Being a Jungle Gym

Barbara Matousek

By: Barbara Matousek

I stood in the front entry under the carved wood sign that said Jamie’s Play Palace. Four children patiently waited at the dining room table across the room and another one wandered around the princess castle on the front porch. Eva looked up at us from the nearly-too-small car seat bucket, and Sam stood behind me, his hands pulling down on my back pockets and his face occasionally diving into the small of my back.

“I’m going to be shy of Jamie,” he had told me in the car. He didn’t want to return to daycare after nine Mommy days in a row, nine days filled with playing in the Lake Michigan surf, searching for and finding rocks that were “very perfect” and “really prettyful”, building and counting sand castle turrets before smashing them in fits of laughter, hiking in the woods and picking wild raspberries and overripe thimbleberries, nine days of nearly constant contact with Mommy, nine days of running and jumping and climbing and hanging on Mommy.

I had to sneak out of the daycare while Jamie distracted Sam with a story about tomorrow’s field trip to The Bounce House. And as I walked to the car I exhaled. Liberation.

In my office I rejoined the real world, reconnected to instantaneous rapid-fire news headlines and constant phone calls and the expectation that emails will be answered within hours if not minutes. A different kind of chaos, though definitely less physically exhausting.

I posted a facebook message to a friend with twin boys, told her I couldn’t imagine how she stayed sane with two of them climbing and jumping and running all of the time.

On the phone I told my sister I was glad my second child was a girl; my 44-year-old body was exhausted from spending nine days trying to no avail to wear Sam out, that I honestly don’t think he ever stops moving even when he’s eating or sleeping. And I was really quite tired of being a jungle gym.

Ann told me she remembered when that started with her son. “It’s as if because you birthed them your body belongs to them,” she said. Her nine-year-old daughter still hangs on her. My sister understood exactly what I was talking about when I described the way I had yelled at Sam the night before to just give me some space. “Just five minutes. Can you please just not touch me for 5 minutes?” I begged as I tried to answer the emails that had piled up during our vacation.

At the end of the work day when I returned to Jamie’s Play Palace to pick up my children, Sammy hid behind a tree out front while Eva scooted towards me on her diaper-covered butt. And although I knew that Sam would hang on me the entire time I talked to Jamie about their day and the plans for tomorrow, a day at the office did me a world of good and I was ready to give my body back to him for a little while. Just a little while.

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