A-typical park day.

The long heat wave around here finally came to an end this week, so yesterday we met a bunch of our friends from one of our homeschool clubs at a nearby park. Me and another mom talked on the phone late the night before and picked a park that had a nice stream with an historic covered bridge over it, not to mention shade trees and lots of playground equipment. It seemed like the perfect place to meet.

The operative word in that previous sentence being “seemed”, of course.

In spite of the fact that this particular park was only a mere 8 minutes’ drive from my house, we were still about a half hour late. And in spite of being so late, we were still the first ones in our group to get there, which means that we were actually about 20 minutes early if you look at it the right way. The only problem was that, even though we were the first ones in our group to arrive, the place was MOBBED. There were about 100 kids running all over the place, and about half a dozen young adults with navy blue tee shirts with the word “STAFF” printed on the back. It was some sort of day camp that had descended upon the park we’d picked.

I wandered around the area for a few minutes, making sure no one from our group was lost in the fray, and then I asked the girls if they wanted to go ahead and eat their lunch while we waited for others to arrive. They said no, and wandered toward the playground area which featured old fashioned (read: high) see-saws, and a merry-go-round, not to mention the standard jungle gym and a few swings. The swings were overrun with day-campers so the girls veered away from them to the see-saws, but the see-saws had giant orange cones surrounding them, which made it look like they were designated UNSAFE and soon to be dismantled. The merry-go-round had cones around it as well.

“It looks like you can’t use these,” I said to the girls. “Why don’t you play on the jungle gym instead?”

A little girl from the day camp approached us at this point and said, “Oh, you can use them. It’s okay.”

“Are you sure?” I asked her.

“Uh-huh. Only kids in the camp aren’t allowed on them. If you’re not from the camp, you can go on that stuff,” she said, and then wandered aimlessly off towards the picnic tables.

I stood uncertainly, watching her disappear into the vast crowd of children and then asked the girls once again: “Wouldn’t you just rather have your lunch now while you’re waiting for your friends?”

“No,” they said.

At this point, one of the camp counselors approached me, and confirmed what the little girl had told me. The cones were only there to keep the camp kids off the equipment. “We had two broken arms on that stuff last year,” he said to me with a smile, “so we decided to just make the kids stay off that stuff from now on.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, thank you.”

“You bet,” he said and then jogged off towards the soccer field.

So, the girls decided to try out the see-saws, but the joy of it was short lived because the seats were hot and when my 7-year-old went up high she ended up in the branches of a tree where various hornets were buzzing around. “AHHHHH!!!!” she yelled. “There’s wasps up here!”

So the girls got off the see-saw (with all limbs mercifully intact) and stood around looking bored. I went to my car and got a frisbee, but the girls weren’t interested in that either. So, they wandered around for a while longer until finally, another girl from our group arrived. The girls hugged each other as if they hadn’t seen each other in years and then ran off towards the merry-go-round. “We can go on it!” my 5-year-old shouted in explanation. “The campers can’t go on it, but WE CAN!!!”

So, while I was watching this, and the other mom was getting out of her car, another mom from our group arrived and there was the parking of cars, the exchange of hellos, and I had my eye on that merry-go-round where the girls were spinning happily, and suddenly a group of campers ran over to the merry-go-round and started yelling at the girls to get off it. Our girls tried to explain that they CAN go on it, but the camp kids (not realizing that this particular subset of children was NOT FROM THE CAMP) tried to assert some sort of weird pre-teen authority and just as I started walking quickly over to them from the parking lot, a camp counselor finally realized what was happening and rushed over to tell the camper girls that our girls ARE allowed on it, and the whole thing defused right there.

This was rapidly becoming one of the most complicated park days I’d ever been to. But since not everyone from our group had arrived yet, and we didn’t have everyone’s cell phone number, we couldn’t just leave because that would confuse the hell out of the people who were still on their way. So, we decided to make the best of it, and found an empty picnic table and brought out the food.

And so, the afternoon settled down. The majority of campers soon imprinted their brains with the little subset of children who ARE NOT PART OF THE CAMP AND THUS ARE ALLOWED TO DO ALL SORTS OF THINGS THAT THE CAMPERS CAN’T and they pretty much gave us a wide berth. At some point, the camp counselors removed the cones from the merry-go-round area, which was nice, because those cones were really getting in the way of our girls’ running feet. Us moms sat at the picnic table chatting and keeping an eye on our kids, and everything was fine for a while, but pretty soon there came from our crowd a sudden change in the screaming from “fun” screaming to “terrified” screaming. Clearly, something over at the merry-go-round was wrong, so I got up and went over there and all the girls were perched on the apparatus as if the sand beneath it had suddenly turned to toxic lava.

“What is it?” I said.

They all pointed to a certain place on the sand where there was an enormous cicada killer crawling around with a couple of males, mating.

“GIANT WASPS!!!!” the girls screamed.

A boy from our group wandered by and said, “Those aren’t wasps. They’re cicada killers.”

And so they were. Cicada killers are a type of wasp, though. Here’s a link if you’d like to see what they look like. Scroll down a bit to see a picture of one next to a nickel, and you’ll see why the girls were screaming. They really are huge and creepy looking.

“What are they DOING?” one of the girls asked.

“They’re mating,” I said.

“Oh,” said another girl. They all got down off the merry-go-round and stood next to me, staring down at these mating giant wasps.

“It’s a WEDDING!!!” one of the girls said, and she started to hum the Wedding March. Pretty soon, all the girls were humming it. And the situation with the GIANT WASPS was over. Or so I thought.

The next hour or so passed somewhat uneventfully. Our kids wandered down various paths and back, pretending all sorts of forest-adventures. At one point, me and another mom walked them down to the stream than ran under the covered bridge and let them splash around a bit. A couple of kids changed into swimsuits and went all the way in. My 7-year-old asked to do the same, but I didn’t have bathing suits with me and told her no. She spent the next few minutes moping. And then the next ten minutes trying to ACCIDENTALLY fall in. Once I realized what she was up to, I told her that if she fell in, we’d have to leave. Not long after that, another little girl cut her foot on a rock. A mom was dispatched to find a first aid kit and the girl’s mother, and the kids clustered around her bleeding foot in diagnostic fascination.

After she’d been doctored up, we all eventually made our way back to the main play area. It was late afternoon by now. The campers were leaving in droves. Pretty soon, there were only a few of them left waiting for some running-late-parent to pick them up. The park quieted down. Some of our group left, but the weather was so mild and the park so calm, that some of us decided to stay a bit longer. The girls had some cookies and water, and then ended up back on the merry-go-round, spinning and giggling in the late afternoon sunshine.

It was all so… idyllic. Those last few minutes before the shrieking began.

As I was getting up to gather what remained of our picnic lunch, one little girl from our group on the merry-go-around began SCREAMING IN ABSOLUTE ABJECT TERROR. My head snapped toward her and I watched her backing away from the center of the merry-go-round, still screaming, and then she staggered a bit and tumbled off the edge of it and landed in the sand. And the screaming just went on and on and on.

And that’s when I remembered the cicada killers. And I started to run.

By the time I reached her, she’d rolled over to the grass and hunched her body into a little ball. I picked her up, but she went limp in my arms and started to sob. I hugged her tight and asked her what happened, but before she could really even say anything we both looked down at her leg and saw the GIANT CICADA KILLER still perched on the hem of her shorts and she SHRIEKED and I SHRIEKED too and we both started beating at it with our hands and it fell off her and she rolled away again and started to sob hysterically and beg for her mother.

Her mother had left, though. She’d taken her toddlers home but this little girl had wanted to stay longer so another mom had agreed to give her a ride. The other mom and I sat with the little girl, trying to calm her down, while all the other kids stood by in commiseration. One of the boys found the insect in the grass and stood over it in fascination. And finally I said to the little girl, “Do you want me to kill it?” She nodded at me, so I went over to where the thing sat in the grass, wings waving slightly and smashed it into the ground with my shoe and twisted my foot until the thing was unrecognizable. “There,” I said. “All gone.” Then I made everyone come back to the picnic table for some ice water. The other mom dialed the little girl’s mom on her cell, and we let her talk to her mom until she calmed down.

Our afternoon ended with a quiet session in the sandbox, and a few minutes on the swings.

So, there you have it. A not-exactly-typical day at the park for us crazy homeschoolers. But hey, at least I know what cicada killers look like now.


10 Responses to “A-typical park day.”

  1. 1 Doc July 26, 2008 at 11:43 am

    I typically don’t click on the “nature” links, but I did. And I wish I hadn’t. That thing WAS huge. Doc would have been screaming too.

  2. 2 Katherine July 26, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    I don’t think this should be titled “A-typical park day.” Maybe A-typical wasp interactions. But reading this made me feel as if I’d been in the park all day. The whole post is such a good example of why spending the day hanging out in a park with some kids is WORK. Serious hard work. It sounds lovely. It often is lovely. But it is also work. Work Work Work. Hard Work. Keeping kids safe is work. Moderating kids who think they aren’t safe is work. Loving them is work. Organising them. Making constant judgement calls. Redirecting, not to mention feeding and monitoring and doctoring and Staying Calm And Jolly All the While….

    I’m tired for you. Hell, I’m tired for me. Mothers work hard.

    (Can you tell you’ve touched a nerve? Sorry for the rant.)

  3. 3 Ami July 26, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I’m exhausted just reading.

    I think it’s the idea of taking all my campers to the park. I wear a fluorescent, radioactive lime green shirt. If you see me, wave.

    I had never heard of Cicada Killers either.
    Gosh, the internet is so educational, isn’t it?

  4. 4 RegularMom July 26, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Yeah. It was tiring. I’d never heard of cicada killers either. Bleah.

    And it turns out that those campers go to that same park every day all summer long. It’s the first time we’ve run across that situation — where a day camp sort of takes over a city park. We’ll have to wait till September to go back to that one now.

    And Katherine, yep. I hear ya. Whenever people half-joke to me that they wish they had my job because it seems so cushy and easy, I’d like to show them this post, and tell them: “That’s pretty much how it goes.”


  5. 5 Summer July 26, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    I agree with the others, that was tiring to read. And I’m not clicking that link because I’m pretty sure I’ll scream. And since the kids are sleeping I’d rather not.

  6. 6 Sara July 27, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    It seems like a day camp shouldn’t be able to just take over a city park like that. I’ve seen that a few times around here, and I always just pack up my kids and leave. What a day you had!

  7. 7 Mom #1 July 27, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    Dang, Girl! What a day! I’m sure that if I’d pulled up and seen that much action at the park, we would have just driven right past it. I cannot deal with crowds. Crowds and me just do not mix.

  8. 8 Karisma July 28, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    That picture is absolutely beautiful! I can almost hear the fairies giggling! I would just love to have that park in my back yard. Sigh

  9. 9 mamak July 29, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    So did he killer actually sting her, or just mortify her into temporart psychosis, with an after taste of post traumatic stress disorder?
    Yes, park days will either be glorious or downright hellacious,eh?

  10. 10 RegularMom July 29, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    It didn’t sting her, thank God. Just scared the living hell out of her. They’re not all that aggressive, those cicada killers. Unless you’re a cicada, that is. (ha ha ha)

    Nope, the thing just landed on her. Right on the hem of her shorts. And it Just Hung On.


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