Sunday morning. The day stretches ahead of me like an ocean I need to navigate with just a dinghy and a paddle. My mother has been in Palm Springs all weekend and I’ve been left alone with the kids for three agonizingly long days. I have had glimpses into being a single parent during these months on my own and it’s a terrifying, sobering prospect.
Ironically, the first thing I think about this morning over the din of screaming, illogical children is whether 10am is too early to indulge in some vodka, maybe thrown casually into my coffee. It’s only a fleeting thought. While the children run wild through the house, disassembling my mother’s sofa for the umpteenth time, I think about what I could possibly do to distract them from destruction for a few hours. It’s cloudy and cool and there is a good chance of rain. In London, this wouldn’t have put me off. I generally lived my life trying to decipher cloud formations that changed every 10 minutes; outwitting the rain was a constant preoccupation. Here, in southern California, I’ve quickly got used to perennially warm sunshine, so a few clouds and precipitation suddenly paralyze me into indecision and idleness.
I decide to chance it and take the kids to Coronado, a beautiful, affluent peninsula close to downtown San Diego, and a location made famous by Marilyn Monroe’s Some Like It Hot, filmed partly at the Hotel Del Coronado. It’s a great place for kids and people watching and it has an amazing stretch of pristine beach. Unsurprisingly, the real estate is shockingly expensive, even by London standards, and I would put the average age of the city’s 26,000 residents at about 70. The retired rich are the only ones who can probably afford it.
Today, because of the weather, I change tactics and head to the playground instead of the beach/bay. In the years since becoming a mother I’ve had a great deal of time to contemplate playgrounds. I’ve probably spent more hours in playgrounds than I have behind a desk, which no doubt explains why my bank account is now in such a dire state. Since moving to California I’ve noticed that playgrounds are not what they are in London. Generally speaking, the playgrounds I’ve visited here are almost always quiet, even on sunny days. My mother’s house backs onto a small playground that is inexplicably empty at all hours. Occasionally I’ll hear a child, but it’s so rare that I’ll peek over the fence to check who might be playing out there.
The playgrounds in London were chaotic and full of overexcited children, especially at the weekends. Even in the middle of winter, people would brave the park for a short while. I can vividly recall days when stinging-cold wind would slap my face, but still I persisted out there like a masochist. These days, anything below 64 degrees feels brave.
But the biggest difference is reserved for the playground equipment. For a reason that remains unknown, playgrounds in California are nothing more than a jumble of plastic slides and swings with a springy ground. There is no see-saw or merry-go-round anywhere, never mind a zip line like the one at our local park in Crouch End. Believe me, I’ve tried to find a playground that has this kind of thing and it just doesn’t exist. Yet, as a child in San Diego, I remember playing on the merry-go-round and feeling that dizzy sickness after one too many turns. There were see-saws too. I’m assuming these no longer exist because of America’s litigation culture. It seems that even swings aren’t safe from extinction. One of Coronado’s playgrounds near the bay no longer has swings, although they’d been there the year before. There is no sign to explain why they have been dismantled, just a stretch of empty sand where the structure stood.
The Raging Bull and the Chatterbox don’t notice these absences, only I do. I feel a bit sad, though, that this play equipment has been taken away. They were part of my childhood and, in London, I would gleefully take to the see-saw with both children. It was a moment of release and happiness. I’m not saying that playgrounds aren’t dangerous places; they can be – and that is part of the fun. It’s as children that we learn how danger and fun are the oldest of companions, separated only by the thinnest of invisible lines. It’s the danger that can make an experience incredibly exhilarating. Not every mother may agree with me, but I’d rather gamble on an injury than take the experience away altogether.