H and I are nestled in the box seat at one end of a teeter totter. In front of us is a wide, rectangular platform sitting over a fulcrum of large metal coils and opposite is the mirror image of our seat. The Puget Sound laps placidly at the beach below us. The Olympic Mountains are out in all their glory. H and I chat about the various colors on the teeter totter and how they are similar and different from side to side.
Two kids run over and ask to join us. The boy, 7 or so years old, climbs into the open box seat, while his sister, 9 or 10 or maybe even 11, hops atop the rectangular platform and starts rocking. She’s strong and her balance is good and soon H and I are bouncing out of our seats. H is shrieking in delight. We laugh and pretend that we are being bounced into outer space.
At a pause in the rocking and bouncing, our young friends announce that they slept in a park last night. “Actually, we get to sleep in a park every night,” the girl says. “Yeah, but not this one. This one closes at night. I’m not sure which one we sleep in,” her brother adds. It seems apropos of nothing, but perhaps there was some lead up I missed.
I list various of the city parks, but none ring a bell with either of them and before long, they run off to play on the climbing structure nearby. I look out over the water to the mountains to anchor myself. I cannot think of a city park that stays open past 11 pm. Perhaps they mean they have been sleeping at a campground, but I know of none, besides homeless encampments, in the city, nor do I know why they would have used the word park to describe a campground.
The day is clear, the sky an unblemished deep blue. Seattle has unfurled its summer best on this still spring day. I reapply sunscreen on both me and H to keep the hot afternoon sun from burning us.
The boy calls over from the play structure. “We come here every day to cook. We probably need to get a motel soon.”
“Yeah?” I say and nod in acknowledgement. I wonder about their story. They have given me just enough to make one up, but not near enough to know their truth.
They both come back to bounce us on the teeter totter, then run off to chase each other with sticks. The girl takes her brother’s hat and another vigorous chase ensues. I notice things about them I hadn’t before, like how their clothes appear dingy; how the girl’s shoes seem too big; how I can catch the scent of stale laundry when she sits next to me on the teeter totter; how the boy’s hair is neatly trimmed; how their blond hair shines in the sun; how sensitive the girl is to the social and emotional needs of the younger kids around her; how they run wild and carefree.
There is a white van with a small U-Haul trailer parked near the picnic shelters behind us. Three adults – I imagine them to be the kids’ parents and a grandparent – are sitting at a picnic table with food and drink spread before them. There is a dog. The adults offer pouches of juice to the kids. They are 100 or more meters from the playground, but they seem to keep a mindful eye on the whereabouts of the children.
H requests a round of pushes on the swing before we go, so we leave the teeter totter and walk closer to the beach to the swing set. H picks the yellow chair swing. It feels like the tips of his toes might graze the mountain tops in front of us with each forward push. I swing him higher and higher every time without him having to tell me, then it is time to head home.
H and I pass our young friends and their adults on our way down the hill. I wonder if they have just moved to the area. I wonder where they will sleep tonight. I wonder if we will see them at the park again sometime soon.
We stop for a nature pee under the protective canopy of an evergreen with long, weepy branches. H is sun soaked and tired. I help him remove his shoes and pants, then return his shoes to his feet so he does not have to stand with socks in dirt. I think about the deaths, health crises, divorce, and other separations and losses I have experienced in life. None of us gets through unscathed, and still I have so much. I redress H, pull him close, and whisper a prayer of gratitude and something extra for those kids to whomever might be listening. There but for the grace of God go I.
We go home.