Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Why Swingset?

When I was about 4 years old – and my sister C was about 3 - we did something that made my Mom angry. I don’t remember what it was we did – but I’m sure I was the instigator. My sister had that blind hero worship kind of love that younger toddlers will have for their older siblings – so she willingly went along with anything (well almost anything) I initiated.

When we were growing up, C would do most anything I asked. One time she even ate leaves for me. We grew up in a blue collar neighborhood in central New Jersey in the 60’s – where you could roam from yard to yard or just play in the street with packs of kids all day. Once when we were a few years older (maybe I was 9 and she 7) we were in our next door neighbor’s yard hanging out with about a dozen other kids during summer vacation and a bragging contest began. It became a contest about whose brother/sister would [ fill in the blank ] ! “Oh yeah? “, I said, “Well MY sister will eat a leaf off that tree!” It was a maple tree. I picked a leaf off of a branch and handed it to her. She stuffed it in her mouth, chewed it right up, and smiled.

So back to that day when I was 4 and C was 2. When our mom started hollering at us we tore out the back door, raced to the swing set, and each hopped on a swing. I told C we had to swing as fast as we could to get far enough away from our mom so she couldn’t catch us! We swung fast. We swung with all our might! I don’t remember what happened after that – the memory ends with feeling the urgency to get away as fast as I could pump.

As an adult, a few months after I left my first husband, I had a dream about swinging. In the dream the seat of the swing was made of a wooden board that was attached to two ropes – which were suspended from a branch of a tall tree. The tree was growing beside a chain link fence. I was standing up on the seat of the swing with each hand grasping the rope. And I was swinging back and forth along side of the fence with all my might. In the dream I could feel the wind blowing my hair and my dress back as I swung forward hard – pushing down with all my weight – and then using that weight to fight gravity so I could swing up as high as possible before I began my descent again. Then I would reverse and throw my weight back down again – and the wind would blow my hair forward around my face as I swung backwards. I was laughing and shouting as I swung back and forth against the fence. Then I started using that fence as a spring board of sorts – when I would reach the highest point of the arc I would stick out a foot and push off the fence to propel myself down even faster – to reach even higher on the other side of the arc. I could hear the metal fence rattle as I kicked off it each time. That’s all I remembered about the dream when I woke up – but I still feel the wind and motion and the freedom and the exhilaration of swinging back and forth as hard and as fast as I could.

Last summer I was sitting outside on a warm evening and watching my children race down the street with their friends. They were running just for the pleasure of running. They were laughing out loud and shouting just for the pleasure of raising their voices. As I watched them I started thinking about childhood. Although I do have some good childhood memories – they are mostly isolated memories. I’d have to say that much of my childhood was less than idyllic. I started thinking about what childhood should be like – which led to the thought – if I were to come up with a word or two that could describe what I felt childhood should be like what would that word be?

For me – it would be “swing set.” For the child in me, swing set means joy and thrill and the kind of immortality that can only be felt by a happy child. I might not have felt this as a child – but I realized that “swing set” has meaning for me as an adult. For the adult in me, swing set still means joy and thrill. But it also means freedom, and the type of happiness that comes from propelling yourself forward with your own strength.

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