Then there was the time when a bunch of us kids tied a rope around the back tire of a bicycle, and tried to pull it to the top of the tall metal slide on the school playground. School was out for the summer, which left the playground open to neighborhood kids (and those, like me, who spent their days at neighborhood daycare in a private home). The slide was a steep, narrow, imposing structure to us, and wouldn’t it be mad fun, we thought, if we could ride a bike down the thing, do a wheelie at the bottom and, who knows, maybe even survive!
I volunteered to make the maiden trip because I was bright like that, leaving only the single problem of hauling that bike up to the peak. We’d tug the thing about halfway up, and then it would flop sideways off the slide and just swing from the rope, like it had been executed. Then, one of our number had the idea of pushing the bike up the slide on one end while the rest of us continued tugging on the rope to pull it up from the other end. He slipped (a metal slide is very slick), and fell down the slide but not before instinctively grabbing onto the bike and pulling it down on top of him. It was a spectacular crash, and we all congratulated him and said we wished we could watch the masterpiece again in slow motion. I think he was proud of his accomplishment. We were happy for him. You’d think that would’ve been enough of a day’s work for us, but we had not yet exhausted our imaginations.
Next, we tried pulling the bike up the steep ladder at the back of the slide, going so far as to station a few of us on the rungs to help hoist the stupid thing up to the top so I could finally see whether I could ride it down the slide without breaking my fool neck (my Mom is going to kill me when she reads this). But we were tired by this time. Or maybe the rope slipped. Whatever the cause, the bike came crashing to the ground, twisted like a pretzel, the front tire busted. We had rendered the bike unridable without ever having ridden it!
So we retired to the swings, where we would see who could swing the highest. There is a point at which the swing goes higher than the bar to which it is attached, and in that instant when the usually taut chains go slack, we felt the exhilaration of defying physics for just a moment. Then there were the jumps. One was for height, where we would bail out of the swing at it’s highest point and try, with sporadic success, to land right side up. The other was for distance, where we would leave the swing at the point of greatest forward momentum to see how much real estate we could sail over before touching earth again.
Then, tired and content, we would leisurely swing back and forth, talking, telling stories, arguing and laughing, making the sort of memories that will have us chuckling from our rocking chairs. How happy are those snapshots and re-runs from childhood. How they enliven the spirit with memories of chances taken, lessons learned, and little fears conquered. How tranquil! How carefree! And how utterly lacking in the latest standards of excitement avoidance! “…[I]t’s just really a safety issue, swings have been determined to be the most unsafe of all playground equipment on a playground,” said Steve Aagard of the Richland County School District in Washington state.
Thus, Richland School District is removing all of the swings from school property. Digging a bit deeper, as blogger Amy Graff has done, we see that the school district is under pressure from the insurance industry, which is evidently under pressure from lawsuit-happy parents. The same thing is happening in West Virginia, where one county tried to yank the swings out of the ground after a child leaped off the swing like Superman and broke his arm, whereupon his family received a $20,000 settlement, and they all litigated happily ever after.
But you can’t child-proof children, and you can’t knucklehead-proof young boys. I remember a youngster who lived around the corner in Baton Rouge who was convinced he could fly like a superhero. To prove the point, he climbed a tree in his parents’ yard, spread his wings and jumped with all the faith of Wile E. Coyote trying out the latest Acme gear. He broke both wings of course, but he lived. My father used to tell me about a kid he knew long ago who was convinced that if he said the magic word, “Samazza!” he would be able to run through walls. It didn’t work out as he planned, but I don’t think his parents sued the people who made the brick wall he used to rearrange his face. And when we weren’t making ourselves dizzy with our own stupidity on the swings at McCaysville Elementary, a north Georgia school which was perched way up on top of a hill overlooking the town, we were literally running as fast as we could and jumping off that hill to see how far we could soar without breaking something.
It seems, however, that this business of risk aversion only goes so far. Allow a kid access to a swing set and you’ve cavalierly dropped him off at the corner of Calamity and Catastrophe, where mortal danger lurks just beyond the merry-go-round and the Grim Reaper waits at the other end of the see-saw. On the other hand, releasing over 36,000 criminal aliens (with 87,818 combined convictions) awaiting deportation proceedings into those children’s neighborhoods and you’ve either lovingly answered the clarion call for diversity and tolerance, or more likely, you’ve fallen off that magisterial playground slide and landed on your head.
Either way, ours is now a country in which children are protected from swing sets but not from third world mayhem, where Michelle Obama keeps the kiddos healthy by telling them what to eat and how much, even as her husband, like the proprietor of Motel 6, leaves America’s light on for a procession of illnesses brought by illegal minors and dispersed across the country at your expense. What exactly do you call a mentality that makes playgrounds so safe, to use Ms. Graff’s words, “…that moms and dads can comfortably talk on their cell phones while their kids run amok,” yet leaves the southern border supremely vulnerable to gangs, disease and terrorists alike? I’m not sure, but it makes yelling “Samazza!” and then running face-first into a brick wall seem positively brilliant by comparison.