Jester Park Natural Playscape – Real Reviews For Real Families

Jester Park Natural Playscape

11407 NW Jester Park Dr, Granger, IA 50109

FREE

Jester Park is not a long drive from Des Moines, but once you hit the front entrance it feels like another 20 minutes until you find the playscape. It’s a lovely drive, though, so just keep going and follow the speed limit. My kids like to sing songs from Into The Woods while we drive through the heavily wooded area. Do not go towards the playground, which is also nice, keep going towards the elk and bison, you will find the playscape.

A natural playscape is not a typical playground. There is no plastic or metal or rubberized surfaces. There are wood chips and rocks, dirt and weeds.  Kids need nature and they are not being exposed to nature the way we were growing up. I use “we” assuming that if you have a family you probably grew up with skinned knees and wet shoes in the summer, but I’m not exactly sure when they started paving and padding everything. Goldy and Beauty were lucky to have a playground and a pond directly behind our apartments most of their childhood, so we didn’t frequent other parks very much so I didn’t notice the change until it happened.  I love the exciting, modern playgrounds that I have previously written about, and they play a wonderful part in making sure our kids are moving and not spending too much time with screens in their faces, but if you want a true outdoor experience with all the comforts of a playground you can’t beat a playscape.

There are 3 playscapes in the area, currently, that I am aware of, and another going in right in our neighborhood at our favorite splash pad, McHenry Park. I am always looking for more. (Hint hint leave a comment if you know of one!) Jester is probably our favorite because it is closer than Brenton Arboretum, which I will write about next, and the water feature is more fun than Sargent Park.

There is always plenty of parking fairly close to the play area. The bathroom is in the parking area, just a small building with an outhouse toilet and plastic urinal, but they keep it clean and provide antibacterial soap. There is also a water fountain but I recommend bringing your own water bottles. There is not much shade anymore. They cut down our favorite shade tree that we usually sat under to eat lunch. There is a lot to do but my kids always go straight for the water. If it gets crowded or unruly we go down the hill to the sandbox. There are also wood blocks, a prairie grass maze, and prairie animals to view. There are no picnic tables at the playscape but you can lay out a blanket or drive to the nearby picnic areas within the park. There are benches and one by the water that even provides a little shade. I imagine it would be a handy place to breastfeed a younger child while an older sibling played in the water. The website says this play are is best for children over 5, but mine have been having fun their since they could toddle. When it gets busy you may want to take little ones to the sand box.

For the love of all things pink and sparkly, though, please watch your children of all ages. My sister in law and I witnessed several little boys throwing large rocks into the water while other kids were playing. The adults responsible for them sat under a shady awning, ignoring them. When one little boy got a rock to the scalp and was gushing blood, his mother patched him up. They told the kids not to throw rocks and went right back to their shady hideaway. The kids continued throwing rocks into the crowded water area, and slowly other families began to leave. I think I have mentioned that I dislike trendy names for parenting types, helicopter moms and free range parents. I think we need a new trend. Common sense. If all the other parents at the play area have to make their kids leave the water because yours are being unruly, you need to hover a little more. That doesn’t make you a helicopter parent. It makes you and your child decent people. If your child is throwing rocks into a crowded play area they are showing you they are not ready to be left alone there yet.

I don’t want to give you the impression this is a dangerous play area. Far from it! Kids can and do throw rocks anywhere. We go to Jester Park several times a year and have only had this one incident.

My family has been picnicking at Jester Park since before Beauty was born. I know because we have pictures of her there in utero. There are several nice shelters you can just show up and use as long as there isn’t a reserved sign, or you can reserve them for an event. There is a large modern playground with modern bathrooms and showers across the street, an equestrian center, an amphitheater, a golf course, camping, fishing and more. There is also a lodge for events and they hold classes there, as well. If your family loves nature or needs more time in nature you must check it out.

We had a great time and I hope you do, too!

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An elk was watching us dig in the sand.

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The boys are playing with the wood blocks under a somewhat shady awning.

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Sharkboy and his cousin, playing in the water.

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This is the elk and bison viewing area.

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Little S is playing in the sand.

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Throwing Stones

I really wanted to spend this nap time either drinking, reading, or both, but I made the stupid mistake of reading Facebook first. So. Much. Judgement. And ya know what? That’s normal. That’s cool. We are all making judgments all of the time. Sometimes they pass idly through our heads as we witness or read about an event, other times they strike us passionately and we feel compelled to react. Many people reach a certain age or point in life when we realize that our judgments, while valid, may be based on limited information. We can only judge a situation based on our own experiences and that doesn’t make us right to anyone but ourselves. In other words, sometimes we don’t know what the hell we’re talking about.

For example: The Barkeep works late, often past 2am, leaving me at home with Sharkboy and Little S.  One night both boys were sick and not sleeping well. I gave LS some Tylenol and carried him over to the couch to give SB a dose, as well. LS leaned over and threw up all over my hand and the full medicine bottle. I dug through the medicine cabinet and found less than a dose of ibuprofen. My options were fairly limited. Sharkboy was miserable and needed something to help his fever immediately but it would be hours before The Barkeep was home and then we would have to wake him up to give him medicine. So, there we were, past 11pm on a week night at my least favorite store. We were in and out quickly. I gave SB his medicine in the car and they were both sound asleep when we got home. I smelled like puke so I took one of my famous middle of the night showers and then of course I couldn’t sleep so I jumped online. Facebook informed me that one of my friends had commented on a status and my jaw plopped on the computer desk when I read,

“What kind of idiot takes her kids to Wal Mart at ANY time, get a babysitter for that.”

Indeed. I could not agree more. I would actually rather set my hair on fire during a root canal than go to Walmart, let alone take my kids, but I live in the real world. Target closes early and I do not have an au paire. I do not know what sort of “free and always available babysitter fantasyland” she has been hanging out in but I don’t even get to visit that place.

The status she was responding to said,

“just saw some dumb bitch at wally world at midnight with a baby and a kid who could barely keep his eyes open. they were all in their pajamas and smelled bad. i swear you should need a lisence[sic] to have kids.”

Ah yes, the old “needing a ‘lisence’ to have a baby” insult. All I need to get pregnant is a dirty look from across the room, so I’d like to see them make that license thing work.  I could only assume since I had just been at Walmart in my pajamas, reeking of vomit, with a baby and a sleepy boy, that I was the dumb bitch.

If I had started this blog with that Facebook quote, I believe many of you would have been nodding your head in agreement, thinking yes, I too have seen that dumb bitch at my Walmart. You would have similar stories to share. But because I started the story with an explanation for why I was there, instead many of you were nodding your head thinking, yes, I have been in a similar bind.

This isn’t an isolated incident. For almost every rude thing you can say about another person I, or someone else, can offer a reasonable explanation. Think about every time someone has passed judgement on you. You probably had an explanation for why they were wrong. (Most of the time. Sometimes we legitimately fuck up. We’re human. I’m not going to judge you for that, at least not out loud. I won’t make you feel bad about it. I might call H-Bomb and tell her.)

Why, for the love of all things pink and sparkly, is it so hard to stop and think, “Hey, this looks really dumb to me, but I may not know the whole story. Kind of like that time I did a dumb thing and everyone was mean to me for it but I actually had an intelligent explanation if they would have listened.” In short, why not just mind your own business? You can actually judge your own business because you presumably know the full story, and if not, you sure as hell have no place sticking your nose in anyone else’s business.

I wasn’t bothered, by the way, by this description of my midnight outing. I never even told my friend that I was the negligent parent. The only standards I worry about living up to are my own. I don’t need to justify myself to some random woman who also happened to be shopping at Walmart at midnight. If I were to say anything to her it would just be that I judge her right back for being the kind of person who is absolute in her certainty in the wrongness of others even though she knows nothing more than a tiny sliver of one evening of their lives.

We do not learn from self righteous thinking. If you never open your mind to the possibilities you may always believe you are right but your mind will begin to stagnate and eventually you will be the only one who believes you are right.

Have fun with that.

In Defense Of The Old Lady

I give “old ladies” a hard time because they give me a hard time. There is always some white haired grandma telling me to put socks on my baby (in July!) or that using a carrier will suffocate him. I’ve had a grandpa or two share words of wisdom, as well, but not as often as the female mitten police. Men prefer to tell me what not to do. “Oh, boys will be boys, you have to let them rough house.” I do let them rough house, I don’t let them rough house with forks in their hands. I’m over sensitive to stab wounds. Old ladies, though, they like to tell me what I’m doing wrong, and it is always something archaic or unimportant. It was a little chilly in the store the day that grandma told me my newborn needed socks but it was so hot and humid outside it was like walking through stew, I wasn’t going to bother digging socks that won’t stay on out of storage for 5 minutes in the store to grab bread. To me that is common sense, my favorite way to parent.

I was eavesdropping the other day at the mall play area. I never think to schedule a play date for these visits because they are often impromptu and generally when I have time to stop and play other moms are busy. Our schedule is hectic, to say the least. So, I eavesdrop and inject myself into other conversations to meet moms. If they think this is creepy they have never let on. Snarky McSnarkbritches and Dr. Google were talking to No Time On The Internet Mom about her many and various mistakes as a parent, from  juice to car seats to sleeping arrangements. I self consciously patted my hair, feeling for the few coarse gray hairs that have been popping in since Little S was born and bit my tongue to refrain from sounding like someone’s grandmother.

Having a 16 year age gap between children I have seen first hand the phenomenon my mother described to me when Goldilocks was a Golden Baby, still being put to sleep on her tummy as “current research” suggested. My mom pointed out how much “current research” had changed and cycled back to the same things over and over again just in the time since we were babies. Having a 16 year age gap between my oldest and youngest child I have now seen that research flux first hand and feel somewhat justified laughing at it.

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Shortly before Golden Baby was born it was still widely accepted to put juice in baby bottles. Can you imagine the scandal if you tried it today?

Other moms of young children that I talk to now about things I did in the past sometimes cluck their tongue and chalk my poor parenting choices up to being so young when the girls were little, but I was there and I can tell you, I was doing pretty damn good thanks to my awesome pediatrician and a healthy dose of common sense. I didn’t have the internet on my cell phone, I didn’t even have a cell phone. Goldy was born in 1994, when the internet was brand new, and parent shaming on a grand and global level was still on the horizon. I had to gather facts the old fashioned way. I read every parenting book I could get my hands on, listened to our doctors and then did what I thought was right.  I remember thinking the things my mother’s generation did were crazy and I’m sure Sharkboy’s generation will look back at us now and think how naive and uninformed we were. And we are. For everything we know there is so much we don’t know and may never know, which is why it would serve us well to sit down and shut up about the things we think we know.

This video clip was recorded a year before Goldilocks was born.

After you read this conduct your own experiment. This works best on Facebook or another social media site.  Ask your friends when a child should see the dentist for the first time. Don’t bother charting it out but find a rough percentage of how many people say they absolutely must go by the age of one. Then calculate about what percentage say that is completely and ridiculously unnecessary because their doctor said they could wait until their child was three. Add those two numbers together on a post it note and shred it in the garbage disposal. Only listen to and hang out with the remainder of the people that quietly told you their opinion without trying to impress upon you that it was the only right answer. Smile politely at everyone else.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends visiting at the sign of their first tooth or by their first birthday.  Beauty and Goldy both went at age three as recommended at the time and they have nearly perfect teeth still today. Sharkboy went at 16 months, exactly one year from the date he got his first tooth and had a full set of teeth, all in great shape. Little S has 6 teeth and will probably go soon after turning one. My point isn’t that you’re doing it wrong. My point is that “current research” and “expert opinions” don’t even always agree, so it is unlikely that we will all make the same choices with our children, even if we all choose to follow the path of research and experts. And, if like me, you have seen all of that change and change back again, you might be inclined to smile politely or  laugh out loud at people who think they have it all figured out.

Which brings me to the old ladies and their constant advice.  Granny was probably chilly in the air conditioning. She saw bare toes and thought, “That baby needs socks.” And it’s very likely she chuckled at me when I told her, “He’s fine, thanks.” Because we both thought we had it all figured out. Even common sense can take us down varying paths.

A Disclaimer For Morons

*giant sigh*

*even bigger eyeroll*

I shouldn’t have to write this, but here I am, writing it.

I work with other people’s children Monday through Friday. I don’t really drink while they are napping. They don’t even all nap. Monster Princess is 4 so she reads stories or watches a movie while the little ones sleep. Sometimes she sleeps, but I do not take that opportunity to get “shitfaced drunk while watching babies.”

I do sometimes drink while caring for my own children and I don’t really care what anyone else thinks about that. I will say, if you don’t know the difference between “drinking” and “getting shitfaced” then perhaps you are the one with a drinking problem.

*in case you didn't notice the carbonation or color, that's POP

Me. Eight months pregnant with Sharkbaby.*

I can, in fact, go a whole day without drinking. I went 9 months without drinking. FOUR TIMES. That is 3 years of not drinking, in case your math is as ridiculous as your grammar. I’m a social drinker, usually, but sometimes when The Barkeep and I are sitting in the sun or just watching a movie together I choose to call that a social activity and I have a drink or two. I can do that because I am the mother and I decide who drinks what around my kids.

My secret is out. I’m not throwing keg parties in the addition while the kids nap. I’m cleaning the kitchen or sitting on my ass writing a blog, wishing I had a drink, not because of the kids so much as all the morons.

Naptime IS for drinking, but who has time for that? If you have kids you drink when you can or not at all and either one is cool with me. Just keep your cup sniffing snout out of my business. Thankyouverymuch.

* In case you did not notice the color or carbonation, it’s Diet Pepsi, not wine.