It's the place where my son Zuzu met Leo and formed a friendship so profound that now they're more like siblings. It's where Leo's mom, Nati, became the sister I never had. We spent most of the afternoons during our second pregnancies hanging out on the bench half-watching as the boys played. Then our daughters were born and this is where they duked it out with the big kids for control of the diggers in the sandbox -- and when they lost, founded "the doggy club" under the rope bridge. A few months ago, my baby, Will, was awestruck by his first swing ride. Recently, my kid was even scouted by a gymnastics coach as she practiced aerials and one-handed round-offs on the black-matted surface. "Where does she take classes?" he asked me. Since she had never taken any -- she'd just learned it all by watching the other kids -- my answer was simple: the playground.
A playground is a complex, amazing ecosystem. It's easy to miss the action if your eye stays trained on the surface. True, the monkey bars help build upper-body strength and coordination, and mastering them boosts self-esteem. But have you noticed that for your kid, those overhead ladders might very well be the only way to avoid quicksand, a gigantic lava pit, or a roil-ing pool of megamouth sharks? Sure, the slide offers an experience of "safe danger," critical for developing a sense of judgment and independence, but what about the archway underneath? For the children huddled there it may be a vitally important hideaway or a staging ground for an epic tea party.