Our boys ran in circles at first, so overwhelmed by their options they couldn’t settle in and play with any single toy till they inventoried them all. The place was almost empty, with just a couple of other children inside, so we could hear Jack and Eli babbling and cooing as they toddled, fast as they could go, from one side of the room to the other.
My wife and I have not been shy about getting our boys, 18-month-old fraternal twins, out into the world. We’ve fed them in highchairs on the beach and in Rittenhouse Square and on the sidewalk in front of Shake Shack. We take them to the neighborhood playgrounds, around the Graduate Hospital area, and, weather permitting, to the merry go round at Franklin Square. We’ve taken them to the Please Touch Museum so many times that they smile contentedly and wait to be strapped into their car seats as soon as we tell them we’re going. But this last weekend we took our first and second trips to Nest, an indoor play space at 13th and Locust.
Nest is a big multi-level facility located in a building that used to house a strip club. Nearly a decade ago, when I was childless and single, I wrote about that club and the controversy it caused. Now I was back in the building as a husband and dad. I once engaged in some of the most contentious interviews of my career in the same spot where I now asked the receptionist for a high chair.
We stayed for a couple of hours, and a lot happened.
A cute little blonde-haired boy named Walter scaled obstacles like a spider monkey. I wondered if my boys—two months older than Walter—should do better at climbing. A mom wrapped her little boy up in her arms and rolled, back and forth, across 20 feet of carpet as he giggled and she kissed his cheeks and the two of them held to each other in paroxysms of joy. From the moment I’d walked in the room and saw all that open space I wanted to do the same thing. But now I’d just look like a copycat.
As the place filled, the going got tougher. But the sense of camaraderie only increased. Parents sipped coffee and looked after their little ones and slipped into conversations with spouses and strangers. A woman whose son played for a while alongside mine apologized for her son’s cough, and I found that I didn’t really care so much about the risk my kids might pick up the third common cold of their lives. It doesn’t make much sense to worry about the inevitable. And besides, my sons grew up a lot last weekend. Jack started climbing up on the raised platforms in one corner of the room, not like a monkey but steadily and, within minutes, confidently. Eli played catch with total strangers, walking right up to other kid’s parents and throwing them whatever ball happened to be nearby. Both of my boys shared and bargained with other kids, pushed and got pushed. A few parents remarked on how hard it must be to raise twins but any difficulties seemed a ba-jillion miles away.
Jack and Eli were so happy that their dad could barely see straight.
When we arrived, the streets outside were mostly empty—the city still sleeping off Saturday. But when we left, there was a big line of people waiting to eat brunch at the café next door. And I stared at them, thinking: I used to be one of you. I could wake up on a Sunday whenever I woke up, take Lisa by the hand and walk somewhere to while away the morning, waiting to accomplish nothing more urgent than breakfast. Now, we scarf down protein bars and oatmeal at home while the boys grab toward our belts and ask to be held.
Life is far more complicated now, and sure enough, a few days after we first trekked into Nest our boys came down with colds. But we’ll head back as soon as we think they’re healthy. We’ll talk with other parents, drink our morning coffee out of paper cups, and watch our kids play. I plan to get there early, grab my nearest boy up in my arms, and roll with him, right across the floor.
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