Guest columnist Rachael Workman: Thankful for Luna Greenwood’s playroom at the Hadley Library

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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

As we wind down another tough year, I’ve been taking stock of the people and places that have made life doable, and even joyful, in 2021. I can’t do so without tipping my hat to Luna Greenwood, who is responsible for the children’s playroom at the new Hadley Public Library.

I moved to Northampton this year with my husband and two little kids after a prolonged stint in Israel. There, we had grown accustomed to an abundance of family-oriented public space. We assumed that was true of most places, so after a few months in town we were surprised to find ourselves white-knuckling it through long days with two little kids, without much company, and with few options for where to go to find it.

When sunset recently crept north of 5 p.m., I saw our options dwindle even further. I envisioned a bleak season ahead of us as a family: evenings that stretched on for too long in our too-small apartment, bringing out the worst in all four of us. I finally took my frustration to the Northampton Parents Facebook Group: “What are you guys doing with your kids all winter long?! Let me in on the secret,” I pleaded. The response was discouraging.

“We walk through Thornes,” volunteered one parent.

“No secret,” said another. “Just move up bedtime.”

“I wish there were a secret!” wrote one. “I will say though, it makes the summer feel more special.”

I understand we are cycling through a seemingly endless pandemic, but we have a five-month-long winter here; where are the landing zones for parents with young children that are free/inexpensive, safe, and open for more than a handful of hours a week? Bonus points if they manage to be somewhat spiritually uplifting. This eliminates, with all due respect, the accosting FunZ Trampoline park in Westfield, or the intensely plastic Billy Beez at the Ingleside Mall. (Make no mistake, my kids adore both places, but I recently bumped into a parent from my daughter’s class at the latter, and as we chased our toddlers the wrong way up a 40-foot slide, we exchanged looks of shriveled desperation.)

Assuming we don’t feel like trekking 20 minutes down Route 91: must I take my kids through Thornes — spending $45 under duress on bath toys and hot chocolates and Pez dispensers along the way — in order to bridge the gap from school pick-up to bedtime? Is this the best we can do for parents of young children? For the children themselves? (Note: Thornes: you’re iconic. It’s not you, it’s us.)

So this is all to say: I was overjoyed — and touched, really — when I stumbled upon the new Hadley Library playroom. It’s a space that, while modest in proportion, is heartfelt, high-vibrational and inviting — a natural extension of its own head honcho, the cooky and lovable Luna Greenwood. It’s full of books and baby dolls, musical instruments, train sets, soft climbers and gross motor toys. It’s colorful, with huge windows, high ceilings and comfy seating – and guys, it’s open late.

On my first ever visit to the playroom, it was a Friday morning and brimming with kids and caretakers. Luna noticed us newcomers and ambled over for a chat. She told me about how hard it was to get her vision across the finish line and convince the board that this playroom was necessary. “They wanted to make it a kids reading room!” she said, incredulously. “I was like ‘Noooo way; play needs to happen here!’ And you know what else I fought for? I insisted! I said: people need to be able to bring food and drink inside! I mean, don’t people understand how much parents need their coffee?”

Luna for president.

Luna has teenage twins, and is many years removed from the unique challenges posed by young kids, but she operates like someone who hasn’t forgotten. As we slog through the dog days of this pandemic, with our masks up and our spirits down, we need places like this on a soul level. A safe, fun, indoor space; just a purehearted offering that lets kids engage with other kids, and parents exhale, chat, and share a laugh.

Thank you Luna, for helping us through our first winter in Western Mass. I want to encourage everyone to go make joyful use of this sweet and intentional space she’s created. I promise it’ll give you and your kids a boost.

Rachael Workman lives in Northampton.