I'll See Your Backyard — and Raise You a Pop-Up Park
I recently picked up Maxon, my older son, from a friend's house in the suburbs. When I arrived, he and his friend were jumping on an enclosed trampoline next to a playground structure in the expansive backyard. His friend's mom was spraying water from a garden hose into the trampoline while the boys tried to avoid or trick over the spray. They were soaked, blades of grass stuck to their legs, breathless from one-upping each other. The mom seemed slightly apologetic for the scene, although she shouldn't have been. They had been in the pool, then in the woods behind the house discovering abandoned cars and doll heads, then playing with LEGOs in the basement that could fit five or six of our basements.
This trampoline-water park-woodland adventure-LEGOLAND scenario is something I can't offer our boys. We live in the city.
And I will admit it here – I envy those suburban backyards and basements, those "forests" with their abundant imaginary adventures and that trampoline. I actually wondered if we could fit one in our 16 x 16 brick patio. But that – and the high quality public schools – is where my envy ends.
And here's why:
- We do a ton of walking. The boys can complain all they want (and they haven't since the No-Kvetching Challenge), but all they will hear from me is, "We're city people. We walk." My kids have crossed Center City on foot hundreds of times. I've taught them about grid systems and street names and following numbered streets, so that when they move to some other city one day, they won't be intimidated (Who am I kidding? They'll just use Google maps).
- California Pizza Kitchen is nowhere near my house.
- We have easy access to pop-up parks and gardens, beer and otherwise, where my kids can play a heated game of oversize chess.
- We are never trapped on snow days. I can easily get my kids to a friend's house, a restaurant, a bookstore, a movie or Lemon Hill, no matter how many feet of snow has fallen. If I stay in, it's because I choose to. Should I need to drive my car, I WILL put my recycle bins in the space I dug out. So move along.
- There are more than a dozen parks and playgrounds within walking distance, including the Marian Anderson Center just a block from my house. I am currently evaluating how old my kids have to be before I can send them there unchaperoned.
- Above-mentioned city park has a free outdoor swimming pool in the summer. No waiting list and 100 percent less expensive than the Lombard Swim Club. Also, no snack bar.
- The Italian Market. I never need to make pesto as long as Claudio's exists.
- I can get to Fearless Athletics in five minutes. I am sure there is a CrossFit gym in the suburbs. But if I had to drive 20 minutes to get there, I would get there much less frequently. If my kids are off school? They come, too.
- Rodeph Shalom. It’s a warm and loving community, and even though my kids complain about Hebrew school, they think Rabbi Eli is way cool.
- No restaurant we frequent is inside a strip mall.
- Our roof deck beats a sun porch.
- My boys get exposure — to crowds, to people less fortunate, to strange men in silk shirts who stand on heating vents for hours, to street food, to farmers markets, to small bookstores, to women muttering to themselves, to musicians on corners, to neighborhood restaurants, to public pools, to a diverse and strange and not always polite population.
If you ask my kids (and I did), they will tell you that they love living in the city because there are so many people, it's noisy and we have friendly neighbors.
But they still want a yard.
To that I say, there's a park down the street.