The children are a mix of ages, from four to seven, but their thin limbs sprawl equally across the newly painted merry-go-round. Merry-go-rounds are now an artifact of time, an icon of the American landscape that has been sacrificed to this new world of safety and caution, and Baba has never seen one before. Despite all of my efforts to distract her to slides and swings in the toddler-sized playground, she goes running towards it, arms outstretched like a tiny fun-loving zombie.
When they see her, the children on the merry-go-round drag their feet in the dirt to bring it to a screechy halt. “Wait,” says a little girl with brown hair that is desperately escaping from her fat braid. “There’s a baby.” She pulls on the metal bars, dangling her tiny bottom over the edge, her hips moving back and forth with all the energy of someone who hasn’t yet figured out how to sit still.
“Baba, no-no,” I say desperately trying to distract Baba. “No-no, Baba!” There are no harnesses on the merry-go-round and she’s certainly not stable enough to cling to the bars. Everything in the New Parent Handbook says that this is a very, very bad idea.
“No-no!” Baba says, cheerily.
“It’s okay,” a young boy says, his words slurred by his missing lower front tooth. “We can push her.”
“We’ll go slow,” the girl promises. “Since she’s a baby.”
“Alright,” I say, then help Baba scramble up onto the merry-go-round. The other children part, making room for her tiny body in that amorphous way that groups of children move when they are en masse. Baba stands in the middle, smiling and babbling in her joy of being part of the group. “Sit down!” I tell her, thinking that at least if she sits, she shouldn’t smack too many body parts when the merry-go-round begins to move. I climb on with her and sit cross-legged on the cold metal, secretly pleased at my flexibility.
And let’s be honest, it’s not just pleased. I’m delighted to have an excuse to sit on a merry-go-round again. It was my favorite playground equipment and Baba has given a fabulous excuse to pretend I’m a child.
“Is she ready?” the brown-haired girl asks. “Because my dad has taught us the right speeds.”
“That’s right,” the boy says. “For babies, you have to go really slow.” He hops down and begins gently pushing us around, at a speed that would make the teacup ride at Disneyland yawn in boredom. “And for older babies, you can go less slow. And for a little older than that, you can go walk speed. And then, when it’s only older kids, you can go fast. And then, when you’re five, you can go super fast.”
“And when you’re six,” the girl interrupts, “you can go super-mega-awesome-fast.”