After my son was born and we left the hospital that rainy and windy November night, I was so nervous that I drove at the top speed of 20 miles per hour, carefully slowing at every intersection.
And even if the light was green, I paused to look both ways once more before venturing forward, much to the consternation of one driver behind me that evening.
The first year was more of the same: I felt perfectly fine looking after him at home, but I was reluctant to go anywhere with him, overly cautious, I guess, about an infant in a car, or in a shopping cart at the grocery store.
My confidence has grown as a parent since then, just as my son’s confidence and curiosity about the world has grown, too. Together, we’ve changed, and now my days spent with him usually involve us getting out of the house and going somewhere.
Here are a few destinations that I think any toddler would enjoy:
• Centennial Station in Lacey: Does your son or daughter enjoy trains? If so, take them train watching or, better still, get a round-trip ticket on Amtrak to Centralia. It takes all of 20 minutes from Lacey. Once there, visit the children’s section at the Centralia Library.
• Intercity Transit’s Dash shuttle: The service is free and it runs regularly between the Olympia Farmers Market and the Capitol Campus. I let my son ring the bell at our appointed stop; your child will enjoy it, too.
• Tumwater Falls Park: This is a great spot on a warm day because there is plenty of shade created by the trees at the park and along the trails by the river. Let ’em explore.
• Wonderwood Park in Lacey: This is a hidden gem in Lacey, a park filled with trees and open spaces, as well as trails that connect to playgrounds at both ends of the park.
• Olympia Farmers Market to Bayview Thriftway and back: You might want to bring a stroller, but this is a great walk, especially if your son or daughter is fascinated by boats, or the activity at the farmers market, or the fountain at Heritage Park, or perhaps a harbor seal will poke its head out of Budd Inlet for a moment and you can point it out to them.
The other thing about getting out is that you’re bound to run into other parents and their children, particularly at a park, and you’re likely to strike up a meaningful conversation about your children and parenting, such as the grandmother I met who shared stories about her granddaughter while I shared a few about my son.
I’ll admit that the parents-children-playground dynamic is an interesting one, and it’s one that I wasn’t terribly comfortable with at first, but I’m learning.
We were recently at a busy kid-filled playground when a little girl took a tumble in front of me.
The parent in me wanted to pick her up and make sure she was OK, but do that, of course, and the real mom or dad might take offense.
Instead, I looked around anxiously and her mother finally appeared, a veteran of such experiences. Sure enough, her daughter was up and running in no time and mom went back to being a casual observer of her child’s playground activities.
The playground can also put you on the spot as a parent.
I was pushing my son on a merry-go-round during another visit to a local park when several other children suddenly jumped on board, demanding that they be pushed around, too, and that I do it at even a faster pace.
Meanwhile, their parents looked on.
Well, here was my moment: I could take my son’s hand and leave, forever remembered as the park curmudgeon who couldn’t be bothered, or I could continue to push them faster, and faster, and faster.
So I chose faster. But first I reminded everyone, including my son, to hang on tight, and then I started in on my run. And we went round, and round, and round, and they urged me to go faster, and faster, and faster.
And then the parent in me woke up.
That’s when I had a vision of my son or some other child flying off this spinning merry-go-round and getting hurt. I also had a vision of me stumbling and falling on my face, so I slowed my pace until it came to a stop.
The children moved on to other playground fun and their parents went back to whatever they were doing, no longer having to focus on some 40-something guy huffing and puffing his way around a merry-go-round.
It was another good day at the park.