How to Know When It’s Time to Get Rid of the Swing Set

How to Know When It’s Time to Get Rid of the Swing Set

IMG_0016It had been nine years since we moved into our house and acquired the swing set left behind by the previous owners. My son Daniel would climb the stairs and look through the telescope. He would see a pirate ship. A far away galaxy. A dinosaur. He would run into the enclosed “clubhouse” underneath the slide, the sound of the screen door shutting behind him. He would crouch down in a secret spot where he had stored sticks and rocks and grass for the caterpillars he had gathered. My daughter Emily would yell, “higher!” as I pushed her on the swing. Then, she too would climb the ladder and come down the slide, head first.

Today, my children are 13 and 15. Recently, I was passing by the window that overlooks the backyard and the sight of the swing set caught my eye. The last time Emily and Daniel had used it was during the 24-inch snowstorm a couple of years ago, when they went down the slide. I had forgotten it had been so long. Now, aside from when family friends come over with younger children, the swing set is never used. And that realization brings me to an uncomfortable awareness that my children are getting older.

The untouched swing set reminds me of Emily’s dolls that she once loved but then cast aside as she got older. She didn’t give them away at first. She just slowly started to ignore them. Unlike the 20 minutes she would spend each night, laying them in a tidy row on either side of her pillow, leaving a small opening for her head and body to fit.

Maybe it’s time to get rid of the swing set. Put down more grass seed. Make a bigger yard, like we did when we got rid of our experimental vegetable garden. But the swing set is somehow different. It’s a constant reminder of memories. Of teaching Daniel how to pump his legs on the swing and the first time he climbed across the monkey bars. And it’s about the passage of time.

What ever happened to those days, when my kids would spend hours with each other and their friends, running from the swing set to the sidewalk chalk, making a hopscotch board to play on and a “road” on our long driveway, complete with stop signs and arrows to ride their bikes on? And their made up games, with imaginary names and corresponding accents. Running around the yard with lightsabers, pretending to be Jedis. Or yelling, “you’re it!” to start an impromptu game of tag. These days they are busy with their respective sports. I’m either watching Daniel pitch at his baseball game or beside a pool at a swim meet for Emily.

Maybe everyone goes through this. But it comes at a time when I’m not sure. When, only a few months ago Daniel started to not hug me back when I embraced him, leaving his arms at his sides during what I now term our “one-sided hugs.” And yet, a few weeks ago, after years of reading on his own before bed, he asked if I would start reading to him again before he went to sleep. As he rested his head, his hair still wet from his shower, onto my shoulder I read Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince aloud. And I thought about the last time we had done this, years ago, when I had read his old favorites to him, like Giraffes Can’t Dance and Duck for President.

But for now, the swing set sits in the backyard, as if it’s willing my children to come play. A small puddle sits at the bottom of the slide. A result of the April rain. My dog, Tobey, goes over and drinks some water. The bright yellow forsythias and a couple of elm trees frame the playground area, accentuating the natural cedar and the cheerful pop of primary colors.

I know my kids are getting older. And they don’t use the swing set anymore. But, for now, my children are caught in a poised place between childhood and adulthood. And seeing the playground everyday in our backyard is like a photo album, a place to see Emily and Daniel as they once were, as little children playing. Maybe they will go out there during the next snowstorm and go down the slide. Or maybe, just one more time, they will turn themselves around and around on one of the swings, twisting the chain tightly before holding out their arms and letting go.

Randi Olin is an Editor at Brain, Child.

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