Saturday, August 21, 2004

Park stuff

I've been meaning to take Helena to the library. Somehow we never make it through the park.

Yesterday, the library came to us, in the park.

Helena was filling her pail with sand as a young woman came by to explain the library's initiative, pointing out the blanket off to the side. The blanket was piled with books and a handful of toddlers, with one dutiful library employee reading to them animatedly. Mommies looked on, corralling the odd youngster trying to make a break for it.

Nobody needs to convince me kids ought to be exposed to books from an early age. Leaving Miss Recruiter Lady in mid sentence, I was already redirecting Helena's attention to the now book-laden corner of the playground.

Helena stood on the fringes, as is her wont, and watched. She was not enthralled, but stood somehow approving that these young wild things should be held quiet. A Caillou book made its way to her hands. Now Helena loves to watch Caillou at 5:30 in the morning — heck, maybe she even forces herself to get up at that ungodly hour at least once a week just so she can watch it. But she tossed the book aside, sat a few feet apart from the crowd, at the edge of the sand, and proceeded to fill her pail.

And that was that. It's a nice program the library has, full of good intentions, and I'm sure for some kids this exposure to books will have an impact.

But Helena lives surrounded by books. We play with them all day. We even read them sometimes. We come to the playground to run around, and fill our pail with sand.

(I have nothing against her growing up to come to the park wearing her pretty peasant blouse to sit under a tree and read her poetry. I am constantly amazed, and comforted, to see people sitting on benches reading. It makes me smile to see the odd kid — and they usually are rather odd — stretched out on a towel by the wading pool and reading. For the time being, Helena and I come to the park to play. And feed the ducks.)

Yesterday, cool as it was, only one of the wading pools was filled. Two lifeguards in attendance, three kids floundering about. Today, the "main" building is locked up, the sign posting the wading regulations removed. Today, by this measure of our life, summer is over. (And an effing cold, bloody useless summer it's been.)

Helena and I have a game. Mostly it's a lunchtime game, but it can be other times that we're sitting at the kitchen table. It's private — J-F can't play. Helena, usually between mouthfuls, will suddenly look all serious, often stern, pinching her mouth and furrowing her brow. I try to suppress my laughter, and return the look, cocking an eyebrow. And we do this, each trying to make the other crack up while maintaining a "straight" face, and always ending up laughing hysterically. She's a very funny little girl.

Yesterday for the first time, she transported this game away from the kitchen table, first to the park as a matter of fact — the swing and the top of the slide — and suddenly it's everywhere, when we're just hanging out. Our little in-joke.

This public expression feels like an affirmation — beyond merely tolerating my chaperoning presence, Helena may actually believe I'm cool to hang out with.

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