Mom Longs for the Playground: “A Verdant Fairy Land”

by - July 7, 2010 at 5:50 pm -

By Rebecca Levey
Westside Independent parenting columnist
Eight years ago, when my daughters were born, we lived downtown. Prior to having kids, we loved living by Union Square. But when twin newborns commandeered our apartment, all of the cute coffee bars and NYU students filling the narrow sidewalks made the neighborhood suddenly seem too crowded and noisy. It was impossible to maneuver a double stroller, and totally devoid of greenery and anything remotely child-friendly. This was before the reinvention of the Union Square playground and the addition of Whole Foods and Trader Joes. My daughters’ first summer in the city was spent taking walks around Gramercy Park – literally around the park – since we didn’t have a key to go inside.

At that time, my husband was working on the Upper West Side. After spending day after day eating lunch in Riverside Park he decided that it was as close to suburban living as he was ever going to get while married to a hard core city girl like me. One walk down to the water past the Hippo Park Playground and I was sold. It seemed like a verdant fairy land filled with a canopy of shade giving trees, strollers, laughing kids, bike riders and not a car or college kid in sight. We made the move all the way uptown knowing that we were moving purely to have a more kid-friendly neighborhood, but what I didn’t realize was how much this would change our summers in the city.

sophia_hippo_parkI can chronicle my daughters’ entire early childhood just from pictures at Hippo Park Playground. When they were 9 months old we put them in a baby swing back to back together. Then they learned how to climb, then dance in the sprinklers, and then unfortunately get down and dirty in the sand. As a mom I learned how to navigate other moms in the playground, handle a bully and have a fair fight with a 5 year old. I also think I lost the last of my baby weight pushing that damn double stroller up the infamous hill. Before we lived by the park I dreaded summers in the city, but Riverside Park gets better in the summer when it empties out and it truly feels like a private park – no key necessary.

My daughters abandoned Hippo Playground a couple of years ago and it was one of those unique-to-the-Upper-West-Side milestones. There were days when I dreaded the entire exhausting production of heading off to the playground with a stroller full of gear and snacks and band-aids and sunscreen. Now I’d give anything to just loll on a bench and watch them create a tea party in the sandbox or twirl in the sprinklers with that look of unjaded, unbridled joy that only a little kid can have in a place created just for her.

Now eight years old, my daughters would rather ride their bikes North and South through Riverside Park or along the water, or climb the jagged rocks by River Run, or concoct some kind of project on the grassy fields. They spend their summer days in a camp outside the city and even on the weekends the idea of hanging out at the playground with a tub of sidewalk chalk and a couple of buckets is just not cool. The way they use the park is evolving, so the way I use the park has to change too. This may be our last summer in the city as a family since my daughters will most likely head to sleep away camp next summer. Sad as it is to leave our familiar stretch of Riverside behind, it’s time to branch out and follow the tree-lined, water-edged path south to the Battery, north to Wave Hill, and all parks and roads in between.

Rebecca Levey is a freelance writer and mother of twin girls. She lives, works, parents and tries to maintain her sense of humor on the Upper West Side.  You can follow her travels and adventures at Read all of her columns for the Westside Independent here.

(Photos by Rebecca Levey)

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  1. Holly Fink says...

    It’s funny. Yesterday I was whining about getting my kids, ages 5 &7, ready for camp and the whole morning routine (making lunches, towels, bug repellent, sun cream, changes of clothes, etc.). My husband turned to me and said, “These years are short and they are wonderful. Don’t spend your time complaining when you should be relishing every minute.” Well, he didn’t say it exactly like that, but you get the gist.

    I realize that he…and you…are absolutely right. How is it possible that these two children grew up so fast? We are at the point where when we go to the pool, or to the beach, they run off with their friends and leave me alone. I used to have to watch their every move, every step. And now they are growing up.

    Today I will appreciate this lovely day of summer as you have made me take a step back and take a look at what may no longer be in the years to come.

  2. Nancy says...

    I used to put my twins back to back in the swings too! And while I completely agree with you (beautifully written btw) thoughts about the difficulties of moving on – sleepaway is killing me — I NEVER missed going to the playground. Once “disaster avoidance” age had passed, I thought it was SOOOO boring.
    Nice to know there was at least one transition that didn’t freak me out. Thanks for reminding me!