Friday, January 14, 2011


One of my first orders of business after moving to the apartment was to find the neighborhood playgrounds. For some reason, I have a mental block against looking for this kind of stuff online. I still like to find things the old-fashioned way, when we had to waste a lot of time looking around for things in the real world.

I found the closest elementary school on a night run. I took the kids there with my mom and our dogs last week, while there were still students on campus for the afterschool program. There was a sign posted on the fence forbidding dogs, but I explained to everyone that no one would bother us because it wasn’t during school hours. It’s not like schools have money to hire afterschool dog patrol. Plus, we’ve done the same thing a ton of times at our own elementary school – what’s the dif?

The kids could barely enjoy their playground time because they were so worried we were going to be arrested. I told them to go ahead and enjoy themselves – I would take the fall if anyone approached us. Then, they were worried because they didn’t want to see me get arrested either. Hello . . . I’m not going to get arrested, and for goodness sakes, play! My mom lost her cool, turning around and exiting the school grounds with the dogs without saying anything. OK, Mom . . . come back! From the other side of the fence, she told me she was going to take the dogs down the street.

On our way home, the feedback I got was a public playground would make everyone feel a little more comfortable. This is why I was delighted to find an even closer playground at a public park on my walk back from the beach the other day, when I discovered I live a mere 20 minutes in walking time from my very favorite local beach . . . lovely.

While Daisy was at school on Monday, I took Violet to the newly discovered public park. When we got there, she asked me if the playground was part of another school, and I denied it. She asked me what that building was next to the playground then. Oh, that building? I’m not sure. Honestly, I hadn’t really noticed it because I was focused on the open grass spaces and straight up publicness of the playground.

Violet said she needed to go to the bathroom, so we walked toward the building, not knowing I was about to stumble upon my homeland. We found ourselves in an alternative high school for at-risk teenagers I have heard a lot about but never seen.

We walked by two boys who were doing something shifty with dice outside their math class. As soon as the boys saw us, they offered a defense, “You are a witness that was an accident!” I had no idea what they were talking about, but it wasn’t long before a red-faced, sweaty teacher came out of the classroom to send the boys to the principal’s office.

As the teacher confronted them, the boys kept pointing to us, “But we have a witness. She KNOWS it was an accident.” I averted my eyes as I ushered Violet to the restroom and stood just outside the door with our dog Sadie, offering the boys no support. As they passed us on their way to the office, one said, “Nice dog.” I smiled because Sadie had a crusty eye infection. It really was a nice touch to add the dog insult on the way to their consequences. As they walked out of earshot, I could hear them say, “Well, good thing we had a witness. Can you imagine how bad it would have been if we DIDN’T have a witness?” Ah, the sarcasm is like music to my ears.

After working at an alternative high school serving a similar population for so long, smart ass teenagers that aren’t managing their lives well will forever be my people. I can’t help it . . . I love those guys. I’m telling you, no matter how many things they need to work on, and god knows they have a lot to work on, they can assess what you’re all about in one look. They are funny as hell and profoundly creative. If and when they can ever harness those talents, there really is no stopping them.

I swear, that little trip to the park got me thinking about returning to a more meaningful job. Right now, my cause is taking care of the people I brought into this world. However, it might be time to start looking to get back to the community.

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