Nashville is jam-packed with dozens of unique & magical parks and playgrounds. My friend Chris generously wrote about watching his girls grow up through play at a few favorite and beloved Nashville playgrounds around town. His writing is both funny and endearing as he observes the different types and features of playgrounds in Nashville and also how his girls’ play changes as they grow up – which I’m pretty sure most parents can relate to from playgrounds anywhere! Enjoy!
My wife and I bought a house on the edge of Nashville’s Sylvan Park neighborhood in 2010, a beige bungalow that faces Richland Park. Spanning four city blocks, Richland Park stands as a buffer between our row of houses and Charlotte Avenue, which seems to grow more vibrant (and noisy) with each passing season. This park contains the Richland Park Public Library, four recently repaved tennis courts, a pool house for a pool that was filled the summer we moved in, and my daughters’ favorite playground in the city.
I say it’s my daughters’ favorite because it’s the one closest to our house, but to tell the truth I would bet playgrounds are to a small child what beer is to an adult, which is to say that, even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good. You may or may not agree, but just know that if you’re raising a child who turns his or her nose up at a playground’s amenities, you could wind up with the kind of adult who can’t drink a pale ale without first holding it up to the light and pontificating on its hoppiness potential.
I’d say I’ve logged at least 100 hours in Nashville’s playgrounds, all in fifteen to twenty-five minute increments, watching my children play, make new friends, grow up before my very eyes before remembering that I’ve got my phone with me and can check my email. (Yes, I’m a horrible parent, but I’ve seen worse: Once I witnessed a father so absorbed in his phone that he responded to his toddler son’s anguished cries for rescue from the middle of the monkey bars with a single forefinger, held aloft in the universal “just a sec” gesture.) Surely such intimate knowledge of area playgrounds can be put to some sort of use, and so I offer now, Grasshopper, to pass it on to you:
The Richland Park playground is well-appointed, mostly litter-free, and challenging to age-appropriate kids without being dangerous. It’s got no fewer than five slides as well as a couple of monkey bars and a steel megaphone thingy you’re supposed to shout into and hear through another megaphone thingy on the other side.
Other playgrounds my children and I frequent include the one next to McCabe Park Community Center, with its three blue slides lined up side by side and lolling out like overworked dog’s tongues. Then there’s the one out by the Nashville West Shopping Center, with its spongy, made-from-recycled-materials floor and miniature climbing wall and twisting firefighter’s pole. Constructed within the last few years, it represents the latest design in playgrounds (or COMMERCIAL PLAY SYSTEMs, according to the sign).
Fannie Mae Dees Park, also known as “Dragon Park,” holds a special magic for me, personally, not just because we celebrated my younger daughter’s fourth birthday there, but one Saturday afternoon I found thirty bucks on the catwalk. Thirty bucks! I will say, though, I’m not a big fan of that Civil War bunker foolishness on the south end, with its jagged stone façade that has probably taken an acre of skin from little knees and elbows over the years.
Holy cow, the Nashville Zoo’s “Jungle Gym” is enormous. It’s the largest community-built playground in the world, according to Travel + Leisure magazine, and hence presents something of a nightmare to parents of children who like to hide from their parents. The treehouse structure alone features a network of passageways that could have been designed by M.C. Escher.
When my younger daughter played soccer, we had to attend practices every Thursday evening at Frederick Douglass Park in East Nashville. My older one got to know pretty intimately the playground there. It’s a mixture of old and new, with a short zip line-like structure that doesn’t approach the level of excitement that the word “zip line” typically conjures in one’s mind. I say this from personal, repeated experience. The playground also has a seesaw that makes the loudest, most exquisite metallic groan when in use. For weeks I resolved to bring a can of WD-40 to the next soccer practice, forgetting every time.
At age eight, my older daughter is still up for a playground visit any time, but lately I find her approach toward playground play evolving. For instance, I can’t remember the last time I saw her actually slide down a slide; these days she prefers charging up on foot, testing the grip of her sneakers. And her approach to swinging is completely different from what it once was: she used to always demand that I push her, but these days she has perfected the mechanics of foot-pumping as a means of realigning her torque or whatever, and so dear old Dad is no longer integral to her swinging enjoyment. Of course, she now disembarks from these swinging sessions by jumping away from the seat while it’s at its highest forward height, tempting the Fates to punish this Icarus-like hubris with a sprained ankle or chipped tooth. I imagine these little experiments are the prelude to a realized boredom with playgrounds’ offerings in general, leading to the total abandonment of playground life.
And once she comes to realize that playgrounds are lame/stupid/boring, the younger one won’t be far behind, since, as we all know, the second child’s developments are more assumed, and therefore quicker, less monumental. It’s just a matter of time before the Richland Park playground, and all playgrounds around town, lose their luster entirely, becoming for my girls about as purposeful as a pool house with no pool.
Late last year, my wife and I dropped the girls off with my mother-in-law for an overnight so that we could take care of a few last-minute Santa Claus-related errands. After we finished, we ordered Chinese, binge-watched Silicon Valley, and went to bed. Then, in the middle of the night, I got up and realized that the girls were somewhere else, that it was just my wife and me in the house, and that one day—still a ways off, yet closer than ever before—we would be the only ones in the house forever.
But then the girls came home, and we took them to the playground less than an hour later. Just because I see the end of my kids’ playground appreciation phase doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to it.
Chris Clancy is a dad and writer living in Nashville’s Sylvan Park.