Brown Metal Playground during Golden Hour
Image from pexels.com

 

I was watching my kiddos happily play with a gaggle of other children on the merry-go-round, cringing periodically as children slipped and slid around on the gyrating surface. I occasionally reminded them to hold on tight, wrap their legs around a pole, or to slow down, as needed, to accommodate younger passengers not quite as adept at holding on at higher speeds. Everyone was having a blast…all sorts of children…varying ages, colors, sizes; each democratically playing together in a rainbow coalition of fun. They took turns spinning and riding and slowing down and speeding up, as needed, to help each other. These kids did not know one another. They only just met and came together in a common land (the playground) with a common goal (fun) and had a wonderfully good time. They had no idea of one another’s backgrounds, socioeconomic status or everyday struggles. (I’m sure they all faced them.) None of that mattered. Regardless of circumstance, they were all one people here…people of
the playground.

After some time, a Dad showed up with a naturally curious little boy of
about 3-4 years old. The boy was instantly drawn to the merry-go-round. After all, it was clearly where the fun was happening. However, the moment the kid stepped foot in that direction, Dad swiftly intervened, loudly exclaiming he wasn’t allowed and steering him in the opposite direction. “You know better. Stay off that!”

My first thought was that Dad was concerned with the rollicking nature of so many kids in one area. Admittedly, such a large group of kids can be
overwhelming and increases the likelihood of accidental exclusion, centrifugal over-stimulation and undoubtedly ups the boo-boo factor. I could get that. To each his own. In the meantime, my youngest, about the same age as this man’s son, was smack-dab in the middle of the chaos.

The fun continued, with children coming and going on the merry-go-round at will, while the little boy and his Dad remained locked in a perpetual battle… boy wanders toward the merry-go-round, Dad yells ever-more boisterously, Dad coerces, nudges or carries boy to boring safe area of the playground and demands he play there (by himself, no other children nearby, not even with fun involvement from Dad). Threats of leaving altogether went hand-in-hand with non-compliance. Eventually, (about 6 minutes after getting there and numerous circular battles of will), Dad did get exasperated and hauled the defeated and dazed little guy off, but not before first looking toward the bench where my oldest daughter and I were seated and exclaiming in all sincerity and blustery anxiousness, “Those things are dangerous! Five people died on them last year!”

Now, after our initially surprised, mute, nodding reaction to the Dad and once he whisked his son away from the playground, my daughter and I began to ponder (somewhat sarcastically, I suppose) whether that statistic were true, and if so, was it a statistic of this one merry-go-round, in particular? Doubtful. All merry-go-rounds in Kansas? Maybe. Was it a national statistic? A worldwide statistic of merry-go-round mishaps? Had he looked up the stats of all playground equipment? How did swings and slides compare? Did he know the statistic of deaths by automobile, we wondered…you know, that thing he sped away in to escape the dangers of the playground with his bewildered and disappointed son? I instantly imagined two distinct paths for the future of this child.

On the first path, he ultimately gives his father a heart-attack after years
of receiving over-anxious, over-protective, bubble-wrap parenting; turning into a thrill-seeking junkie, pushing the boundaries of safety in all sorts of
extreme ways in order to compensate for the superficially protective atmosphere of his childhood.

On the other path, he becomes anxious and withdrawn, believing, like his
father, that the world is a dangerous place out of his control, to be avoided
and sanitized whenever possible. He will live in fear and see negativity
everywhere.

Both extremes seem unhealthy, yet both are preventable, in my opinion, by
merely backing off on overreactions and providing a bit of good ol’ realistic
expectations coupled with parental support and guidance. And here’s my logical leap from the playground to the world. Wait for it.

Society could benefit from a bit of backing off the extreme overreactions in
a LOT of realms. Maybe by preventing feelings of helplessness that lead
to victimhood mentality instead of  increasing helplessness through fear and pointing the ever-accusatory finger outward, we could ease societal woes and level any uneven playing fields. Currently, real dangers, injustices and “wrongs” are overblown or muddled with those merely perceived or outright invented. This is creating an overly emotional, reactionary,
pc-driven (ie- censored) society that wants to eliminate all things
“bad”, with an ever-shifting perspective on what even constitutes bad
at any given moment. It is a society that wants to eradicate the past rather
than learn from it, demonize rather than compromise, externalize adversity and change everyone else, rather than taking responsibility and focusing on
themselves and their part in this ultimate story. This society feels helpless.
It is, in fact, helpless to change the past, but still maniacally pursues attempts to expunge the past to “fix” the present. Whitewash it or demonize it, eradicate it or rebel against it…part of society now seems to believe the only way forward is to look backward and essentially persecute without context. In so doing, it ignores the clearly identifiable good that is present in
day-to-day interactions. In this “awakened; progressive” state of being, there is danger in every corner and ever-present, oppressive monsters in need of ultimate suppression.

Unfortunately, a society that feels helpless eventually becomes helpless. People who believe that the world is a scary place full of injustice and filled with people that just want to keep one another down, then what’s the point? If nothing falls under individual responsibility (there’s always someone, some group or some circumstance to blame) and no one has any control
over that, then why bother? Let someone else fix it. It’s their fault, anyway. If individuals literally have so little control over their lives, how could they
be happy, hopeful or free from anxiety? Why wouldn’t fear and resentment and anger take the driver’s seat as they passively ride-along through life, making purely emotional decisions, believing their ride has little to no consequence anyway? Why indeed?

We are all standing in the playground, looking at the merry-go-round. It (seemingly paradoxically) promises an ever-evolving combination of excitement and fun, danger and uncertainty, predictability and monotony, social acceptance and exclusion, happiness and tears. So, knowing this, what type of people of the playground should we be? Will we educate ourselves on the history and potential pitfalls of the merry-go-round, arming ourselves with the pros and cons, understanding the potential for danger or injustices in this highly social environment? Will we choose to endure the unstable feeling of the fast and dizzying ride? Will we step on anyway, planting our own feet firmly, despite the shaky ground, choosing to control what we can and leaving the rest to a trust in positive outcomes? We’ve seen it…evidence of bygone kids benefitting from the chance…big
ones, small ones, different ones, anyone. Everyone can have a turn; if not this time, there is always another chance on the playground. As for those that have gotten hurt before, well, we can usually see it was from something they could have prevented, something within their control. Will we recognize the potential dangers of this ride, but remember the joyful possibilities and choose to do it, informed and aware, anyway? Will we take the risk?

Or, will we stand by idly, filled with fear, remembering the one time we
didn’t hold on tight and slid off, scraping our knee…or recalling the story
from our grandmother of a time when bullies wouldn’t let her on the
merry-go-round at all…or anticipating the burn of the metal on a hot day and conclude that it’s just too dangerous to risk?

Better to avoid it. Better still, we should probably just get rid of merry-go-rounds altogether. We’d ultimately be doing the world a favor, keeping
everyone equally safe and free from the danger they pose. In fact, we should wonder, who created the merry-go-round in the first place? Why create such a terrible device that has the potential to harm so many? They were clearly heartless and should be demonized in the name of awareness. Oh, and surely we can make better, safer playgrounds now, anyway. Best to tear all those relics of a destructive past down and start from scratch. Once all evidence of the brutality of the old playground is eradicated, history will never again be able to influence our future play. New, completely different playgrounds are the way to go.

However, upon further thinking, maybe the idea of playgrounds altogether is harmful? Why stop with just the merry-go-round. The entire playground is clearly a symbol of oppression and hatred…we’ve seen it ourselves; heard the stories of fighting and bullying, intolerance and pain. They’ve hurt countless children over the years. They are, in fact, offensive…how could we not have seen this before?

But, will taking away the playgrounds prevent the potential for heartache
and suffering? Best to take it a step further…ban play. For the sake of
protection, for the physical and emotional safety of all, best to just
dismantle the outdated paradigm completely. In the interest of freedom, equality and safety for all…no more play…because we care. You can’t truly deny that people have been hurt while playing, so if you still choose to disagree with us, you are clearly part of the problem. Why would you want to keep such a harmful vestige of the past, knowing the harm it has caused over the years and will continue to inflict upon countless children? Obviously, you just don’t care about their circumstances. After all, they have no control over those circumstances, otherwise. Your views are toxic. I bet your family invented the swing. You should be ashamed. You shouldn’t be allowed to sling your extremist rhetoric, pushing play and other outdated beliefs, knowing the heartache it has caused and continues to cause to this day. You clearly don’t care. You are a relic of the past, a product of an outdated and unjust system that exploits others for your own gain. We no longer accept your lackadaisical views on play and oppressive, discriminatory playgrounds. Play is no longer necessary. It is harmful. It is
painful. It’s fascist and dogmatic of you to disagree. You’re practically a
Nazi! We will get rid of play and, if necessary, silence any viewpoint to the
contrary, because if you disagree, you are clearly part of the problem. We are on the side of good and justice. We are right. This is best for us all. How can you deny it? The evidence is on our side. Play. Is. Toxic.