When last did you take your kids to the park?

I hope you don’t mind me asking. I hope you don’t think I’m being nosey either. You see, I’m just curious, I love kids and sometimes I give extra lessons to the middle school children at the community center every other week, teaching them how to read, spell and comprehend properly. You should know by now that I love stories. I love telling them, but mostly I enjoy reading other people’s stories. While other folks think this is a good thing, I sometimes think it’s a let-down for me because it can keep me out of my work.

I can become so engrossed in a good, well-written novel with a great plot, an acute sense of drama and wonderful settings. A couple of months ago I finished reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility for the umpteenth time. While it has been a few weeks since I’ve returned to the misunderstandings and high drama of true romance, jealousy and passing judgment on others, I am also enjoying my re-reading of Ms Austen’s most famous and still very popular Pride and Prejudice. The opening lines of that epic novel are among my favorite along with those opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Perhaps what I enjoy most about re-reading the classics is that every time you return to a favorite story, new angles are found and a well-composed narrative, lasting several paragraphs, shed new light on an old story. It’s almost like watching re-runs of your favorite movies. I have a fixation with James Bond but now is not the time to tell you about that. What I should do perhaps is watch the latest film presentation of Ms Austen’s timeless tale of love and misunderstandings. I am in awe of the Canadian actor, Donald Sutherland’s towering performance as Mr. Bennett, the heroine’s austere and troubled father. Then there is Keira Knightley’s dashing white smile.

Whenever I see her smile, I am also reminded of the flaxen-haired Julia Roberts. I have yet to see anyone smile as broadly as she does. There is a setting that I sometimes think and dream about in which she appears. It is from one of my favorite romantic movies, Notting Hill. Ms. Roberts is seen resting her head on her bookish lover’s (played by British actor Hugh Grant) lap while he continues to pore over his book. While he reads, Ms. Roberts is gently caressing her bulging tummy. And while Elvis Costello’s rendition of ‘She’ lingers past my eardrums, I see little kids running on the well-manicured green lawns in the park where the loving couple are sitting.

The same goes for Ms. Austen’s vivid settings. Parks on sprawling estates abound everywhere. I think a lot about those kids that I teach every now and then and often wonder why their folks don’t spend more time with them at the park, only a whistle stop away from us anyhow. I am one to talk because I hardly make enough time to go down to the park myself. I think that today I must just head out for a walk after I get a fair amount of work done here and before it gets too late and the sun disappears for another day. But I do understand these kids and their moms, most of whom are single.

Being a single parent is no joke, let me tell you. I must have known at least four or five girls over the last ten years or so who are (or were) single moms. One such friend, a lot older than me, was a divorcee when I knew her. The circumstances of our falling out were a little sad after our brief friendship during which we shared so many personal thoughts. Theresa’s thoughts were always to do with her growing kids and the over-powering and sometimes abusive ex-husband. I was still quite young at the time so listening to her stories became a bit too much for me I guess.

Anyway, these kids’ mothers are a lot more fortunate than others. They all have jobs to go to in the morning. But they work incredibly long hours, sometimes up to fourteen hours a day, all at the minimum wage currently allowed by law. Their budgets are tight. This would also include a sizeable chunk each month for after school care. They have to pay extra for this service because the care givers sit patiently until dark waiting for the children’s mothers – one by one – to arrive and pick them up.

And by the time they arrive home, exhausted from the long day at work, they still need to feed the kids, supervise their homework and get them off to bed to sleep and prepare for another long day. Tired or not, there little time left for taking these poor kids down to the park. You would think that weekends would be perfect for making up for lost time. This is easier said than done because most mothers work weekends too.

I am also concerned about how much time kids spend in front of the TV or over video games instead of indulging themselves in healthy play activities outdoors. The growing body needs fun in the sun. Mothers are too tired to take their kids out. The old-fashioned argument in favor of settling down to marriage, no matter what religion you belong to, comes to mind. I envision a balanced family unit with both a mother and a father to see to their growing children’s needs. Of course, this is not so easy anymore.

Secular society has its challenges and no-one is perfect. Life is hard and it is not so easy to find the perfect gentleman who wouldn’t mind helping out with your kids every now and then. Hard or not, I’ll be taking myself out for a walk later just to prove to myself (and you) how good it is to be out in the sun, even when the body is tired.

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