so the only option is to turn and face my pursuer with palms out and giggle in a high, unnatural pitch like a crazy idiot. The hope is then that they'll back away slowly, shaking their heads. That doesn't work with my kids. They know Mama's a little strange and it no longer scares them. So they tag me, the little rapscallions, and I am forced to try to catch them - the more luck to me!
Despite my disappointing performance in playground tag and regardless of the heat, I relished being at the park with my children recently. I'm still, I must protest, a country girl at heart, and there are a few special parks in this city where if you turn your back to the road, you feel as if you might actually be somewhere far removed from concrete and artificial light (except for the jungle gyms, basketball and volleyball courts, of course) because of all the wide expanses of green, the little hills and the shade trees.
After tag and swing time, we went to watch my eldest ride his skateboard down a dirt hill, and we all tried this form of dry sledding - bottoms and feet on the slightly curved board as we barreled down, digging the wheels into the dirt with our weight. My son's wheels got all mucked up; he refused to let us ride more, so I invited the kids to sit with me beneath a giant eucalyptus. I leaned my back into the trunk, world's away from the city but within walking distance, and began to rest, perchance to dream.
A while later when I was standing and examining my friend, the tree, and wondering whether it was in fact a eucalyptus (the bark was right, the leaves were not), my son approached and said, "This would be a good tree for carving your name."
"There are names here. See." I pointed.
At least, I assumed they were names. They could have been bad words, but I like to think not. It's bad enough that those abound on the play equipment.
Then I thought about how I have always wanted to carve "H loves M" into a tree. I'm pretty sure my Man would scoff at the idea rather than be flattered, but what he wouldn't know wouldn't hurt him. Briefly, I fingered the car keys in my purse. Would they do the job, I wondered? It might require more labor on my part with no pocket knife. As I pondered this I recalled how as a teenager, my dad pointed out an expanse of forest near the now defunct Cougar Mountain Lodge on the road to Cascade, Idaho. He told how he had carved his and mom's names into a tree there when they were dating. Dad, Mom and I spent some little time trying to find the wooden edifice to Dad's ardor. All those years ago Dad could have added an addendum, "twenty-seven years and still going strong". Alas, we didn't find the old fellow, and the testament to young love was surely faded by then, anyway.
I zipped the purse back up. Today was not the day to scratch at this maybe eucalyptus in this city park. Was it really likely I'd come back years from now, tell the tale of a harrowing game of playground tag, and show the carving to my children or grandchildren? Besides, I didn't want to cause any harm to the bark of my friend in the heat of summer, and I didn't want to get caught by a parks and rec employee. I took my kids back to the playground, and we played in our little country haven until it was time to head back home in the city.