Oak Park,…

Oak Park, #1.

Here's the dirty secret
she told me
when my daughter
turned one.

Parents say that all they want
is for their kids to be happy
and they do want that --
but first and foremost
they want them to be safe.

It is trained into you
when they are babies
and you go to their rooms
a dozen times each night
to be sure they're still

It is beaten into you
when they are toddlers
and fling themselves
at every sharp object
left for a moment in reach
off every high surface
that they can climb
and you leap after
heart leaping
from your chest.

We never thought
we would be those parents
but it turns out to be inevitable
as death.

We lean in to catch at
falling, flailing limbs
and say someday
she should ride her bike
down wide, tree-lined streets.

We leave the city.
For this.

A great, green grassy park
at twilight
lit by many lampposts
framing a famous old house
turned museum.
Pleasant home.

We gave up our restaurants
for this
our crowded nightscape
drunken neighbors
and prostitutes on the corner.
Sometimes I miss those girls.

This is the ugly truth.
More than happiness,
yours or theirs,
you need them to be

We will have at least a decade here
amid the grass and trees and dogs and houses
to practice unlearning that lesson.

Because someday, safe will not be good enough.

Someday, we will need to let them
try to be happy
instead of safe.


Pleasant Home, Mills Park, 10/4/10

6 thoughts on “Oak Park,…”

  1. It occurs to me that the ending of this poem is maybe a big part of your radical mothering essay? About the fight between happy and safe?

  2. Yes, we cannot protect our dhildren from everything. If we try, at least if we try too intensely, it is easy to cause them psychological damage.

  3. I guess I missed the entry as to how/why the Oak Park Observed project began. But I cannot imagine that you’re going to feature only static objects like the house devoid of landscaping. May I recommend an amazing coffe table sized book to read.
    The title is America 24/7 by Rick Smolan and David Elliot Cohen. The website is/was http://www.america24-7.com. Since the book was published in 2003, I don’t know if it’s still up.
    From May 12-18, 2003, for 24 hours a day for seven days, digital photographers from across the nation were invited to take pictures of their cities and towns, friends and neighbors, and families and pets. More than 25,000 amateur and professional photographers responded. The book contains a compilation of their results. It’s all about their viewpoint of America. It’s excellent.

  4. Mary Anne,
    I didn’t mean that your efforts should be of such a magnitude; I thought that viewing many different photos would provide a stimulus as to what you might want to photograph.
    I also tracked down a website for the book:
    http://www.digitaljournalist.org/issue0311/247_intro.html. The site has a small gallery of photos from the book that is worth viewing.
    Also, LIFE magazine has a great site that allows one to view years of photos from their issues. It’s something to keep visiting over time.
    And then there is the beautiful little book by Elliot Porter, “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World.” Pictures of the Glenn Canyon before it was flooded. Enjoy.

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