By Dave Lesser
Sometimes you have an idea that you don’t want to profit from financially, you just want the product or service to exist to make your life easier. I swear I invented HopStop when I was working in New York City and the subway system confused me. Or maybe it already existed, and a friend told me about it after I explained my brilliant concept. The details aren’t important.
What is important is that is that since I became a stay-at-home dad five years ago, playgrounds have been my go-to activity during the summer. I’ve seen a lot of jungle gyms, slides and swings, but none that are perfect. I’m not asking for much, just a playground designed with my particular needs and desires in mind.
And, you know, fun for my kids.
1. One entrance/exit. I bring my kids to the playground for a reason: I want them to be outside expending (heir nearly limitless energy while I conserve my limited supply. When I have to constantly patrol their precise location (hint: never the same place at the same time) as well as eight different escape routes, we end up leaving the playground with me stressed, exhausted, and counting the seconds until their mother gets home so I can pour myself an adult beverage. If my kids want to leave without me seeing, they should have to tunnel under a wall using the plastic spoons from their yogurts.
2. Water area. It’s hot as hell out in the summer,but, as a parent, you can’t hide in the comfort of the air conditioning all day. The kids will find you, eventually. The pool is fun, but can be a real effort and requires more of that annoying constant supervision. Why bother when big-ass sprinklers can do the trick and keep the kids entertained and refreshed?
3. Ground that stays cool. I’m no scientist, but there has got to be some kind of surface material that doesn’t heat up to 1,000 degrees in the sun. If this material does exist, we should transport it to the nearest playground and use it. When there’s a water area, the kids like to run around barefoot. They shouldn’t have to risk getting third-degree burns on their little tootsies.
4. Shady areas. Mostly for the parents. What do the kids care? They get to cool off in that wonderful water area. But the parents are usually too embarrassed to enjoy it. (Why did I put an entire section into this alleged “perfect playground” that I even can’t use? Screw it, I’m going in! The water area is awesome!!!) The shade’s nice, too. And the ground is the perfect temperature. What genius designed this playground?
5. Lots of stuff to climb. Climbing rocks rocks! But in the playground, maybe we should install something a little softer than rocks. It’s inevitable that kids are going to fall occasionally. Let ‘em. It’ll do ‘em good. And hopefully that nice cool ground will have a little give to it.
6. No sandbox. Those things are disgusting. I can’t not picture stray animals using them as litter boxes at night. And good luck convincing your toddler he shouldn’t eat the
litter sand. Plus, if there is also a water area, the kids go back and forth between the two and sand sticks everywhere. I know some people bathe their kids every night, but not this guy. It’s usually not worth the effort. They don’t smell (they’re not teenagers). But the litter box forces my hand, and ends up delaying my enjoyment of that delicious adult beverage.
7. Clean bathrooms. When they even exist – some playgrounds make you find the nearest coffee shop – the bathrooms are generally in worse shape than the ones at truck stop gas stations you use on road trips when you just can’t hold it in any longer. You’d be better off using the sandbox like the rest of the wild animals.
8. Lots of swings. There is a beautiful new local playground that has four baby swings and thirty youngsters clamoring for them, so there is always a line. This isn’t Disney World. There should not be an approximate wait time at the playground.
9. Coffee nearby. As relaxing as going to the playground seems like it should be, I end up running around a lot. I don’t always want to, but I’m a sucker for my kids’ adorable faces. It’s fun, but they wear me out. I don’t know where they get the energy, but I get mine from coffee. In the summer, I NEED ICED COFFEE.(Related brilliant idea: someone should get a coffee cart that follows the ice cream truck from park to park. The kids get their ice cream. I get my iced coffee. Everyone is happy.)
There’s probably some other stuff I’ll think of next time I’m at the playground, but that’ll do for now. Someone, please, make it happen. NOW!
Dave Lesser is a New Jersey-based member of the NYC Dads Group and a stay-at-home dad.
He writes the blog Amateur Idiot/Professional Dad, where a version of this post first appeared.