Tuesday, August 19, 2003

This past weekend, the kids and I were playing out in the yard. The littlest one was scooting with difficulty through the grass on a little Radio Flyer trike, absorbing a few lessons about the physics of surface drag. The oldest was wandering around looking sullen.

"We need a swing set out here," I observed.

Oldest gave me a "thank-you-Captain-Obvious" look. "Swings, slide, sandbox, and trapeze."

"Clubhouse," I one-upped.

"Treehouse," she countered.

We do have the perfect, kid-friendly tree in our yard that's been begging for some interaction. "We could hang a rope ladder from that tree, build a platform around the lowest branches, and put a trap-door down to a tire swing…"

I was suddenly caught up in memories of the slapped-together playgrounds of my youth. My dad, who went through disposable cars quicker than a pack of matches (as a form of recreation), would periodically go out into the yard and slap something together for us. He'd hang an old tire from a rope, sling it over a branch, and call it fun. He'd nail some spare lumber to a tree and viola! Fort.

I'm surprised any of us kids survived.

But thinking back made me realize that you didn't necessarily have to buy a swing in order to have one. We just needed some rope.

So we went out and bought rope. Don't judge me. Honestly, if we'd had rope just lying around, we would have used the lying-around rope.

* * *

Step two was to somehow flip one end of the rope over the sturdiest branch. The most favorable branch happened to be 12 feet above us. I looked at Oldest.

"You climb the tree," I told her. "I'll throw this rope up to you, and you'll drop it down over the other side.

"I'll fall," she replied, as if logic were clearly on her side and I should be hauled off to parenting prison for even suggesting it.

"I'll catch you."

"Make the baby do it," she suggested.

The baby looked up hopefully from her struggle with the trike, her eyes alight with the promise of danger. "Ab TEE!" she squealed, which meant: "Give me the rope. I shall hold it thusly between my six teeth whilst I scurry to the top of the tree with the alacrity of a young squirrel. Now move out of my way!"

I looked back at Oldest. "Ascend the tree."

* * *

Rope secured, we had only to invent a seat for our swing. Initially, I entertained the idea of just tying a large knot at seat-level. Mom tested it. Do you have any idea how many muscles it takes to support a grown person's weight dangling from a rope? I will tell you: All of them. One becomes acutely aware of the fact that one is no longer a 52-pound 8-year-old in such a situation.

We scoured the garage and shed for seating materials, all the while I was asserting, "I will NOT purchase a prefab plastic swing seat. I will NOT." Running to the store at this point would have cheapened the whole endeavor. We were engrossed in a real-life learning activity. This was innovation in action. I was teaching my kids to be clever, creative, persistent, and resourceful.

"Look for something we can use for a seat," I told Oldest, all the while thinking that the perfect seat was sitting in a package on a Toys R Us shelf, constructed of molded plastic. In lieu of it, we tried a piece of lumber (the corners were too sharp), a stick (too flimsy), PVC (too slippery), a knotted towel (too droopy), and countless other failed materials.

In the end, resourcefulness paid off. Oldest shouted, "HEY!" from the corner of the garage and I looked up to see her waving a foam "noodle" that we used for swimming. This noodle was firm enough to serve as a support while still providing squishy, butt-hugging comfort.

Now my children can look back fondly on this adventure and tell their children about the swing Mom built.

Noodle-on-a-rope, they'll call it. And their children will cringe.

No comments: