Lost to the Playground

Not everyone likes all museums, and that’s a simple fact of life.

To a disinterested party, museums are a long walk filled with items they could literally not care less about if they tried, each tidbit labeled with an accompanying plaque covered in small type explaining in detail exactly why this individual would rather be in a coffee shop somewhere drinking warm beverages and eating stale pastries. Personally, I love museums, or at least, the vast majority of them. I just love history. I can’t help it. It’s a rare building filled with old relics that I can’t get into, though they do exist. I recall a certain textile museum in Switzerland which I happily managed to sidestep, leaving my wife to indulge in a previously unknown and unsuspected love of cloth, while I was set free to wander the streets and search for… well, coffee, probably. After meeting up again later, she told me about how fascinating is all was while I pointed out the place around the corner where the coffee was. We had both had a good time, it seems. This, I can’t help but feel, is a good lesson to take to heart. No one likes to be dragged along through building after building to see things that make little to no sense to them. In a lot of ways, this trip was going to be a real challenge for both my son and me. I like historical minutia… and he’s four.

Short Stack, though deeply into space, rockets and big shiny objects in general, is still a young pup and no matter how interested, this meant two things: First, he has very little in the way of historical perspective when it comes to what he’s looking at, and therefore limited appreciation. Secondly, like most people his age, he has the attention span of a sparrow.

These two factors would bring him again and again into conflict with his own burning need to know stuff, especially rocket stuff, and as we had walked around the Garden to gaze in amazement at the towering displays there, I could watch this inner battle play its self out over and over again. He had wanted this for a long time, had been dreaming about it for months, but now confronted with it, in all it’s looming massiveness, he was having a hard time standing still long enough for me to answer his questions. He can’t have been alone in this, because the Kennedy Space Center people had installed the ultimate item for kids like mine to relate to, dead center in the middle of all the hubbub.

Though my own son as well as his father had been looking forward to this trip and were now enjoying the fruits of their labors and travels, I can easily imagine some random and unfortunate child, utterly ambivalent on the subject of rocketry, science, history or worse, all three, being dragged along by a parent or grandparent who is completely enraptured by the entire NASA experience and blissfully oblivious to the toxic level of boredom that is building in their offspring’s circulatory system. As the star-eyed adult in charge drags them from museum after museum of space flight, the whining would start, then the pleading followed shortly after by bouts of faked kidney stones in the last ditch efforts to trade this experience for one judged to be more interesting such as an afternoon spent at Brevard County Urgent Care. Then, near to the activities and historical displays that are scattered around the Center’s outdoor attractions like so many giant toys, it would appear on the horizon to that child, like an oasis in the Sahara.

The playground.

Playgrounds are like rare earth magnets for munchkins and this one truly took the cake. It was so far above and beyond anything seen or played on before, that it could only have been made for NASA. Kids around the world have no doubt spent many hours thinking about, drawing and describing what THEY would build if it were up to them to create the ultimate playground. This one looked as if they had actually let the kids do it up for real.

Note: Photo's brightness adjusted like CRAZY so you can actually see what's going on.

Rockets stood like spires at the corners of its frame looming at least twenty feet tall, and each hollowed out with landings, ladders, windows and escape hatches. Between them stretched a labyrinth of corridors, slides, bridges, ladders and secret passages, the whole thing encased in a rubbery, bouncy mesh which made the whole thing tremble with the sympathetic vibration of the play being dished out by the dozens and dozens of bug-eyed kids marveling at the shear amazingness of the entire contraption. I’m willing to bet that if you gave your average three to five year old the choice of going to Disney World or spending the day within the confines of this sculpture of fun, then The Mouse would be in serious trouble.

It’s that good.

To cap it all, literally, the entire thing is covered by a massive, mushroom-like permanent tent that sits low over the structure and keeps possessions and parents alike shaded from sun and rain. For night launches like ours, it is lit by floodlights. There is, however, one major setback for parents, grandparents or other munchkin escorts.

Visibility.

Here’s a little science lesson for you… Wait until night, turn out the lights in your home and then go outside with a flashlight. Walk to an open window with a screen and now try and see into the house with your light.

Ok. You’re not going to do that. I understand.

Here’s the crib sheet. You can’t easily see in the house. What happens is that the beam of light mostly illuminates the screen and not the stuff in the house. In short, it doesn’t work well at all. You get a great view of the screen but as for what’s happening inside, you have little idea of.

There, now you don’t have to worry about having the cops called on you by your neighborhood watch. You’re welcome.

This is exactly what happened with the playground.

As kids by the hoard-load ditched their shoes at the thoughtfully provided cubbies and flew into its inviting ground floor entrances, they disappeared within its confines looking for all the world like a swarm of mad, yelling bees returning to their hive. On the outskirts of this bedlam, parents slowly circled the periphery, often clutching their lost children’s shoes and squinting inscrutably at the impemnitrable mesh in the vain hope of spotting a familiar hat or coat. It made me smirk to myself at first but as I continued to peer at the melee, hoping that by the power of will alone I would somehow develop latent x-ray vision, I began to understand the varying degrees of worry worn on the upturned faces of most of the adults. The chance of seeing Jimmy, Suzie, Carl, Sharon or any one child whom might be your responsibility to keep safe and sound, was infinitecimally small. It was like trying to keep track of one superball out of hundreds as they bounced around in a cement mixer.

…While wearing sunglasses.

…At night.

I cupped my hands on either side of my mouth in the effort not to blast those standing nearby and possibly direct my voice up and into the Maze Of Fun.

“SHORT STACK!”

I cocked my head to listen.

…General squeals of glee, fear, and adolescent adrenaline.

“HEY, SHORT STACK!”

More of the same.

“Crap!”

Popping off my shoes and stuffing my dignity in the left one and my hat in the right, I ducked my head at the chest-high door jam and shimmied in. He had to be here somewhere. It was time to go find him.

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7 Responses

  1. I’ve had those moments. twice.

    When Scout was 4 I needed help at the Bangor Children’s Museum to find him. I was panicked, wondering why they weren’t locking down the place, for cryin’ out loud. He had back-tracked to a driving simulator one floor below where I last saw him. One staff person tried to reassure me that no child leaves the premises with anyone other than whom they arrive while (what seemed like) a skeleton crew searched painfully slow for the errant boy.

    This summer I took both kids to Sesame Place. Scout, now 12, had found some big-kid fun with some other big kids and I was watching Lil’bug (4…is a 4-yo thing?) on Cookie Mountain. She climbed out of the pit, turned left to exit the area, and vanished. Completely disappeared in the blink of an eye. One minute she was there, the next, not. All she had done was walk behind a few adults that were standing near the exit waiting for their own charges. I looked and looked, but she was. not. to. be. found. GONE! POOF!

    Panic set in again. I didn’t want to leave the area in case the time-warp that she’d vanished into brought her back. Scout was not within earshot so I couldn’t leave him while I went to “Lost Parents” to report her missing. The only employee I could find couldn’t leave her post inside Cookie Mountain. Leap of faith. I ran to “Lost Parents” and eventually a park employee brought her in. (I’m tearing up while typing this.)

    In some play structures it’s impossible to see all of the nooks and crannies. We have a McDonald’s with a PlayPlace like that. I camp out by the exits (where they can’t past me) and let them have fun.

    I hope you have pictures of this magnificent play structure to share!

  2. Ask and you shall receive. Added the picture today! Actually, I wasn’t sure that I could brighten in up enough to make it workable. It was that dark!

    Loosing a child, even for a half a second, is a terrifying feeling and one I try hard and avoid, both through keeping my critters in view as well as attempting to control my panic response.

    I do better at No.1 than No.2.

    Short Stack in particular is a very trusting little guy and has inherited my love to chat, which can be a very dangerous combination, as you can appreciate. Now I better understand why my own parents always looked so frazzled when I was a kid and we were out in big crowds!

    -TP

  3. BTW, Thanks to everyone for being so patient with my unscheduled “summer break.” Things got sort of overwhelming there and I simply didn’t have the time, or more importantly, the rest and clear-mindedness I need to write something worth reading.

    Trust me.
    I tried.

    You don’t want to read what I failed at doing well.

    BUT I’M BAAAAAACK NOW!

    -TP

  4. good you’re back – we’ve all been waiting with bated breath 😀

    • Sorry that took so long! I never intended to be away from writing for over a month. Guess that summer sort of took over as did work schedules. I’m gonna get this thing done soon, darn it! I need to wrap this story so I can get back to the short, punchy ones! 😉

      -TP

  5. The Ultimate Playground Set!
    I’ve searched for many years, but have never found it.
    I think you’ve beat me to it.

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