The Playground

Looking at this picture it looks like an average playground, right? A place where moms and dads take their little kids to play outside and learn to socialize. For most kids this is a place to squeal and run around with other kids that you don’t even know. Funny how kids can just jump right in where there is no judgment or shame or the tricky navigating that takes place as people begin to age and notice differences.

It was at this very playground that I had taken my kids to play over 26 years ago that I noticed the big difference. Being a native to my city I am often overcome with memories of not just my childhood, but the memories of raising my own family here and the changes that have occurred over my life time. It never fails when I walk past this playground I am transported to a time over two decades ago when a simple intention to have a little picnic at a playground shook my world.

Triggers are a funny thing like that. They sneak up on you when you least expect it and send you back in time. Thankfully, over the course of twenty years and lots of personal growth I am no longer triggered to a place of pain, but rather I think of the young mother that I was who was lost in her own life and about to embark on something that would either break her or make her.

Seeing the merry-go-round on my lunchtime walk I was reminded of the sunny summer day when I was carrying my one year old around making sure that he wasn’t eating too much sand or climbing on things too high, and trying to watch my older two kiddos. My oldest son was fully self-sufficient at a playground and was busy making new friends and doing what boys do on playground equipment. Scanning the area for my daughter, my eyes finally landed on the merry-go-round. There she laid, stretched out and holding on with her little hands while a group of older kids were spinning her as fast as they could. She was fixated on the sky and completely at ease.

Huh. That is strange I remember thinking. No other kids were on this piece of equipment, only the bigger kids spinning her. I watched for a few minutes and eventually walked over and spoke to her. She was completely unaware of the spinning sensation or how most of us would feel being spun into a dizziness that I cannot even imagine. I tried with everything to get her off the merry-go-round but the tantrum that came when I touched her arm sent her into a rage that I had never seen.

Then came the stares from other parents. Then the grabbing of their little boys and girls and taking them far away from this now screaming, sweating, snotty, disheveled mess of a three year old. Then came attempting to get my boys and her get out of there fast as I could while the gasping of others was all I could hear. Then the protests from my oldest son that we had just got there.

I am sure to an onlooker it was scary or even perhaps the thought that she was being a “bad” kid.

Soon after my life began to turn itself upside down. More and more opportunities occurred that I was aware of how different my little girl was. More and more opportunities for me to feel shamed and embarrassed and on the outside of a club called parenting. More and more sadness and the great unknown.

Over the years I learned that her little brain could not interpret things like spinning and effectively organize the sensation and as a result her brain caused chaos in her sensory system, so she learned that spinning was not something she was allowed to do, although she craved it.

Today, I am able to walk past that merry-go-round–the exact one that was my first look at my different girl– and be grateful to see that it was an experience that would either crush me or lead me down a new path.

Although it took many years to get on the path, I eventually did and it led me someplace amazing.

My message hopefully will be read not as sadness but a reminder that you never really know what is happening in a person’s life and that different doesn’t always relate to bad or scary. Blessings to all the parents struggling and my hope is that the world softens a bit and people choose to be helpful instead of judgmental.

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