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Kay Lee

All the World's a Playground

  • "Yuck, 'Amy'", two-year-old Rissa calls urgently. "A bug."  I squat down because my old eyes need to be near the source. "It's a ladybug," I tell her. "Isn't it pretty?" She sits on the ground beside my feet, puts her face close to the ladybug, not quite touching it. "Awww, red, pretty, ladybug," then says again, "Yuck!"

    Rissa has always loved the outdoors so when she's visiting me, we spend more time outside in a day than I usually do in a week.  Before this, I had a renovated farmhouse in the country with a really big yard, cornfields and pastures all around. We had a separate garage, a basement and a wooden deck we could have coffee on (she enjoys her morning coffee time with 'Amy' - That's me. She started calling me 'Amy' when she was too young to say 'grandma Lee'.)

    altShe loves to roam and that place had lots of possibilities for a small explorer and her dog. She ate apples from the tree, played on the picnic table, picked loads of dandelions, rode the wood pile and examined rocks from the driveway and flowers in the flower beds. When the corn fields grew tall, she would stand at the edge and peer inside as if there were something to see besides corn: In the winter when the corn was no longer there, she would take off across the plowed field, long-striding confidently, sure she'd get somewhere amazing. She imitated the birds and played with the dog and piled sticks by the cooker. We'd often sit quietly on the post at the edge of the road and watch the little creek below us.  The water was still, just a tiny shallow creek, but she would sit very still and stare down into it for a long time as if she saw great things. 

    altOf course I would walk with her if I could, or, if my hips were giving me a problem that day, I could sit on the deck and keep an eye on her in comfort. I like to walk with her because she invariably makes me laugh, but some days I just can't.

    It was a wonderful place to be, peaceful, quiet, pretty. Birds sang softly while they darted busily from here to there; breezes carried the sound of the corn rustling on the stalks; occasional there'd be a distant whinny from the horses grazing in the field across the road. There were blue skies in the daytime and lots of stars at night. Nature filled the silence with wonderful melodious sounds and Rissa's laughter was part of it.

    Now, I live much closer to her, at the edge of the city, in a small upstairs apartment. I worried because her favorite thing is to be outside and, as I mentioned, I am not very ambulatory. I worried because she's a friendly child and there are a lot of people whom I don't know yet. There's also a fairly busy highway in front of us, so, since she's still slowly learning the boundaries, if she goes outside, I would always have to go with her. I need to make sure she's safe. She'd be limited by what I could do and I foresaw nothing much for her to do at 'Amy's new house'. I was worried she wouldn't enjoy coming over as much.

    But, all that worrying was silly: Like most kids, Rissa makes her own fun out of anything. The first time we went outside, I  briefly explained why she had to stay where I could see her and that we'd go back inside if she went too far or didn't come when I called. She listened patiently. Then I sat down on the steps and she, feeling her freedom, began immediately to run, back and forth past me on the sidewalk. The large grin covering her face spread to mine when she breathed loudly as she passed, "Amy, I can't stop running."

    I might enjoy sitting in the sun, but she likes to explore. The 'yard' includes a sidewalk that circles the building with a hill of grass in between the two parking lots. Since I have to rest frequently while we walk, she only gets to explore the area where I can see her from where I sit. I know it's certainly limiting for a small child, so I give her as much freedom as I can. We've had to take a few trips upstairs, but I am patient and she is finally figuring out I need her to keep me in sight.

    The front of the apartments consists of a row of rocks in a flowerbed along the building about two feet wide. Then a sidewalk, then a sloping, grass-covered hill maybe 15 yards deep that ends down at the sidewalk, which is a couple of feet from the highway. She's not allowed on the lower sidewalk because it's too near the road. But she enjoys watching the traffic and the people on the sidewalk make her happy when they wave back.

    For a city apartment, we are lucky. There are bushes to hide in and trees to try to climb and even a stone picnic table that she loves to dance on. She leans on the trees, rolls in the leaves, lays in the grass, digs in the dirt or rolls on the hill. 

    She's discovered the row of garages behind the apartments and struts up the drive, merrily knocking on each and every garage door. Nobody has ever answered of course, but she likes to knock.

    altThere's even a few occasional moments of excitement. Like the day she was playing in the grass when a lady jogger ran by on the sidewalk below us. Without a sound, Rissa sprang to her feet and began running on the upper sidewalk, little legs whirling, keeping pace with the lady below us. The lady looked up at Rissa, then at me, and we both laughed out loud. They ran together like that until they reached the drive. Then I had to make Rissa stop so she wouldn't get hit by a car.  But all the way back. she chattered about the her and the lady running. "Good job," I told her.

    She investigates the edge of the small woods every chance she gets. The other day she saw two ducks waddling just a couple of yards from her. She called out, "Amy, Ducks!" in her excited little voice. I could barely see the tops of two somethings just above the weeds, couldn't tell what they were, but she was so excited I had to grin.  She walked carefully over the branches and leaves towards the bobbing little heads.  They in turn, walked leisurely just ahead, evading her, but staying just close enough to let her think she was catching up. After a few vain attempts to reach out for them, she ran back across the drive towards me yelling, 'Amy, DUCKS, I need to hold them!" I walked to the edge of the woods, with Rissa running ahead, to see for myself.  Sure enough, it was two wild ducks with heads the color of drakes (could have been drakes for all I know about ducks). So we got to have a nice talk about ducks, animals, wild and tame.

    altSometimes, in the late afternoon after school, the apartment children come out to play. We can hear them below the window and immediately Rissa wants to "go see the kids". I don't mind because it's always easier to keep up with her when she's got someone to play with. Their parents limit them to the area below us, so Rissa is happy to be where I can see her. She loves the 'kids', which we didn't have in the country.

    So, I live in the city, can't have a dog anymore, am limited in space and movement, but Rissa's okay with it. And so, I am. 

    It's true: Life is much better when you have someone to hang with,
    Grandma Kay