Standing at just over 6 feet, I am as tall as I want to be. You won’t catch me on a ladder. I don’t like standing in a chair to change a light bulb. I have been known to get dizzy when swinging too high at the playground. Sometimes even just standing at the top of the three small steps on my front porch looking down at someone on the sidewalk, I get a little panicked.
The “Bridge Park” is my son Jack’s favorite park right now. On days when it is just the two of us and the little kids are at school, he and I go there to play. He calls it the Bridge Park because it is beside the Junction Bridge, one of Little Rock’s pedestrian bridges that crosses the Arkansas River.
There, a tall tube slide is surrounded by giant rocks to climb and tunnels to hide in. The entrance of the slide is at street level and the exit is down 20 or 25 feet with a soft foam landing. Once you slide down, the fastest way to get back up to the top is to climb the rocks or a steep grass hill that doubles as a good place for kids – and clumsy parents – to roll back down.
In the summer, the city turns on the water features and the park grows to include a splash pad. One summer, before the kids were born and maybe even before we were married, my husband, Ben, and I were giving a city tour to some out-of-town friends, and we found a giant black snake on the rocks. We still can’t go to this park without Ben mentioning the heroism that was shown by two men that day – Ben and Steve – in saving all of the unknowing children from this monster by using a stick to send it down into the river.
One extra foggy day this fall after we took the other kids to school, Jack decided our next stop should be the park. We were the only two people there, and he was all over the place. I carefully walked down to the cushy foam by way of the grass hill, positioning myself in what I thought would be a good, central location at the bottom of the slide that would let me watch by looking up.
“Come up here, Mommy,” Jack called after a few minutes from the top of the slide.
I didn’t want to be a fuddy-duddy. “His daddy climbs all over this whole thing with him for hours,” I thought.
I weighed my options and decided that using the rocks to get up there would be best. They are scattered but strategically spaced to create stairs and I felt like I could handle it. Slow and calculated, I clambered to the top of the rocks.
With each leg up, I looked around for a place to hold on with my hands as if I were climbing most dangerous terrain, keeping my center of gravity low to the ground – never mind that it was a safety-designed children’s playground that I had seen Jack at two years old and grandparents at 80 scale quicker and with more grace.
“Come slide down the slide,” he told me once I found my footing at the top. My heart racing, I really wanted to say no.
When I sat down at the top of the slide, I knew I had made a mistake. Looking down through that long, enclosed brown plastic tube, I could barely see the bottom and the angle of the slide seemed much steeper.
“I don’t know, Jack. I think this slide is just for kids,” I said, hoping he would forget all of the times his daddy had slid down with him.
“No, it’s not!” he laughed. “Daddy does it all the time. You CAN do it.”
“Jack, baby, your momma is afraid of heights and I think this is too high for me. I think I am just not as brave as you and daddy are. Scoot back, I need to get off of here,” I told him, my voice quivering and hands shaking.
“You can’t get down, Momma. You climbed up here and you have to finish. You are brave,” he offered as encouragement; words he had no doubt heard before. “It’s not hard to do and I can help you. I will be right here. You will be safe.”
I looked at him, that little nose sprinkled with tiny freckles and his green eyes full of so much love and support, he was sure that I was going to go down this slide and he wanted to make it happen. “I can’t get out of this,” I thought. “He is watching and learning right now.”
All the way down the slide I could hear him cheering me on. “Whoooooo hoooo! Go, Momma, go!” And when I got to the bottom, he and I both were laughing.
We went down the slide together for another hour before we decided to leave to find some lunch.
“Do you remember going down the slide at the Bridge Park?” he asks me every now and then. “You were so brave. I am always proud of you.”
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