A walk in the park

The other day, Doug accidentally took our garage key with him to work. This had the grave consequence that I was not able to access our double stroller that we keep stored in Paul’s garage. By mid-afternoon, the kids and I were going crazy cooped up in the house, and I just didn’t feel up to trying to play out front–there is enough that is fun for Mercy out there, but for Aaron there is mostly trouble! So, I got it into my head that I would just carry Aaron and we would walk over to the park that is “close” to our house. I called my friend Ellen and invited her to meet us there to play, and she said they would join us in a little while.

Now, I know quite well how much my son weighs. In fact, we were just at the doctor a week ago! I also know how tired and sore my arms get after holding him for very long. But for some reason, this all seemed like a very good idea (or “very idea”, as Mercy would say, as in: “Mom, I have a very idea!”) at the time.

The “close” park is actually six city blocks away. And the pace of a two-year old on foot, especially a two-year old who is compelled to collect every twig and leaf and blade of grass she can along the way, is anything but swift. By the time we had reached the second block, I was ready to turn around. But, the prospect of returning to the stuffy apartment with kids who had been promised the park was unthinkable. So we pressed on.

In our neighborhood, the nemeses to children in strollers everywhere (and I learned, even more so to children on foot) are the terrifying ghetto dogs behind so many of the fences. Often, the fence obscures the view so you find yourself walking happily along when all of a sudden your child, whose head is a foot away and at the same level as the beasts, is met by ferocious barking. It is terrifying, and children here quickly learn which gates to fear. And so you watch your child shrink up into a corner of the stroller as you come near to certain gates and homes, and you push as fast as you can.

When on foot, the child’s reaction is often paralysis: they freeze, directly in front of the dog, stuck in their fear. Which of course only makes the dog bark more resulting in an even more panicked child. My method is to scoop Mercy up and carry her past the gate to safety, however carrying Aaron in my arms made this more than difficult as we made our way to the park.

As we came within sight of the park, I noticed a gold Nissan that had circled the block twice, paying a fair amount of attention to the kids and me. He was not subtle, and I was relieved to finally make it into the park. As I settled next to the sand and began the ever-difficult challenge of keeping at least some of it out of Aaron’s mouth, I noticed the car had come around yet again, and was now sitting at the park entrance watching. I quickly pulled out my cell phone and pretended to be on it. After a few minutes of this, the guy pulled out and left.

I was so glad to see Ellen and her little girl, Elena, arrive at last. They only had a few minutes to play and they had brought their van since they had to leave from there to pick up Elena’s dad from work. When I told Ellen about our endless, and exhausting walk over, she quickly offered to leave us with her stroller that she had in the car. It was of course only a single, but I was thrilled to not have to carry Aaron the Enormous back home.

After they left, I realized that it would be getting dark soon, so I got the kids together and strapped Aaron into Elena’s stroller for the trip home. About this time, I spotted our Gold Nissan friend again. This time I dialed Doug and kept him on the phone while we walked.

About a block into our trip home, I noticed that Mercy was walking very slowly. Usually she runs in front of me until I tell her to stop and wait, and once I catch up she likes to take off again. I watched her feet and noticed that she was walking gingerly on her toes. I had put her in little sandals that had been handed down from friends, and it was obvious that these shoes really hurt her feet, to the point of almost not being able to walk. So there I was, pushing Aaron in the borrowed stroller with one hand while carrying Mercy with the other. I could go about one block like this, and then I would put her down and make her walk for a bit. When she got to the point of walking on her toes, I would pick her up and we would do the same thing again. Oh, and did I mention I am still on the cell phone with Doug at this point because of creepy Nissan man (and no, I do not have an earpiece)?

We were about a block from the house, nearing the infamous 30th and Kenwood, when I noticed two African American youth (whom I did not know) standing at one corner. A red car pulled up, and as the guys on the corner conferred with the guys in the car, I noticed that they were paying attention to a group of Latino youth down the block (whom I do know–one has just been released from prison and has been “active” lately in the local drug trade). As I passed the corner guys and made my way toward the others, the thoughts rushed through my mind: what if this is a drive-by waiting to happen? Something about the situation just felt threatening. And of course the two cruisers that had been on this block on our way to the park were now nowhere to be seen.

I made it to Kenwood without any incident, and with relief turned toward our house. I pulled Ellen’s stroller awkwardly through our front door (you don’t dare leave these things out on your porch), and herded the kiddos up the steep stairs realizing that now the “difficult” hour of the day was starting: making dinner, feeding the kids, and starting the bath and bed routine.

After the kids were in bed (and I was collapsed on the futon while Doug made me dinner), Doug informed me: “Hey, the keys to the garage were right here in my jeans pocket the whole time!”

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