From the corner coffee shop to the waterfront promenade, we each have treasured downtown spaces that make the whole city feel like home. In DBFA’s series, This City Spot, each Monday we highlight one of your special places with words and pictures.
Guest post by Nina McCarthy, DBFA's Event Planner and Programs Assistant.
Ella was born in the early March of 2007. I was thrilled that I could walk around the neighborhood with my newborn in her stroller or in the Bjorn. So I walked…and walked… and walked. I walked to the Safeway a lot and swiftly was on a first name basis with the staff there. (Hi Rachel, Karen, Shyana!) I walked along the water. I walked to the park. I walked every single inch of the neighborhood I had already lived in for years. I wanted to sit. By July I had made a crew of “mom friends.” Most had children who were 6-9 months older than my daughter, but they were (and still are!) wonderful and helped me navigate those early months with Ella. One morning my friend Eileen, whose daughter was already 13 months old, said “you should come to the tot lot.” I had seen the ‘Tot Lot is open’ emails on my neighborhood listserv, but since my daughter was still pretty much limited to sleeping, rolling one way and spitting up a lot, I thought she was too young. Eileen said to bring a blanket and just sit. So I did…. I watched the older children run, play, splash in a water table and I had a conversation with moms I knew, and moms I didn’t know. Heaven. I had found my Tuesday, Thursday afternoon activity.
The next spring Ella was walking and running confidently and I watched the LISTSERV for the first real sign of Spring in Southeast Baltimore… "The tot lot is OPEN at 4 pm today." That horrendous time of day that was filled with what am I going to make for dinner and what do I do after nap, but before bed suddenly was filled again. This time it was a little less relaxing but still just as heavenly. Ella cruised around in plastic police cars, often crashing into the fence. She went down the slide over and over, played with children she knew and didn’t know and would crawl into her stroller at 5:30 exhausted, filthy and ready for bath and bed.
Over the years as summer turns to fall to early winter it’s often hard to let go of the Tot Lot, the enclosed playground where you can actually take your eyes off your child for a second and know they can’t leave. I have spent time under the small gazebo huddled with friends as sleet softly fell and our children ran around oblivious to the cold and wet. I have congratulated friends on their pregnancies there, I have cried to strangers and friends that Ella hadn’t taken a nap for 22 days there, I have celebrated our children turning 1,2, 3 and even 4 there. I have participated in BBQ’s there where snacks are a community contribution and the cooler is filled with ice.
The tot lot in Canton is far more than a playground, it’s a meeting space for the parents as much as it is for the children. I have met some of my closest friends there and now that Ella is 4 years old, I get a little misty when I see a blanket with a new crop of babies under the same tree that she once laid under. How quickly it all goes…just like the tot lot season.
Tot Lot is located at the corner of Fait and Streeper. It is owned by Early Head Start who generously lets the parents of the neighborhood use it in their off hours. If you wish to hold a birthday party or an event gathering there, please contact Tracy Hall on the listserv to coordinate your donation to EHS.
Nina McCarthy has been a volunteer with the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance since February of 2008 and was the co-chair for DBFA's first egg hunt in Patterson Park in March 2008. Nina and her husband, Tom, moved downtown in 1997 and currently reside in Canton with daughter Ella, who attends St. Casimir Catholic School. Nina served as the chair of DBFA's marketing committee from 2008 to 2009 and is currently the staff event planner and programs assistant.
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