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Woodchips and Motherhood

BY Amanda Jolman Journal
BY Amanda Uher

We spent the morning at my oldest son’s playground. It’s covered in wood chips. They hitchhike in his shoes and invade the carpet and corners of our home. I pick them up with a mixture of annoyance—messy!—and reverence—a relic from his childhood play.

While he was inside testing, the younger two and I were swinging. As I fulfilled requests for underdogs, they attuned to the spring air gliding past them as they rose and fell, shutting their eyes in rapturous delight. My senses, however, contemplated those woodchips underfoot. My childhood playground was birthed from midwest farmland—tilled and ground repeatedly—eventually claimed as school property, to civilize the farm and town children, who then, for decades, compacted the ground with the help of a co-worker— intermittent droughts. It was a hard ground, grass-covered, but hard. You could run fast and long without any hindrance. When you fell, you knew there was no give; you were going to land with a thud and the wind knocked out of your lungs. Hopefully, you wouldn’t break a bone.

I stepped forward to underdog and the ground slid unfamiliarly around me. My ankle wobbled as I completed the running swing. I felt annoyed. The ruts were deep and mud-packed by the swings in my childhood playground. They were predictable. Now as a parent on this playground, things were always changing and shifting.

Finished with testing, my eldest, with his ocean green eyes stepped into the sunlight. He began a chase game with classmates. His stride was strong and wide, then abruptly a lurch, sway as some wood chips slid underneath his forceful steps. Down he went. Was he ok? Was he going to cry? Would the other kids be kind if he cries? Did I need to go get ice? He had a few scratches, splinters, even a little blood, but the ground was mostly forgiving. I let out the breath I had been holding.

Next, my youngest with sky eyes, blue and cloudless, began climbing equipment four times above his height. I respect his bravery—inspired by his big brothers—but my fears were rising in tandem with his body. Will he fall? Chip a tooth? Break a bone? The woodchips slowed me down, but I reached him before he had a chance of falling. I released my held breath again. Finally, I glanced over at my middle son. His steely grey-blue mountain eyes speak of pristine, deep places and were presently admiring his older brother as he orbited him in a game of tag. Will he find his own way? Will he come into his own self and not always live in the shadow of his older brother? Will he know his own special worth? Breathe.

Colorado ground is dry; it’s high desert. Under the stomp and tussle of children’s feet, it rescinds all orders to grow vegetation and turns to dust. Droughts and limited water supply prevent big grassy fields for play. You have to come up with alternatives for playgrounds—hence the woodchips.

These wood chips were helping me name all the uneasy places in me today. I thought we’d just go to the playground and have fun, but alas, for a mother, fears can quietly hover in the most joyous spaces —an injury, an embarrassment, a worry about their entire life trajectory. The fears can be endless. And I expected the ground, this sacred ground of motherhood, to be more solid. I think that’s the annoyance. The terrain is always changing. I feel like I should know more or be more, but I spend my days slipping around with them.

Giggles from tag beckoned me to join them and I started to run. The chips rearranged beneath my feet—would I fall? I paused a moment to gain my balance. Then, brushed off my annoyance, fear and joined them in the fun. Maybe I can learn to run in these woodchips after all.

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