I was crabby (again! i sense a parenting theme!). The dog had recently gotten spayed, and her exercise routine was out-of-whack. She was beginning to get more and more mischievous, as her pent-up energy continued to build with no productive nor sufficient outlet. The kids were bouncing off the walls, too, (again! another theme!) as they did every weekend it seemed, when it was just me and the dog and them, daddy snoozin’ upstairs from his night shift. I was glad my husband was around during the week, especially to spend time with my littlest one (and walk the dog!), but it seemed like every festival, birthday party, special event, and holiday fell on the weekends lately, and I was weary of having to navigate them all solo. Or to not go, period. Like today.
In an attempt to lighten my mood, I decided to throw everybody in the car and head to a tiny community playground. “The Red Playground” we had dubbed it, nothing more than two red swing-sets (for big boys and babies) and a teeny jungle gym with two 5-foot slides. Just enough equipment to be just enough for the boys to be happy. I liked that it was on a green rolling hill, too, that led to a small wooden bridge spanning a creek. Just enough nature for me.
I have NEVER seen anyone at this playground in all the years of driving by (nine, to be exact). I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to have the dog there or not, either. Our community is notorious for not welcoming dogs in open public spaces like parks and playgrounds. Of course, today, five minutes after we’ve arrived (and for the first time, ever, in my nine year recollection), another mother, her two daughters, and their brown toy poodle decide that they are coming to the Red Playground, too. Great.
My dog is so starved for canine attention, that she immediately starts lunging and jumping when she sees a doggie friend a-comin’. I am dragged over (literally) to meet Mr. Toy Poodle (who looks like he is close to being on the last walk of his life); they sniff noses for a split second, but then Other Mama proclaims, “That’s enough!”, and sharply tugs her little old man away. My dog would never try to eat such a frail, friendly guy, but Other Mama is not so sure about that. (He did look sorta Cocoa Pebble–ish, mmmmm…) Other Mama loudly announces that her troupe should probably continue on, maybe try the playground at the local elementary school. I breathe a sigh of relief, as (if I am being totally honest) their presence was aggravating me (no! moi?!). And causing my dog to choke to death.
I had already reached my playground limit (after a whopping 10 minutes), not wanting to have come in the first place. Instead of feeling better, I am growing grouchier. I suggest we romp down to the bridge to toss a couple of rocks in the creek, and then head home. My sons race ahead of me; my (asphyxiating) dog follows them. I tie the pup to the bridge post for a second, lean on the ledge to just breathe and soak in the scene, just for a moment. I glance over to my children…
…and there is my oldest holding a decrepit, moldy Gatorade bottle right by its filthy plastic mouth. I snap, totally irritated, “Put that down! Can’t you see how dirty that is? So DISGUSTING! There’s germs on there, and they are going to make you sick, I tell you! Sick! Sick! Sick! GROSS! Put it down! Now!” I see my son’s lip quiver, and the tears pool in his eyes. “But, Mom,” he whispers feebly, “I was picking it up so I could go throw it in the trash. The Love Project, remember?” Oh, yeah. The Love Project. The grandiose project I had concocted and harped upon, the project which apparently my son had taken to heart, and here I am reprimanding him for actually doing what I had explained. Ugh.
I softened, immediately. “You’re right, honey! Mommy’s so sorry for yelling, I forgot about the Love Project — how smart of you to remember! The Love Project, of course! All the different ways we can show love to others, and to the Earth–like cleaning up trash! Go ahead, go throw the bottle in the garbage can!” The baby happily followed suit, as he had found the orange top to the mildewed mouth of the disgusting Gatorade bottle. I bit my tongue. Enough about the germs. I kept wishing I had bought them gloves, that I had a trash bag, that there wasn’t so much yucky garbage laying around here. But watching my two sons joyously run to the [stinky] metal barrel to toss in their loving contributions, so proud to be cleaning Mother Earth (even the tiniest bit), I forgot my germophobia, my crabbiness. My heart swelled. The Love Project, yes! Who needed a formal volunteer schedule? Let’s pick up some damn trash in the park! Right now!
And so it began…