Learning to Play Again

Fernando Pacheco
June 15, 2015

In the last five years of being a parent, I've noticed something similar at every playground. No, I'm not talking about the graffiti on the slide. It's the perimeter of sitting parents glued to their smartphones. I don't blame them. A lot of us parents barely get a moment to ourselves. So while junior makes some new friends on the monkey bars, we check our Facebook newsfeed. But then I recently met a dynamic duo who inspired me.

It was unusually empty at the park one Saturday when I noticed an 8-year-old girl and her father approach the playground. She immediately hit it off with my 5-year-old daughter and so I knew I'd have a few minutes to myself and my smartphone. In the corner of my eye, I saw the girl’s father running laps around the park. After a few minutes, he'd sit and talk to his daughter for a bit and then take off for another few laps. 

I don't know about you, but I'm guilty of comparing myself to other parents. After about 15 minutes of watching this dad run laps, I asked if this was his regular workout. He said yes, they come out every week. He began his running regimen to help control his weight after being diagnosed with diabetes.

I assumed after all that running, he was going to remain on the sidelines with me. However, it wasn't long before his daughter ran up and asked to play paddle ball. They picked up their toy rackets and played off to the side of the jungle gym. Since my daughter was fascinated with her new friend, she asked if we could watch and cheer. They soon offered my daughter a few rounds of hitting the ball back and forth.

Half an hour flew by and the kids hadn't touched any playground equipment. Both girls had been occupied, chasing the ball and squealing with laughter. The other dad found himself winded ... again. 

That's when it hit me. The playground doesn't have to be spectator sport just because I'm a parent. I just forgot how to play.

My daughter and I returned to the playground the following week and staring at my Twitter feed was not on my agenda. While my daughter torpedoed down slides, I ran a few laps around the perimeter of the playground. There were times when my daughter turned it into a game - making me high five her whenever I passed by.

We also brought some of our own toys. We tossed the Frisbee around for a bit and played paddle ball. Combined with the walk to and from the park, I had hit a new record on my pedometer - more than 19,000 steps in one day.

The types of workouts that don't feel like work are the best kind. It got my heart rate up and brought me closer to my daughter. We didn't see our new friends at the park that day, but I'm sure we'll see them again soon. Maybe I'll even challenge the other dad to some paddle ball. I just hope he's OK with holding a pink Hello Kitty paddle.

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