There’s a daycare in my building. This by itself is not unusual. I suppose that many office buildings in cities across America have daycares. They’re great amenities for working parents. Its playground is pretty typical, filled with all the standard playground attractions: play sets with climbers and slides, a playhouse, seesaw rockers, and, of course, several of the Cozy Coupe plastic cars that are ubiquitous in modern childhoods.
But the playground sits atop our parking deck, five stories above the ground, right in the heart of our busy downtown.
I’m sure the kids that play there never have any idea that their playground is in such a unique setting. For them, it surely is like any other playground they encounter. Every day in the late morning, just before lunch, and then again in the mid-afternoon, they just play. They climb, slide, climb, and slide again. They run laps around playsets for no particular reason. They play in pairs or groups, or sometimes they each do their own thing. Sometimes one will fall down, and then another will do the same. Then another. And another. Their days there are full of childhood bliss.
When they play, it takes no time for their joyous squeals to reach my office thirteen stories above them. When I hear them, I’ll often get up from my desk to look. It’s the happiest part of my day, watching these children play with such youthful abandon. It always makes me smile.
But it also breaks my heart.
It breaks my heart, because, I know too well how quickly their childhoods will pass. It breaks my heart because these kids have no concept of what is coming. They have no idea that these office towers that surround them are more than just part of the scenery. These towers are actually standing patiently, watching, and waiting to claim these children just as they have claimed thousands of others before. Inside all of them are workers like me, who, when looking through their own windows, can’t help but remember their own childhoods and wonder where their time went.
I can still clearly see the playground from my own preschool days. How, when I played, I felt the world was mine. Surely these kids below now feel the same. Time, as it did for me, as it has for all of us, will pass too quickly. It will pass quickly like it has for my own children. Not long ago we welcomed our first child, a daughter, into this world. She’s now a rising junior in high school. She’ll be making college tours soon. She has two brothers, too, one a rising eighth-grader and one a rising fifth-grader. By the time our youngest finishes elementary school next year, we will have been there for twelve straight years.
Those years passed in no time.
So I want to scream to the children playing thirteen stories below: Run! Hop into a Cozy Coupe and escape! Don’t ever grow up!
I want them to drive and to stay blissfully unaware in the way that children are. I want them to drive like one of my boys did when he drove his own Cozy Coupe down our driveway and into the street before we even noticed. “Where are you going?” we asked when we caught up to him. “To Mamaw and Papaw’s,” he answered so sure of himself. Of course he didn’t know they lived eighty miles away.
Surely these kids below could make it to whatever place they imagine. To some sort of Neverland.
Escape, I want to shout. Don’t ever grow up!
Drive forever unaware of the world that awaits.
But my heart breaks because, even if they could keep their Cozy Coupes upright, which, I’ve noticed, they frequently have trouble doing, I know that adulthood, time, and these patient, waiting, buildings, will surely catch them all.