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Why I Miss My Kids’ Summer Playground Days the Most

Looking back at my days at the park and all the things I wish I had appreciated more.

flickr / Dino Borelli

They’re back — the Dad Days of Summer — those hot, humid days when dads everywhere put on their khaki cargo shorts, faded t-shirts, ball caps, and sandals and wander in search of a nice cool place to hide out on the weekend.

Up until a few years ago, I could hide out from yardwork and housework by volunteering to take the kids to the playground. But things have changed. The kids don’t play. They play on organized sports teams now. They meet their friends at Starbucks instead of the swing sets. And as for Dad, well — I’m back to doing yard work again.

So, I confess. I miss the playground.

I know I was only there by invitation. I was only part of the exclusive jungle gym set if my kids were members.But now they’ve moved on and I’m left holding the leaf bag.It’s not just about missing my weekend hideaway/hangout space. Honestly and truly, I feel like I’m missing out on so many things.

I Miss the Exercise

Once upon a time, I ran with wild abandon through fields of asphalt, wood chips and black, shock absorbent rubber mulch. I slid down the slides. I did “underdogs” and “Superman” on the swings. I broke the rules and climbed up the slides. I went backward down a tunnel slide and got stuck.

Today I jump off my treadmill at gym, afraid I’m getting too close to that dangerous target heart-rate. I walk the sidelines of my daughter’s soccer game, searching for the softest ground and shadiest spot. I pat myself on the back when I walk down a moving escalator instead of standing.

My field of play now largely consists of my iPhone. There I can easily beat my kids in a game of candy crush. I’m no longer sure I can take my 12-year daughter old in a foot race. But I guess I could, if I had to. All I would need is a small head start.

I Also Miss My Friends

No, I’m not talking about my kids. I’m talking about the dads who would sidle up to me around the swings with the parent version of “So, come here often?”

It can be awkward, being the new dad on the field. But sooner or later, I learned you wait until one peels off from the pack. I listened and learned their “pickup lines”

“I wish I could bottle that energy”

“Man, they need shade over this thing”

Or my favorite: “Can you believe that lady’s kid chucking rocks at that squirrel, what the hell?!”

So many of my great adult play dates happened on the playground. Standing there with our phones and water bottles, we secretly competed to see who could swing their kid higher, or traded inside info on the best slides in the neighborhood. If we felt a spark, it might lead to a backyard BBQ or a few glasses of wine and some juice boxes.

Now that my kids are preteens, I’m too old for the (monkey) bars.

There are days now I want to just offer my snacks to the guy sitting next to me on the train so I have someone to talk to. I would do it too. But I know, that would be just weird.

Speaking of Snacks, I Miss the Food

Every weekend I feasted on a smorgasbord of goldfish, peanut butter crackers, apple slices, carrot sticks and Go-Gurts. I could eat three meals from all four food groups by 4 pm. Granted, I also had to sneak a few pulls of their organic apple juice and finish off their half-eaten PB and banana sandwiches.

Now, on Saturdays, I’m stuck with their leftover toaster waffles or the cold pizza from their Friday night sleepovers. Not only are their pre-teen palates less healthy, they’re also more expensive now that they have “hangouts” instead of playground play dates.

I wish I could go back to days of playground small plates. They were so much better for my wallet and my waistline.

Don’t Forget the Atmosphere. I Miss That Too

If you peek into my I-phone photos from a few years back, you’ll find a lot of pictures of trees. The hell if I know what kind of trees they are. But apparently, every one of them had just the right light filtering through them or the perfect playground “presence”. This spring, we hired a tree trimmer to pull down a huge, old, shady tree in the front yard. Forget the tree, I didn’t miss a single photo of the cool crane, awesome chainsaw or incredible wood chipper.

Now that I don’t visit the playgrounds, I look at grass as something just for mowing and leaves as something to be raked.

Somehow, the setting of nature brought out my best nature. The squirrels or the neighborhood kids seemed cute at the park. Nowadays when they stand on my front lawn, I just want to chuck rocks at them.

Yeah, Yeah, I Miss My Kids

These days, I’m forever driving my kids some place or picking up them up — soccer games, choir practice, birthday parties, sleepovers. If you subtracted the time they napped as little kids and consider that they go to bed later, I probably spend just about the same number of waking hours with them each weekend. And I probably talk to them more now that their vocabulary of “Go faster”, “push me higher”, and “help me up” has been replaced with lengthy musings about the future career prospects of Harry Styles now that One Direction has broken up.

But it’s not the same. I miss them.

I miss their sense of fun. I miss their boundless energy. I miss their sense of wonder at the world around them. I miss their willingness to go up to any stranger and say “Hi! Want to play?”

And the truth is, I guess, I miss those things in me.

This article was syndicated from Medium.