Time has a way of contorting itself when raising children. It becomes elastic. There are those deep swells of longing — for a nap, for pregnancy to be over, for a fever to break or a rash to subside. Then there are the snaps of frustration, of fear, of being forced to spend hours reading the same book, watching the same purple dinosaur, being pigeonholed into a world the size of a cardboard box that you want to break out of and just be free. Clocks aren’t to be trusted, because you’re too sleep-deprived to be sure you’re seeing the numbers right, or you’re so caught up in the sweet breath of your newborn or the laughter of your toothless five-year-old or that leaping embrace when they come off the schoolbus or fall into your arms from a dive off the side of the pool.
Time makes a liar out of you, because you want it to speed up so that your stretch marks don’t keep growing, or slow down because they’re about to hit double-digits or need to go bra-shopping — or, even worse, buy expensive garish clothes with the brand name emblazoned on the front of the shirt or the back of the butt.
As a parent, my unconscious prayer probably went something like: God grant me serenity, or at least a playground, a pool, or a wildlife preserve, where these kids can run and play and breathe fresh air and where Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa or babysitter can get some vitamin D and some adult conversation while they push a swing or stand guard at the bottom of the slide, or help someone reach that top rung of the ladder or monkey bars, or play hide-and-go-seek while mostly hiding and not so much seeking. Where time can wrap around and cradle these moments and minutes and hours and days.
Like anything worthwhile, raising a child is challenging and beautiful and terrifying and absolutely magical. For me, I needed a community, which meant common spaces, outdoor spaces, open spaces where my kids could run and I could breathe. In the summer this was the Moriello Pool, in the winter it was various sledding hills — one behind Duzine Elementary School, the other next to the old Campus School, the third…well, anywhere that had an incline and snow and motorized vehicles didn’t come by that often. In the fall and spring, our spaces were the Harcourt Sanctuary behind Huguenot Street and Duck Pond at the Mohonk Preserve and the Unison sculpture garden and the Bakery’s indoor kitchen set and the ballfields and ponds and lakes and rail trail, the playground at the Huguenot Street Nursery School and the giant wooden castle at Hasbrouck Park.
What made most of these places great is that they were free and easily accessible, and made living in the Village of New Paltz like living in Oz. When your two-year-old is throwing a tantrum and you’re seven months pregnant and your four-year-old keeps trying to climb on top of the roof and jump off, it’s time to load them up in a stroller and head to Hasbrouck Park. They might have snot crust on their face and spaghetti sauce remnants in their hair and half-eaten graham crackers stuck to their corduroys, but you know what? It’s New Paltz, and who the hell cares? There’s no keeping up with the Joneses, because if there are Joneses in New Paltz, then they have their own private playgrounds and wouldn’t want to share the sandbox anyway.
But the arc of that swing and the shrill of their laughter as they hide in the castle turret or walk successfully across the wooden beam or do a pull-up on the overhanging bar, or them throwing leaves up into the air, or you waving bees gently away from half-eaten apples and leaning with your newborn baby against the wooden bench while you watch your older one play a game of tag around the rope bridge: This is when time comes to a halt and hovers, that one cloud that seems to stand still while the others race past the sun.
Although to those who grew up in New Paltz, it seems that the “Castle Playground” at Hasbrouck Park is still on the newer side, the truth is it was built in 1995 by hundreds of local residents of all ages who had a vision of a central place in the heart of the hamlet that their children or grandchildren or nieces or nephews could run around in and relish. I know that my three children spent endless hours in that playground, and remember how safe I felt knowing it was fenced in and mulched and designed with kids in mind.
“This will be one of New Paltz’s finest hours,” said playground volunteer Kim Kimble, in an article that appeared in the New Paltz Times in September of 1995. “When we stand back on Sunday and look at what we’ve done together as a community, we’ll have much more than a playground. We’ll have cherished memories and a sense of community pride that will stay with us forever.” Kimble and Mary Beth Strothenke and longtime mayor Tom Nyquist were all part of the massive local effort to get the playground built and the money raised, the volunteers equipped and fed and companies like Central Hudson and Verizon recruited to help blast through the rock beds to secure the equipment footing.
While their efforts paid off for more than two decades, the playground needs to be replaced, as it is worn, many of its features broken beyond repair and its wood splintered and rotten after holding so many legs and feet and lying bare in the cold winter months. It’s time for a quarter-century playground revival, and the Village needs all hands on deck from September 25 through 29. Mayor Tim Rogers explained that the Village will use its recreation fees to help pay for the roughly $200,000 in playground equipment and design that was done by the same manufacturer that provided the original park back in 1995, Playgrounds by Leathers. “That’s without the cost of labor, so we’re really hoping to get as many volunteers as we can,” said Rogers, noting that they already have ten captains who will help lead the volunteers during two major shifts each day. They also have had some generous donations, including $5,000 from Seakill Builders, and are hoping that Central Hudson will come through with a promised donation. “When they first built the park, Central Hudson and Verizon donated the heavy equipment; they needed to dig through the rock bed,” he said. “We don’t have that now. We’ve called everyone who does that kind of work, and some of the lowest bids we’ve gotten have been $85,000!”
To that end, Bleu Terwilliger, head of the Village Department of Public Works, suggested that they reconfigure Hasbrouck Park and put the playground where the softball field is now (in the northeast corner), the gazebo where the playground is and the softball field where the gazebo is. “We were racking our brains trying to figure out how we were going to afford to pay for equipment that needed to drill 200 holes into rock!” said Rogers. “So I was so grateful when Bleu pointed out that we could build the new playground in a corner where there was no rock to dig through.”
Also in their favor are volunteers like Teresa Thompson (also a member of the school board and the New Paltz Athletic Association) who has rattled all of the local restaurant bushes and secured enough food from New Paltz food vendors to feed the entire army of volunteers. “She’s so fun to work with,” said Rogers. “Our volunteers will be fed well, I can say that! I think she has gotten enough donations from our local restaurants to feed everyone two great meals a day.”
Although the playground will be located on the other side of the park, it will still have the original castle design and footprint, but with more modern, eco-friendly and durable materials made from recycled plastics, designed to look like lumber but with a longer shelf-life and fewer splinters. To sign up to volunteer, go to https://tinyurl.com/yygeojed. Donations can also be made using the PayPal link on the New Paltz Community Foundation, Inc. website at www.newpaltzfoundation.org.
It doesn’t matter how old your children are, or if you even have children. If we’re part of that human ecosystem, or part of the entire cosmos, we all want what’s best for the younger generation, because they become the next generation of leaders and visionaries and protectors. If they’re outside and engaged in physical activity and making connections with friends and family and their community, then they’re much more likely to become the type of citizens from whom our corner of the world and the entire globe can benefit.
I remember my father always saying, “Raising you two girls was the greatest time in my life.” As I help send a second one off to college and stand sentinel as the third enters her junior year in high school, I can’t help but think that I understand exactly what he was saying. I knew it the moment my first child was born, and I know it again today and yesterday and tomorrow. Because time, like children, makes liars and mortals and angels out of us all. Time to get a playground built.