It Don’t Mean a Thing When the Kids Want to Swing


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.

There are 18 comments.

  1. Member

    Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently motivated fool. Just imagine the lengths (and distance from supervision) kids will have to go to in order to hurt themselves now. At least with schoolyard swing sets we knew where and how it happened.

    • #1
    • October 9, 2014 at 5:10 pm
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  2. Inactive

    Oh, Dave. It’s a beautiful piece, but it drives me to despair.

    • #2
    • October 9, 2014 at 5:37 pm
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  3. Member

    My brother at age 8 was jumping off the garage roof, so my little sister, age 3 and me age 6, did as well. We lived without anything broken but little sister with a bitten tongue tattled on us. Wonder how many law suits will be brought against Obama for his failure to protect the people of this country. Why hasn’t someone already filed a suit, because he did take an oath?

    • #3
    • October 9, 2014 at 5:46 pm
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  4. Inactive

    Having grown up with a survival of the fittest school play yard with swings with wooden seats held on with chains and old-school monkey bars perched over gravel, and finger amputating see-saws I have up close and personal experience with the injuries play equipment can inflict

    Regrettably like a pendulum we’ve swung to the other extreme, passing the midpoint at maximum velocity.

    Taking down swings with those wimpy rubber seats (that you can’t stand up on properly) seems excessive, but if I were a taxpayer I wouldn’t want to be on the hook for the bills.

    • #4
    • October 9, 2014 at 7:00 pm
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  5. Member

    As ever, Dave, saucy and sweet all at once…Remind me to tell you the one about the sister [aged 7] playing catch-up with the manual wheelchair on the sidewalk – while its occupant [aged 8] had/needed no seat belt (and both lived to tell the tale). Ahh, freedom!

    • #5
    • October 9, 2014 at 7:10 pm
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  6. Thatcher

    We have a very long and steep hill about a block from where I grew up. We would, on occasion, hike up that hill carrying any sort of wheeled vehicle. Big wheels (remember those?), bicycles, skateboards roller skates and the like were held, mounted, and then released with their rider, to the will of gravity.

    My cousin owned a Knight Rider big wheel with the special skid out hand break that allowed you to fishtail in your parent’s driveway or nearly any surface that was smooth enough to ride on. Imagine that hand brake getting pulled halfway down a 30% grade, 1/4 mile long hill, headed towards the blind 4 way stop at the bottom. It brings new meaning to the term vertigo.

    Those were the days.

    • #6
    • October 9, 2014 at 7:49 pm
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  7. Member

    Ah, but swings are not the only dangers children face on the playground.

    • #7
    • October 9, 2014 at 8:32 pm
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  8. Coolidge

    Oh Dave. My 6 sibs grew up as you did. Free. There were some serious scrapes and fingers with shrapnel. Loosened teeth. But like you – we made it and are the resilient, crazy clan we are today because of it.

    BUT: The threat to our safety due to the border/disease crisis is something we never experienced. Our scientist son is encouraging family and friends to get ready. It’s only a matter of time. It’s time to store food, water and prescription drugs for what he fears is the coming crisis of Ebola shutting down communities with panic and quarantines. He prays he’s wrong. But we’re all preparing.

    • #8
    • October 9, 2014 at 8:32 pm
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  9. Thatcher

    Honestly, if this sort of thing was motivated by a desire to protect children, I would be much more sympathetic to such efforts, even if wrongheaded. I haven’t embraced the “It Takes a Villiage“ mindset, but I think we all have an obligation to protect children from themselves. Being imperfect, some of us will take that obligation too far, and others not far enough, but the most important thing is that we accept the obligation.

    Unfortunately, the inclination toward such sillyness is more often an effort to limit tortious liability than to protect, and it’s not limited to children. This is one example of the main reason why I think the courts are the most dangerous branch of government. If the legislature passes a bad or unjust law, it’s explicit and people know about it. If law enforcement oversteps its bounds, we read about it in the paper. If judges allow people to be sued because kids do stupid things, each injustice has the appearance of justice, even while degrading liberty. It’s subtle, insidious, and distructive.

    • #9
    • October 9, 2014 at 8:46 pm
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  10. Coolidge

    Ah, the good old days. And good (freedom!) they were.

    The child-proofing industry (read: government/the ABA) has evolved into t’weens, then teenagers, and now adults. Cars these days are loaded with ‘safety systems.’ The more they add, the less aware we become about what is around us. We’re relying too heavily on technology to think and act for us when we should be paying more attention to the act of driving and everything that entails. Some say people drove more safely in the days when a baby sat on mom’s lap while dad drove. (Somehow we made it home from the hospital just fine.) We also used our common sense with respect to poisons, etc., and kept them out of harm’s way. Those things cost less back then; we didn’t have to pay for someone else’s stupidity which resulted in lawsuits, labeling, etc.

    The cost of raising a child these days which includes so many gov’t-mandated ‘stuff’ is mind boggling.

    And now swings. Good grief. My father (engineer) made a terrific rope swing between two trees (an architectural wonder) that swung out over the alley. One could get much momentum by standing on the board seat – enough to nearly reach the neighbor’s back yard across from ours. That swing (and the several pairs of stilts he made – again engineering-ly perfect) made our big backyard the most popular in the neighborhood. Scrapes and bruises -and one friend’s broken arm – yes, but that’s what childhood is.

    • #10
    • October 9, 2014 at 8:52 pm
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  11. Coolidge

    I forgot about the great fun we’d have at my aunt and uncle’s farm. My cousins were the same age as my brother and I so the four of us would take turns rolling down hill in the inside of a tractor inner tube. Not an easy thing to do. One of the other fun things was in the barn where my uncle would leave a big pile of straw on the main floor. We would climb to the top of the barn by using the hay bales, then run along the rafters and jump that distance down into the straw.

    Those were only two of the antics. Such fun to be a child pre-helmet days.

    Saw a toddler on a tricycle in her driveway – flat and opened into the end of a rarely-used cul-de-sac. She was wearing a helmet. I almost started to cry at that sight…

    • #11
    • October 9, 2014 at 9:16 pm
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  12. Inactive

    Was looking over the mishaps of childrens’ cousins, coming up blank with stuff… until I ran into the cousins who is the child of divorce.

    His father accuses his mother of causing stuff that’s on video as being there when he’s handed over at the police station, and tried to get custody shifted over him tripping on the playground and knocking out his own teeth.

    “Psychotic blankers who care not for the kid but lots for harming the custodial parent” probably counts for a lot….

    • #12
    • October 9, 2014 at 9:40 pm
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  13. Member

    I am so glad I was a child in the 1950s and 1960s. I feel sorry for my future grandchildren. (Or perhaps more for my children if they try to allow their kids the type of childhood I had and Quilter and I allowed our children to have.)


    • #13
    • October 10, 2014 at 6:21 am
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  14. Member

    I grew up on a farm, in the 70s. I had a tire on a rope hung from a tree branch, and the machinery in the grove. My dad eventually put up a swingset, but I probably logged more hours on (and in) the combine and the corn picker.

    • #14
    • October 10, 2014 at 7:31 am
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  15. Member

    “… you can’t child-proof children, …”

    If you build an idiot-proof device, someone will build a better idiot.

    • #15
    • October 10, 2014 at 9:36 am
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  16. Inactive


    Did you ever use waxed paper on that big slide? On a warm day we could really get that thing polished and slick. I always preferred Waxtex brand as the best.

    • #16
    • October 10, 2014 at 7:16 pm
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  17. Member

    Dave, you and Papa Toad would’ve been friends as boys. Maybe he could show you some of his scars sometime… I mostly learned from not doing what damaged my older siblings, so I don’t have as good stories…

    Here at Toad Hall, we have a big maple tree out front with two wooden swings. One is right near some large rocks, and careless swingers discover what happens when they and the rock collide. It teaches care pretty well.

    My tadpoles like to fly about on our swings at about 8:15 am, just about the time the other kids are being picked up by the schoolbus.

    I weep for the children who get 15 minute recesses in our school district.


    • #17
    • October 11, 2014 at 10:37 am
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  18. Reagan

    My wife loved this…. and she broke her arm as a girl when she jumped off a swing.

    • #18
    • October 11, 2014 at 8:07 pm
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