I took my two-year old son, Eddie, to a nearby playground. The last time we were here, he was enamored with one particular slide. It was a plastic yellow slide that had a little ripple in it, but I’m sure it was the steep climb up about 10 large metal steps that attracted him. Eddie likes a challenge, and while a playground usually has two different sections — one with small slides and monkey bars for little children and another with larger slides and bars for older children — Eddie has always gravitated toward the big kids’ equipment.
In fact, the last time we were at this playground, I couldn’t get Eddie off of this one particular slide. It was sort of annoying, actually. The metal steps were so steep, I kept fearing he would slip off of them and so every time he begin to climb them, I’d climb up behind him. As we’d near the top, I’d run back down the steps so I could be at the bottom of the slide by the time he slid down, lest he shoot off the end and into the dirt. It was frightening because several times, he’d hesitate at the top of the steps and instead of sitting down on the slide, he’d start to climb back down the steps, and by that time, I was too far to run up the steps behind him and catch him if he fell. But whether he went forward or backward, he so enjoyed this slide last time we were here that I had to carry him out of the playground and to the car kicking and crying because he didn’t want to leave it.
This time at the playground was no different. As soon as we arrived, Eddie headed straight for the yellow slide with the ripple and began to ascend the steep stairs. I was surprised to see how much he’d grown. He climbed up the stairs with such vigor. He was much bigger and more capable. He launched up the steps and held onto the railings with each step with such firmness that his hands seem to be propelling him upward almost as much as his feet. He seemed so steady, I didn’t even bother to follow him up the stairs. What a difference several months makes, I thought.
But about halfway up the ladder, he stopped. He looked up the ladder toward the top of the slide and then back down toward the ground, and he started to climb back down.
“What’s the matter, pal? Keep going!”
“No want to,” he said.
“Oh, c’mon. You loved this slide last time,” I said.
“No want to,” he said and continued to climb down the ladder.
“Okay, you don’t have to go,” I said. “But I know you can do it. You did it when you were just a baby, and you’re even bigger now.”
He ignored me and kept climbing down the stairs. When he reached the bottom, he didn’t say anything. He just walked off in the direction of something smaller and more manageable.
It made me sad to see that fear had grown inside him, like one might grow a molar or facial hair. It was something that wasn’t there but had somehow developed, and I hoped it wasn’t on account of something my husband or I had done.
I walked over with him to a little piece of equipment in a patch of sand in the far corner of the playground that simulated a digger truck. You sit on what looks like the seat of a see-saw and pull back on two levers, which operate the scoop. Eddie played on the sand digger for about five minutes, scooping up so much sand that he created a little hole. I kept having to push more dirt into the path of the digger so that he’d have some soil to pick up.
He eventually tired of the digger and wandered over to the side of the playground meant for young children. There was a short slide, which had a small ladder that led up to a tube, and on the other side of the tube was a large metal dinosaur. Eddie started to crawl through the tube but when he saw the dinosaur, he began to back out of the tube like a cat backing away from a predator. He made a face like he was scared, though it looked fake. And yet every time he started down the tube toward the dinosaur, he’d retreat again and back out of the tube. I had to stand at the front of the tube and coax him forward to make him go through.
Once through, he walked over to the small slide, and he stood at the top of it for about 45 seconds before getting up the nerve to come down. But after doing it once, he seemed more confident and ran back up a small set of stairs to do it again. And yet again when he reached the top of the slide, he hesitated. It was only when he saw another young boy go over to the sand digger he’d been playing with earlier that he practically dove down the slide.
“Mine!” he yelled from the top of the slide and barreled down toward the ground, propelled by the power of possessiveness.
He ran over to the digger with such conviction, the young boy sitting on it and his grandmother, who was standing next to him, thought it best to just give my son a wide berth. They scurried off to find something else to play with.
Eddie played with the digger for several minutes, but after a while, even he grew bored. I suggested we try the swing, and he agreed. As he swung back and forth like a pendulum finding balance, his face grew more relaxed, and he returned to a place more familiar.