Wednesday, July 21, 2010


My childhood swing was so simplistic, so very elemental in design, that at first glance it was almost insulting to kids who'd frequented playgrounds and fancy backyard sets. Merely a huge, long strand of woven white synthetic-fiber rope about as thick as a peeled banana, hanging from a tree that happened to perch on the top of a downward slope—that's all it was. There wasn't even a seat, just a large, hand-tied loop at the bottom. To sit in that loop for long was painful; when sporting bare summer legs, one had to keep the rope placed securely underneath the seat of one's shorts or risk severe rope-burn.

Many of my friends looked utterly unimpressed when I'd hurry them out to the swing. "Come on, we'll play on the rope swing!" I'd holler. They'd survey the boring thing with undisguised ennui. And then? I'd show them the ropes, so to speak. I'd do a few practice swings out over that steep precipice, demonstrating the wonders of the rope, how a running start was essential; I'd hurl myself into space and spin madly, all while dangling over the small, grassy cliff that ended in our garden far below. Then, my friend would be hooked. She had to try it. All children did, boys too—family friends, neighbor kids, every one was eager to give the swing a "whirl" after witnessing the awesome acrobatic possibilities hidden therein.

You see, it wasn't just a frontwards/backwards swing. Because of the tree's strategic location by that hillside, and because of the length of the rope and my father's safely hanging it far from the tree base, the arc of the swing covered a huge amount of space. A determined child could start on one side of the tree, some distance from the trunk, and then swing out and away from the hillside's edge before landing clear on the other side of the tree. (That poor tree. It's still there today, and it seems to be making a comeback, but for years the thing looked pitiful and sickly, its roots exposed by hundreds of footsteps pounding across, a permanent scar in the large branch that held the knotted rope through my youth and beyond. Talk about a giving tree...)

At one point, a looooooooong time ago, I distinctly recall managing eight spins as I flew from one side of the tree to the other. That was only after I'd bashed into the tree many times, of course; sticking the landing was quite challenging, especially since the ground was roughed up and uneven and you were usually coming out of dizzying rotation as you attempted to find the earth unseen with your feet.

I couldn't tell you the hours I spent under that tree. What memories: spinning on the swing, lazily riding it out over the garden, climbing the tree, falling out of the tree, watching my sisters try stunts, watching one sister fall gracelessly into the garden when the rope gave way one day without notice... Ah, such fun—especially when injuries are involved. (No worries: my sis and I both came out of our experiences without a broken bone or internal bleeding.)

I learn, more and more, that commonplace pleasures are the finest; the joys they bring are irreplaceable. I'll never remember playing a computer game with the same fondness that I recall hanging onto that rope and flinging my body around the shady boundaries of that old maple. Swinging ropes, Play-doh, crayons, sandboxes, blocks, and the more grown-up versions of those pastimes will always rule in my world.


Cari Skuse said...

I loved this post. Reminds me of when I was a kid and spent all summer outside. No TV. Only what I could do outside.
I've tried to get my kids to be like this, but it seems that kids these days don't have the imagination like we did. Must be due to the brain-deadening from all this technology.
I do make them spend as much time outside as they do inside playing video games and TV. But is that enough?

Mel said...

hey Cari--thanks! I know what you mean... I often call my boy a "hothouse flower" b/c he prefers the house a lot of the time... but I drag him out, and if I play with him then he enjoys being outside. sometimes he'll find something to do by himself and then he has a great time and never thinks about being indoors. but it's a challenge. and we don't even have cable!!! no Wii, either!!! no PlayStation! boy, the future is looking rather grim as soon as he finds out the rest of the world is connected and we're trying to replicate Sticksville... oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

I don't know whether equal amounts of time in and out are enough for a balance--sounds like it. maybe it depends on the kid? what the activities in each place are? like, being outside doesn't count if you're lounging on a chair texting someone? and time inside is still good if it's reading or building something? I dunno. I wish this parenting thing were easier. I won't know whether I've screwed up royally until it's too late!!!!!!!!!!