Park Mornings: The good, the bad and the slightly sordid

Photo: Zwaddi/Unsplash

It’s good to shake things up a bit – you can’t underestimate how far a bit of novelty value will go. Usually it takes a good 15 minutes to rouse my littlest one from sleep and a good bit of cajoling to get her dressed before she flops (and sometimes strops) down to breakfast.

But last week the kids and I were out of the house by 7.30am for a pre-school breakfast picnic and play in the park, four days in a row. Each day they woke up happy, got dressed and ready by themselves without a word of complaint and pretty much bounced out of the door. Hurrah!

I had the idea of breakfast in the park a while ago, but didn’t necessarily think we would manage it at all, let alone for nearly a whole week. I have to say, the novelty of getting packed lunches and packed breakfast ready that early in the morning wore off pretty quickly for me. But every day the kids would ask if we could pleeeease do it again the next day and I was of course happy to say yes.  

The park is pretty peaceful at that time in the morning (I actually wanted to go earlier to get that real early morning buzz when it feels like no-one else is awake, but discovered the parks don’t open til half seven). It’s quiet. You notice everything more: the birdsong, the summer blooms, the leaves rustling in the breeze. There are a few dog walkers, joggers and a bit later people walking to work across the park, but the playground is empty and it feels like we own it. Without having had a bite to eat, the kids race off to their favourite play spots, hunger forgotten.

It’s pretty gorgeous. Except… every morning there is a depressing selection of litter in little spots across the fields and the playground, where other people have obviously been having their own special picnics the night before. It seems to be standard that people just leave their food and drinks packaging exactly where they were sitting so you get a messy map of last night’s parties. Somebody got lucky at one of the parties and left their used condom at the bottom of the slide. Yeah… breakfast picnic suddenly not so appetising.

So I spend some of each clear, fresh morning picking up manky fried chicken boxes, beer cans and plastic bottles (luckily I didn’t have to pick up the condom, a mum and a little boy helpfully appeared at that point, and she was a practical sort, swiftly disposing of it), and wondering why people don’t give enough of a shit to put them in the bins, which are sometimes literally just a couple of metres away.

It’s sad because it feels like people don’t care about the park and the neighbourhood. It feels like they don’t care about the park wardens who must pick that crap up every day, and the kids who come and play in the playground early. And the bigger picture: not caring about the environment – using plastic bottles, cutlery and bags like there’s no tomorrow, like those tiny but tough particles are not going to end up in the earth and the oceans for centuries to come, toxins leaking out and – the even bigger picture – making their way into our food stream, so that we are literally poisoning ourselves.

It’s all too easy to judge the teens or drop-outs or wanderers who might have made the mess and assume they don’t care. It’s hard to relate but we’ve all been there at some point, to some degree: that state of mind where we’re not able to see much further than ourselves. So thoughts might not even go as far down the line as the park wardens or the next day, let alone the oceans, ourselves as part of a whole ecosystem or some future scenario, many years down the line.

That me-me-me thing is partly a natural development stage for a lot of teenagers (I definitely remember feeling like I didn’t really care about the wider world around me because it was so messed up anyway, and like that was like a really cool, teen rebel way to feel, yeah?) and partly it’s a product of our mind-centric culture of instant gratification, where we feel entitled to quick-hit pleasure after pleasure without ever having to think about the real price.

So what to do? Well I’m thinking about my children, who are still a few (but not that many) years off being teenagers themselves. A few years down the line when they might be the ones drinking cider in the park in the evening (I hope not…..and I don’t even want to think about the rest of it but you know, I’ve been a teenager). And maybe just maybe they might be the ones to go, come on dudes, let’s just put this stuff in the bin.

Teaching young kids to live consciously, to appreciate our planet, to be aware of the wider world, to take responsibility for their actions and to know their own power is the best way I know to work towards a more positive future, so whether it’s pointing out the beauty of a flowering weed growing by the roadside on the way, picking up other people’s rubbish, just having conversations about why people act the way they do, and what the hell we’re going to do about all this plastic, it’s all important.   

The early morning park trips weren’t intended as anything more than injecting an extra hour of fun into the day but we also got that little bit closer to nature and to thinking about how change can start with one action – like putting the damn rubbish in the bin.