We have emerged. After so many months living tucked away in our hovel with only Play-doh and marbles to occupy our time we are crossing the street and rounding the corner to THE PLAYGROUND. It’s sixty, maybe even seventy degrees and I strut like I’m hearing the soundtrack to “Almost Famous”.  As we reach the gate I set my daughter down and take her hand. I expect that we’ll survey the grounds together, she’ll tentatively check out the scene, run her fingers along the slide, watch some big kids play and then eventually ask to go on the swings. But the second I open the gate she bolts. She runs past the baby slide like it’s “soooo 2009” and immediately begins climbing a ladder to reach “the scary bridge” that last summer was the source of so many slips and so many tears. I brace myself for a fall but she walks gracefully across and then throws herself down the slide on her stomach…HER STOMACH! I do a double-take. This is not the child I accompanied to so many parks last summer. This is not the kid who clung to my legs like I was home base. This is someone new. She runs here and there like she’s sixteen and has just gotten her license.  She’s finally free. When we hit the swings she asks me to push her “higher mommy higher” and when I try to help her mount a big wheel she instructs me to “move back.”

I no longer chase after her bracing myself for a skinned knee. I don’t have to introduce her to each piece of equipment like it’s a long lost cousin “Oh look, a seesaw! Hi seesaw. What a friendly seesaw. Let’s give the seesaw a try.” This kid is independent and fierce. She’s on fire!  “Mommy’s going to watch,” I say as I plop down on the bench with the best view. Is this really happening? Am I really sitting on the sidelines? I’ve seen other mothers do it but I never thought it would happen to me. This is the beginning of something truly magical.

As I kick back my mind begins to scroll through all that has happened in the last twelve months. It’s like this return to the park is New Years day or Rosh Hashanah- I just sit there taking stock of the blur that was last year.  I try to pick out the significant moments- full sentences where uttered, first curse words were bandied about, imaginary play began, a love of avocados was replaced by a love of chocolate. I can’t help but feel proud. We’ve made it to another season. We are all still standing and Sage is absolutely breathtaking. She’s making up stories, collecting a group of friends and singing all the time. She has preferences, catch phrases and a favorite color.

She can jump.

The other day she told me, “It’s my time to fly, I’m going to go to some place warm and wild!” And damned if I didn’t believe her. As I reminisce, I can’t help but leap forward. I’m so excited to find out what will come next. As a preview, I get up from my perch and cruise around the playground to watch other kids. It’s like when I was fourteen and reading “Seventeen Magazine”.  I want a glimpse of what lies ahead.

I see a group of kids who look to be about five. They are pretending to be cats. One is the cat chaser and he’s got an invisible net. “I get to chase you,” he says, “I get to catch you and bring you home. Then we’ll have milk.”

“Meow, meow” the others respond apparently agreeing to these rules.

I begin imagining Sage at this age. What will the rules of her games be? I can see her with a pack of friends racing about on all fours pretending to be squirrels or monkeys. I can’t wait to hid out and watch as her imaginary worlds unfold.

Next I spot a crew of kids who look to be seven. They have set up a pretend restaurant and are serving invisible ice cream. They are meticulous in their play. They’ve made menus, they’ve got a special of the day. I hear them promise “speedy service” to all of their customers. As I watch I think of how much my daughter will learn in the next five years. It is clear from their play that these kids know how to count and write. They’re working together like colleagues. They’ve got a system. I think of my daughter in first grade and then in second; learning to read, learning to add, growing close with a favorite teacher. It blows my mind to imagine sending her off with a bag lunch and a backpack.

Just as I begin playing out my daughter’s first trip on the school bus I notice a pack of pre-teens who have gathered around a picnic table. They’ve all got cell phones decorated with stickers and puffy paint. They’re wearing tiny skirts and leggings pre ripped to look very Cindy Lauper (or is it Miley Cyrus?) I move closer to catch their conversation and I hear this:

Girl: Did you know John-Paul peed on the drum kit at band?

Boy: I play that drumb kit!

Girl: He’s lame. He’s running away.

Boy: When?

Other Boy: Monday.

Other Girl: He’s so lame.

Boy: So lame.

Girl: You should talk. You were going to run away.

Boy: Nu-uh. I tried but there wasn’t a bus to Florida the day I was gonna go.

Other Boy: Why did you wanna go to Florida?

Boy: My grandma has a huge house there.

Girl: That’s lame.

Boy: Whatever, you wanna run away too.

Girl: Well yeah.

Other Girl: Who doesn’t wanna run away?

Girl: Duh.

Other Girl: Florida’s cool.

Boy: Whatever.

Suddenly I imagine these kids’ parents coming home to find a note that reads, “Gone to Florida. Whatever!”

This game is no longer fun.

This journey into the future has gone south. Where is my two-year old? “I WANT MY TWO YEAR OLD!!” I run after Sage like she is home base. This time it’s me clinging to her, chasing at her heels and reaching out.  “Can mommy come with you on the slide? Can mommy follow you over the bridge? Maybe mommy should hold your hand? Wait for mommy! Slow down Sage! Slow down…”