Parks & Rec:Goodbye Toddler, Hello Boy

Omoide: Memories are all we ever truly own.

(767 words)

It is late January, cold and rainy, and we are going to the park.  The afternoon sun is looking to go home early and a  hard wind is up, but we don’t mind.

We scamper along the green way toward Hanegi Koen, our nearby park.  There was a time, just a handful of  years ago, when we’d go for a walk and cover less than 50 meters.  Back then, Andy was fascinated by fallen leaves and marching ants.  We once went for a walk that consumed than an hour, but involved visiting a mesmerizing gate just up the street.  A toddler can experience the whole world in a blade of grass, or a gate to a parking lot.

These days we make good time no matter where we go; most of it in short bursts of speed.  He sprints past the community center.  The wheelchair ramp here was the scene of his first genuine tricycle accident — head, inside bright red and yellow helmet, meets concrete wall.  It was a low speed collision, hardly a sound, but lots noise afterward.  He had already navigated the ramp nearly a dozen times, controlling the peddles and then easing the tricycle down the twisting ramp — as about as much of an X-Games performance as you can expect from a 2-year-old.

We move on and soon pass the now naked flower beds that in the spring host a variety of flowers.  These were flowers that taught him the colors in English – purple and violet, the most interesting – and attracted butterflies that we chased throughout those mornings.

We come to the traffic light at corner and wait.  When he was a toddler, we’d stop at this corner and cheer the vehicles as they passed.  Fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars were the most exciting.  Next were concrete trucks, buses, and dump trucks.  Everything else was still pretty exciting.  A year later, after he had learned the makes and models, we no longer stayed at the corner for any more time than it took for the light to change.

We cross the street, then down and left, arriving at the base of the park entrance stairs.  He runs up without slowing.  At the top, we walk, but some runners pass and he jogs after them. We pass a park bench where he sat one hot summer afternoon drinking a can of peach juice, his head shaded with a white towel, unaware of the shrieks of “kawaii” (how cute) from a group of young women as they watched him.

Next is the backstop to the baseball field.  As a baby he slept in his carriage here while I watched the games.  Along the right field fence is a line of trees and it was here that that he practiced walking, his hands waving over his head, laughing as he went.  And then there is the playground – once his second home.  We’d swing together here; him on my lap, giggling, and telling me he could eat the tree leaves above us — and the sun, he could eat it, too.  They always tasted good.

We continue on from the playground to where the path is gravelly.  He took his most serious bicycle crash here while still on training wheels.  The front tire slid out — he almost brought it back — but tumbled off, scuffing his elbow and whacking the back of his helmeted head.  He insisted on continuing his ride, waiting until later to bandage his arm.  A couple of years later, the gravel was fun.  He loved doing power slides on his bike here.  On his fifth birthday, when he broke the front brake lever in a spectacular crash.

Now, we are back near the top of the stairs again.  We often met a Chihuahua named Vinnie here every Saturday morning.  We haven’t seen him in a while.  We run down the stairs and are soon on the green way to home.  As we pass the wheelchair ramp a second time, I say wistfully that we had a lot of fun around here.  He answers, “Yes, we do.”  His answer is reassuring.  He lives in the present and thinks in the future.

There are times when I miss the giggling little toddler that was once where he now stands.  He’s no longer a little boy, but a boy, who can and wants to do things on his own.  He started elementary school this week.  Soon, a time will come when he’s too busy to visit the park with me.  When he does have time, though, I’ll be waiting.