So yesterday, my friend and I took our children to Fairytale Town.
This is a little park/playground with fairy tale themed play places--Old Mother Hubbard's shoe (which is really a slide), Owl's house (which is really a slide), Old MacDonald's farm (which is a big barn with chickens, mice, a big tarantula... and a slide), a 'Crooked Mile' which is a raised maze-like pathway, fiberglass giant's feet, fiberglass pumpkins drawn by fiberglass horses, a real garden populated by real rabbits, the occasional real sheep, a real donkey named Eyeore, a pirate ship over a tetchy moat leading to a bamboo forest, and a room to eat your lunch in that's shaped like King Arthur's castle.
Now Fairytale Town is interesting in that kids grow out of it by about age five. Jenny's daughter, Flynn, and Zoomboy, are both six. Squish and Flynn's sister are both four. We had something of a conflict of interests-- Zoomboy and Flynn were running from thing to thing with the concentration of a coke-snorting weasels, and little sisters were trotting after them, whining about how they got left behind. All of this put a SERIOUS crimp in Jennys ability to work on her crocheted blanket (I was helping her with the instructions) and my ability to knit.
And then a wonderful thing happened.
Boredom set in.
Flynn grabbed a stick, Zoomboy did too, little sisters plural grabbed their own, and Fairytale town will never bee the same.
It was not safe. It was not "good parenting". It was not even "overly supervised."
But those kids... man, they ran from one side of the park to the other, and they were everyone from Captain Hook to the alligator, to Mr. Smee to Peter Pan. They hunted pandas in the bamboo forest and fought sword fights on the stage in the middle of the green. They called out things like "Alligators aport!" and "But I'm the captain!" "Well come ON captain--we're going to go catch some fish in the moat!" They tried to involve other children in their game, and the other children were like, "Why is this child telling me that he is the captain of this ship. Mother, everyone knows this is a toy and I get my turn!" and after I told them to leave the little boy alone, he didn't understand their game, my children said, "But he could play with us too!"
They took off, and the mother looked disdainfully at Jenny and I, who were knitting serenely through the chaos and calling out moderative things like, "Get out of the moat, Flynn!" and "Zoomboy, let Flynn lead the expedition through the swamp! It's her turn!" and, "Squish, wait for little sister--she wants to go find pandas too!"
Jenny and I returned the woman's look serenely, and I looked at my friend, my fellow writer, a survivor of the NHS wars, an animal rescuer, and one of the sweetest women I've ever been honored to know.
"Let's hear it for white trash parenting!" I said with a grin.
We fist bumped over it, and returned to our knitting.
I know, I know-- if the park had been more crowded, if our children had been more inclined to poke each other with sticks instead of waging Star Wars epic battles with them, if other children had been hurt in the ensuing adventures exploring, we would not have been so sanguine.
But as our little knot of kids went tearing across the green, staging new frontiers and taking over the world, I couldn't help but wonder if what they were doing wasn't what the little park was meant for in the first place.