For the past two years — during that six-month window where the Midwest is pleasant and habitable — I’ve been on a quest to find the best park to take my kids to. I have a 2 1/2-year-old girl and 10-month-old boy, and we’ve made the rounds. Here are the pros and cons of what we’ve found so far.

Douglas Park. Not pictured: Gay stuff.

PROS: Easy 10-minute walk from home; adjacent to high school athletic fields; my daughter Sarah is big enough to use all the play equipment; Sarah often has chances to play with one or two neighborhood kids her age or older.
CONS: Now that she’s been to bigger/better parks, Sarah gets bored with this one within 15 minutes; even the neighborhood parents who bring their own beer are douchebags; rubber tire shreds blanketing the ground always find their way into my kid’s diaper.

PROS: Lots of trees and hills; frisbee golf course ensures you can take the kids out for a good time and buy yourself a recreational dimebag all in the same trip, if that’s your thing; there’s also a performance stage, which Sarah and I love to hang out on; right across the street from a plasma center, so you can teach your child early about inequality between classes in America.
CONS: After several visits, I started to notice men would pull into the parking lot by themselves, sit in their cars and wait for other men to pull into the parking lot by themselves, then they’d talk amongst themselves for a minute and caravan together out of the park. On one visit, a perv van pulled into the lot, opened its passenger side door and started blasting a Josh Groban dance mix. The music motivated three separate dudes to climb into the van, one by one. If George Michael visited Springfield, Illinois, you can bet he’d be hanging out the Douglas Park men’s room.

PROS: Remote, never a soul around; lots of trees and shade; play equipment is accessed by a bridge rather than stairs. 2 year olds love bridges. Also the yellowest playground I’ve ever seen. Guess that’s a pro.
CONS: Always very windy; small playground with swingless swingset; surrounding ground floods after very little rainfall, enticing small children to get muddy in the middle of midday errand runs.

Guess which kid ended up paralyzed from the neck down after this visit to Rochester Community Park.

PROS: Accessible via bike trail; big enclosed playground; water fountain that is actually turned on all year round; old-school merry-go-round.
CONS: Milelong bike trail walk home leaves everyone tired and crying by the end, including Dad. Enclosed playground has low visibility thanks to a design that splits the playground into quadrants easy for kids to access but hard for adults to see through. Turn your head for five seconds, and your kid could be anywhere, out of sight.

PROS: “Exclusive,” in the sense that the average person has the dignity to realize the playground is for members only and then go somewhere they’re actually entitled to go to. Which allows yours truly to bring the kids undisturbed.
CONS: Right next to giant club pool, so no matter how enticing the slides and swings are, Sarah still would rather be in the pool. And I’m pretty sure they’re not going to let us in there without a membership pass. No bathroom facilities, which again would deter the average person of dignity. Myself, I do a cautionary check for security cameras then pee on the side of the building.

PRO: Intimate, fenced in like a daycare playground; in my wine-guzzling soccer mom days, ideal for sitting on bench with iced-down chardonnay in convenience store cups and Facebooking on the phone.
CON: No shade; rusty toys scattered throughout; half the equipment is too big for Sarah to climb on; rocks everywhere.

PROS: So big it has two entrances on the same road about a quarter-mile apart, tons of trees, bizarre placement of play equipment (e.g. a single swing hanging from giant swingset on a hill overlooking the lake), long wooden bridge for stroller walks, lots of ducks.
CONS: Lots of duck crap everywhere; angry looks from people fishing on the bridge when you try to push your stroller past their rod-and-reel setup; seemingly always a family reunion going on.

PROS: Huge, great for long walks, two monster playgrounds, play equipment that looks like it’s from the 1969 World’s Fair Park of the Future exhibit.
CONS: Everyone and their mom comes here, and Sarah’s still too young not to run up and grab other kids’ unattended toys and sippy cups, far from home.

After all this field research, we’re moving back home to St. Louis in less than a week, and I’ve already found a great park right up the street from my in-laws’ house. It has slides and swings that are big but not too big, ducks but not a ton of duck crap, and there’s usually no one there. Best of all, the playground is lined not with rocks or tire shreds but squares of bouncy turf, so I can bring Silas and let him crawl without worrying about him choking on blades of grass or rubber chips. Benches are easily accessible for phone Facebooking, and there’s a big recliner swing that’s almost as comfortable as indoor furniture. The search is over, until Sarah grows bored with this park.

One Comment to “Parkquest”

  1. I must compliment you on your sense of observation. Growing up here many of these things I have known as long as I can remember (Douglas Park In and Outs, Family Reunions at Madigan), but for a casual observer to pick up on it all is pretty impressive :)

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