Monday, March 20, 2017

The playground blues

It was a sunny day and reasonably warm outside—the first such day after a cold, wet winter. I had just picked Oliver up from preschool and decided we’d stop at a nearby playground before heading home. As usual, Oliver headed straight for the set of 3 “bicycles” that go in a circle when pedaled (a.k.a. the spinny bicycle thingy).

Oliver at the spinny bicycle thingy, on a less warm day
He especially likes to stand in front of the handle bars and push them around and around. That’s often perfectly fine with me, but it can become a problem when other kids want to join in and use the equipment as intended.

Since it was such a beautiful day, the playground quickly filled up with other children. A friend of Oliver’s from preschool approached the spinny bicycle thingy and got on one of the seats. I picked Oliver up and tried putting him on one of the other seats. As a result of his cerebral palsy, he doesn’t yet have the strength to pedal the bicycle into action, but his balance is good enough that he can stay on if another kid pedals at a not-too-fast pace.

He made it clear to me, though, that he did NOT want to be on the seat, so I took him back off and asked his friend if she minded riding backwards while Oliver pushed. That seemed okay with her, so they played well like that for a bit as I stood nearby. 

After a while, though, the equipment got to spinning too fast for Oliver, and he looked like he was about to stumble. I stepped in and pulled him to safety.

Later in our playground time, after I had convinced Oliver to play on some other pieces of equipment, we were back at the spinny bicycle thingy, with Oliver once again walking and pushing the equipment around and around.

An older kid climbed onto one of the seats. He said, “I want to go fast!” and immediately started to pedal. I quickly snatched Oliver up and moved him out of the way. Shortly thereafter, some other kids approached, and I decided it was time for Oliver to let them have a turn and move onto something else.

I felt a twinge of sadness for Oliver, though. As these scenarios illustrate, it can be difficult for him to play at the playground with other kids, especially when their gross motor skills are more advanced than his. 

I also felt a twinge of sadness for myself. There were several moms of other kids in Oliver’s class who were sitting on park benches, relaxing and chatting while their kids played. For me, this wasn’t an option. Oliver needs help getting onto equipment, and he needs me to stay nearby for safety reasons. When Oliver falls, he can’t get back up very quickly, which can make for a dangerous situation if, say, he’s fallen in front of the spinny bicycle thingy and another kid starts pedaling. 

On the flip side, I feel immense pride. Just a few short months ago, Oliver would have been tethered to my hand the whole time we were at the playground, too unsure of his balance to let go.

Now, though he still needs me close by, I can sometimes let him wander off a little ways. And when I do, you should just hear that boy’s giggles of pure glee.

That's what I call some beautiful progress.

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