The Purloined Play Lot

Play lot

In 1984, a tiny Lutheran grade school on Chicago’s North Side received an infrastructure upgrade in the form of a small rear play lot. This was an exciting event for the student body. At the time Pilgrim Lutheran did not have a gymnasium (I believe it still does without) although the auditorium was suitable for physical education because there was no permanent seating to be considered. But a new park, hidden within the school’s property like a small faux green oasis! For a then-working class, inner city neighborhood institution, it seemed so luxurious.

The two most vivid memories I have from my days on the play lot both involve music videos. This is as it must be. In 1986 Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” from the True Blue album was everything. It definitely was for young Becky. I recall sitting on the tire bridge with a few of my little gal pals having one heck of a singalong. Knowing every lyric and note as though they were the Gospel read in First Communication class, I was the envy of all. A self-aware eight year-old with a rough home life rarely experiences that level of peer triumph.

That same year, I was enthralled by Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” – song as well as MTV experience. Trying to duplicate one of the band members’ high-wire stage floats, I stood atop the play lot’s multi-colored, metal geodesic dome structure. I’m an infamous klutz so you can probably predict what ensued. I did a half flip off the dome that concluded with my person lying on the AstroTurf in an ignominious heap, head colliding hard with the bottom rung. I escaped concussion but the Jon Bon Jovi stage diving career was over.

Last week Tuesday, the day after birthday number 38, Bob, Jude and I walked down the alley behind our building to find the play lot lying on the school’s basketball court in disassembled pieces. From my vantage point since moving in with Bob in June 2015, I’ve watched my alma mater grow in population and funding, using its resources to make positive investments in facilities and programming. I’m proud to see the institution that counts my maternal grandparents, mother, sister and I as emeritus, surviving and thriving.

But I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the play lot without warning. Self-inflicted head injuries aside, nothing bad ever happened to me there. There aren’t a lot of environments about which I can say this from that period of my life. I took a disbelieving Bob for a viewing of the site on our first date. He’d lived 150 feet away from the mini-playground for three and a half years without ever suspecting its existence. It was a safe, happy space that felt like the special secret of 22 years’ worth of children who passed through Pilgrim’s hallways. Kids like myself who had no other place to channel Madonna with abandon.

I have no idea what they plan to do replace the old turf and dismantled equipment. I was hoping that the project workers would move pieces of the geodesic dome into the alley dumpster, where I’d look for an advantageous time to swipe a memento. A metal bar that may once have supported my small head. But it seems like there was an independent pickup of the play lot’s remains. I hope it means the stomping grounds of my early childhood will be rebuilt somewhere else, allowing spirited little girls to perform modern musical acrobatics.

Change is a necessary part of life, although it would be swell if it were less painful. I’m keeping an open mind. For all I know the old play lot simply made way for something even more thrilling. A place to build new memories. School starts again next week and Bob and I can always use a date night.


2015: A Year of Fruition


Last New Year’s Eve, I wrote this post, The Year After “Next Year.” In it, I took a retrospective look at 2014, a period where vague ideas I struggled with for so long finally coalesced. These two sentences really get to the heart of that transformation: “I am still traveling, but learning to enjoy the scenery and finally beginning to trust the internal compass. A solid year of slower, adrenaline-free decision making will do that.”

2015 began full of vigor and confidence. Vigor I’ve always known, but the cool underlying certainty with which I greeted the year was something new altogether. As I returned to the office post-holidays, I confided in a friend and colleague. The work I’d done in 2014 was moving in positive directions. 2015 was going to be big – even if I didn’t know what exactly that meant.

As I take stock of this year, one clear truth emerges. The highest expectations I had of myself and the last twelve months have been exceeded. Pick a life element: health, career, home, family, friendships, recreation or romantic love. Huge strides everywhere. The soundtrack in my head alternates between mental to-do lists, show tunes and reminiscences of things Bob said that made me laugh – the way my life was meant to be lived. A huge drop in the permitted white noise which rendered inertia has left me free to move in multiple new directions.

Hesitation and self-doubt hover, but are mostly relegated to the periphery where they belong. Because I’ve stared worst case scenarios in the eye, spit in them and started over. I can do that as many times as needed. But I don’t have to call up those survival skills as often now. Harnessing a commitment to change and a solid professional support team, centered decisions have resulted. Selfishness isn’t always a bad thing. The worst results of efforts made for and by myself exceed the helpless mediocrity I let others dictate in the past.

None of this insight means I’ve stopped requiring others, or become an island. Contrary to a co-dependent legacy, where I insisted that martyrdom was its own limp reward, I’ve added three important sentences to my vocabulary:

“I’m sorry I can’t/won’t do that.”
“I need help.”
“I want.”

I was raised to look at these utterances as weakness, when they actually represent strength. The power comes from using them judiciously. I remember sitting in session with a marriage counselor during the summer of 2011. He compared my then-husband to a “vending machine into which money is placed but no product released.” Smugly I turned that familiar look of martyrdom on the two men. I’d been vindicated. Yes. I’d invested so much in the relationship and just look at the results. Poor moi.

But then the therapist asked a follow-up question that seems so obvious from a healthier vantage point. If the vending machine continually cheated me, why did I keep depositing coins?

I don’t waste my metaphorical currency anymore. I let go of a friendship this year with someone I find tremendously talented and full of promise. Yet to misquote Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love, I can’t afford to love the highest potential of a person more than who they actually are today.

I apply this value to myself as well. There’s less disconnect than ever between the ideal Becky I “should” be and the one who walks the dogs in board daylight wearing footie pajamas and a Storm Trooper winter cap. She’s no peerless Madonna (Virgin Mary or Material Girl – take your pick), But I kind of like her style. Owning that has attracted better quality opportunities that are exactly what I need.

So that’s my 2015. Justified faith, not in karma, the universe or some force beyond my control, but in my instincts and movements. They weren’t always right and were frequently ridiculous. But even the missteps offered something important.

BufBloPoFo 09 DayTwo (March 15, 2009)

If you had the power to put together the most perfect, end-of-the-universe, nothing-better-was-ever-made repast, using whatever ingredients you want, and with whomever you’d like as your co-diners, what would you want? Tell me about one little bit, or all fourteen courses. Tell me about venue, about background music, about which box of wine goes best with which flavor of ramen noodles.

I have invited two temporarily resurrected men, Tim Russert and Jesus, to my place for dinner. Joining the three of us will be one person who remains of this world, Madonna. I have offerred to prepare a zesty vegetable lasagna from scratch. I have chosen a veggie meal because Jesus and Madonna are both Jews, and I do not keep a kosher kitchen. I understood from Tim Russert’s waistline while alive that he is not a picky eater. I set three plates at the bar in my kitchen, and pour three glasses of red wine. Madonna only sips gingerly at hers, requesting a bottle of Kabbalah water alongside her plate. Tim Russert and Jesus start sucking it down. We all know Jesus was a pretty fun wedding guest. Tim Russert came from a blue collar Irish background. ‘Nough said. I keep a plate for myself on the side. I will eat (and drink later). I do not want to be distracted or compromised whatsoever as we begin our discussion.

Wine has reddened the cheeks of Tim Russert and so he introduces a lively debate on the current economic crisis. Russert heatedly lays the blame at the feet of George W. Bush, though he does admit that the U.S. had been a little too lax about a lot of things in the last twenty years. Jesus is of the opinion that he sort of likes Obama’s Robin Hood approach to his most recent budget plan. However, realizing he may have said too much, Jesus grows a little sheepish. The son of God ought not to appear to pick sides, he says, so can we all keep what he said under our hats? It’s not exactly a lie, and thus we wouldn’t really be breaking any commandments. I tell Jesus to relax and poor him another glass. Madonna, who charges $200 or more to see one of her shows, apparently doesn’t realize there is a recession at all. Nevetheless, Jesus is always one to find a silver lining, and though he encourages the Material Girl to get to know some of the “little people,” he nonetheless commends Madge on the adoption of the formerly impoverished David Banda.

As we move toward the dessert course, a homemade banana bread pudding (in this fantasy, I have miraculously learned how to cook. Perhaps the divine intervention of Jesus?), the discussion moves to the subject of children. Jesus, just like Michael Jackson a couple millenniums later, obviously loves them (However, He pointedly resents the Gloved One’s use of “Jesus Juice” to calm them down – J endorses no such product), but immediately lets us know not to believe everything we read. The Da Vinci Code is just a work of fiction and there were no Jesus Juniors. I can barely mask my disappointment. Tim Russert, by now a little intoxicated, grows misty eyed at the thought of his now adult son Luke. I show him a clip of Luke working on behalf of NBC news during the McCain/Obama debates and he is done for. Madonna has three children from three different fathers (fine, the last one was adopted). Jesus knows it’s 2009 and doesn’t want to come off as a prude, so he stays quiet during Madonna’s confessional.

Tim Russert can barely stand by the time we finish our meal. Jesus tells us the coolest thing about being the Son of God is his immunity to basically, well, everything. He hoists Tim up on his shoulder so they can begin the walk back to heaven. Surprisingly, it’s not that far. Madonna has a chopper on top of my roof and will fly off with her boy toy, 22 year-old Jesus Luz. She realizes the irony of sleeping with a pretty young thing that bears the name of the Chosen One, and accepts that as further proof that her bed hopping is indeed all part of God’s plan.