Adventures in Grandparenting: Playground Envy

Margo Bartlett
Margo Bartlett

My granddaughter recently returned from the playgrounds of Paris and Berlin.

I don't mean “playgrounds” as a metaphor for exciting international cities. I mean while in Paris and Berlin, her parents visited playgrounds the way some people visit art museums.

You might think my daughter and son-in-law signed up for a Sandals-style Playgrounds of Europe tour, but in fact they found all these places themselves, unless my granddaughter saw them first. (She can spot playgrounds the way hawks flying overhead can spot field mice.) They tucked playgrounds into an itinerary that included touring the sewers of Paris, Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Luxembourg Gardens, the Berlin Wall and several good restaurants.

As a result, I've become obsessed with European playgrounds, which compare with ours the way monkeys performing “Peter Pan” compare with a marathon reading of “Ulysses.”

One of these playgrounds even had atrampoline built into the ground. When I was a child, a public trampoline was but a dream, like my dream of being the only person at an amusement park (it sounds a little creepy now, but the point was no lines). So you can imagine how thrilled I was to see my granddaughter jumping on an in-ground trampoline with other kids.

I also saw a bowl-shaped contraption made of ropes, for climbing in and crawling up. And a big white disc thatI longed to climb on. At another playground, a gigantic silver marble was half-buried in the sand. Who wouldn't want to climb on that? “Those fortunate French and German children and their equally fortunate meres and mutters,” I texted to my daughter.

Except parents don't play on the playgrounds, my daughter texted back sadly. Adults step up only when a child seems on the point of breaking something important, like a neck.

Even familiar playground toys looked better. Swings hung on steel beams as tall as football goalposts, so that swingers seemingly could, by dint of furious pumping, launch themselves right into the lower stratosphere. Buckets attached to springs allowed children to experience the sensation of being in a blender set to puree. Slides were as twisty as DNA strands.

As you may have guessed, I never vacationed in Europe when I was a child. I didn't go to Disneyland, either, or visit the beach every summer, or eat at elegant restaurants. Some children did, I suppose, but I didn't know them. We didn't paddle in the same backyard pools.

Am I glad my granddaughter is having a different childhood, a childhood that puts going to Europe ahead of going to kindergarten? Of course I am. As Tevye says in “Fiddler on the Roof,” it's no shame to be poor, but it's no great honor, either.

Still, my daughter and son-in-law aren't rich. They have priorities is all, and their priorities include showing their daughter as much of the world as possible. Lucky, lucky her.

My grandsons spent a week at a beach house with their parents and a swirl of loving relatives. Lucky, lucky them, too.

And I, who took only a few modest vacations as a child? Who thought eating out meant a burger platter and a Big Boy comic book? I'm lucky, lucky, too. So lucky.

Now if only we could spread that luck around.

Margo Bartlett and her husband have two daughters, two sons-in-law, three grandchildren and two car seats. She also writes theJust Thinking column for ThisWeek Community News. You can reach her at