Where, instead of instructions to keep clean, don’t run, don’t touch it, climb it, or break it, you were urged to “get rid of some of that energy.”
You welcomed this strange, magical kingdom where pint-sized liberty prevailed.
My first playground was three skips across the road from the blue trailer where my parents, two siblings, and I lived. We never lacked playmates, as many other trailers encircling the playground also contained multiple children. Someone was always swinging, pushing the rusty merry-go-round, or up-and-downing on the seesaw. Mothers felt free to let us roam, supervising from yards or windows.
The school playground presented a panorama of new experiences: zooming down a slide that loomed, to my first-grade eyes, tall as the Empire State Building; learning softball rules and spending entire recesses arguing about them; turning 27 nonstop somersaults on the bars.
We played basketball, four-square, hopscotch, tetherball, Red Rover, and at least 17 versions of tag.
Imaginative children found more interesting things to do. One boy used a magnifying glass to set other kids’ coats afire.
How could my classmates and I abandon such a creative atmosphere?
Yet, by middle school, we did. My only venture onto a playground during high school involved my singing buds and I who, having climbed a jungle gym late one night, shared our talent with the neighborhood. Someone called the police.
Perhaps that brush with the law — or the elementary school memory of my smoking coat — discouraged any desire to visit a playground
I did not return until I told my little ones to “get rid of some of that energy.” They never did. I, on the other hand, grabbed children poised to jump off the curly slide, children bent on consuming gravel, and children who shinnied basketball goals and dunked themselves through hoops. For years, the playground served as my gym until I — with my children — once again left it behind.
Years later, our first grandchild reintroduced me. A baby swing swept her into giggly ecstasy. A springy horsie became her best friend. There still was that gravel-eating thing. But our shared delight was so real I hardly noticed my steps didn’t match her sprints.
Our spirits were the same age.
Thanks to my children and their cooperative spouses, playgrounds will remain on my horizons for some time. But even when grandchildren outgrow them, I can savor the life emanating from a nearby grade school. At recess, boys and girls run like hamsters escaped from cages.
There, on the playground, magic reigns once more.
What was your favorite playground activity?