In all of my years on this Earth, I have never seen anyone not having a good time swinging on a swing set. Take a look around at the constructs of metal and plastic at a playground. I have seen kids cry going down a slide. There is fear in ascending 468 metal steps to get to the top of a metal slide where you will either break the sound barrier before you hit the bottom or you wore shorts and it is a 105 degree summer day. Walk across the balance beam hovering 3” over the ground and surrounded by 8” of mulch. Not much fun there. But a swing? If you can kick your feet you can have fun. And if you can’t, one small plea for a push and someone will have their hands on your back and then its joy city.
It was with this thought that over 6 years ago, I decided to put a swing set in my backyard. Over the course of one weekend, I put my engineering skills and the life of my Black and Decker cordless drill battery to the ultimate test. I bought the kit, wood included, from Home Depot. Three tons of wood, a bag of bolts which for all I knew were leftovers from when the Empire State building was built, and the instruction manual that read like Kierkegaard wrote them (a bunch of pictures, no words, basically saying put it together however you feel). With the engineering focus of Imhotep, I put together what would become my kids’ swing set because: 1. No one has a bad time on a swing and 2. Nothing says “I love my kids” like telling them to get the hell out of the house and go play.
I had even sprung for the deluxe swing set. The set that didn’t stop at the swings. It had two separate climbing walls, a rope ladder, slide, a periscope, steering wheel, and a second story sitting area topped by a green and yellow tarp roof. It truly was a marvel of mankind’s ingenuity or just sheer luck I was able to put that thing together without ending up in the ER. Either way, the swing set at the base of our backyard has stood in magnificent pressure treated wooden glory for the past 6 years. It used to be a beacon of recognition to anyone passing by there were kids in this house. Kids who found the utmost pleasure in swinging, climbing, crawling, standing, and pretending on the swing set.
But like the sands of time have eroded the great pyramids at Giza, so too has time been a cruel friend to the kids’ swing set. At one point, the pressure treated wood showed no cracks. The screws were held tightly in place with their exposed heads still shining. The tarp roof was taut. There wasn’t the static electricity of a small substation built up on to the slide yet to hinder a child’s speed. The 3′ tall climbing walls seemed like 30′. Even after my kids spent hours all over the swing set, it showed no signs of age or the ruination only toddlers can put on to anything they get close to.
This was when the girls were young. Their minds much less occupied with the trappings of their lives. They were content with what the swing set offered them. Now, it seems maturity is coming at them with the speed and ferocity of a runaway freight train. There didn’t use to be texting, or Candy Crush, or Instagram selfies. They cared little about mud getting on their sneakers. Their youth thrived on the simple pleasure of climbing a wall, steering a wheel, looking at the house through a periscope and simply swinging.
But youth gives way adolescence. While my kids are in no way “old” their age does not deter them from attempting to portray themselves as much…much older. Adolescence is right around the corner, which means time spent in our backyard has given way to time spent elsewhere.
The swing set in our backyard has felt the ramifications of this new found distaste for what my kids call, “kiddy stuff Dad”. Cracks have shown up in the wood. The metal screws cry out against the aged pressure treated wood they have been screwed in to. Their shine is shadowed by rust. The rafter holding together all of the pieces, like Atlas holding up the Earth, now curves. There are pegs missing from the climbing wall. The green and yellow tarp, once taut, is now in tatters content to flap in the wind. It looks as though the less it has been needed in recent years the more rapidly it has aged.
Yet, when my kids have had the urge to get back on to it, the swing set is there. It creaks a little more than it used to but everything still works. The slide, the climbing wall, and the swings. And for those brief moments my kids forget about how “uncool” they perceive their swing set to be, you can see the joy on their faces.
So I let it go. I was ready to take it apart and donate the pieces to a recycling plant but those rare moments my kids have need for the swing set are enough for me to hold off on my demolition. I’m willing to let time and age run their course because time and age also sparks something else in us. It sparks our need to remember and long for again. So the swing sets sits in our backyard. A little older, a little more torn and a little more worn just waiting for that day when my kids remember they need their swing set.