During our fall fun day adventures at the nearby park we let the children have a few minutes of unstructured fun. There are two different playgrounds at the park, which is just about as exciting as you can get when you are 5. Some of the teachers started pushing the leaves into big piles so the children could run and jump in them. If you live in an apartment building, or even in a town home community, you don't often get the chance to dive into big piles of leaves. The children's squeals of delight made shivering in the chilly weather worth it.
While I watched the leaf-pile excitement a few little boys came running over to me. "We want to show you something!" they giggled. And led me over to the second, smaller of the two playgrounds. Where someone, a high schooler perhaps, had taken the time to draw very detailed pictures of male genitalia. pictures plural. And had written all sorts of lovely sayings across the playground. Words that made me thankful that our five year olds can't read yet.
When I first started working at the think tank I was horrified by the state of this park. It's not on school grounds but is a quick walk in the woods between us and the high school. Broken glass littered the ground amongst the leaves, the trees were spray painted with the marks of gangs, and the play equipment itself was covered in different tags. I have pictures of our children sliding down the slide past the horrible gang warnings scrawled below their beautiful smiles.
But a few years later it was cleaned up. A member of our school board got involved, cut down trees to make the park more visible to the police driving by, put in new playground equipment, cleaned up the broken glass, blacked out the gang tags on the trees, and made the park a lovely place to be again.
It's taken two years but the park is returning back to what it was.
Sadly, as I looked at the five year olds giggling over the awful drawings I realized that this probably wasn't the first time they'd seen them. This is their neighborhood. Their parents bring them here to play. This is what they have. Most of them are probably use to this. After seeing this, will their parents bring them back? Is it too far, too much of an unsafe hassle? Will they stay inside with Nintendo and tv instead?
It's not fair to them. It's not fair because in the grand scheme of things, it's just not that big a deal. It's not fair that their famlies have more important things to worry about than the unsafe neighborhood playgrounds. That these pictures are the least of their worries.
**A quick email to my fabulous principal and one of our awesome secretaries was immediately followed by calls to the park authority, who promised to come out soon. If only we could scrub their little lives clean of all these pictures- all these adult words scrawled across their childhoods.