Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Playing ain't what it used to be

Do you know what would be a cool job? Designing children's play equipment. See, from what I was able to dredge out of my ancient brain, when I was a kid, a jungle gym was a jungle gym. You had your basic monkey bars, a slide or two and that was it. If it was a good park, there might be some swings or perhaps you'd hit the jackpot and there would be a tire swing.

It is my personal opinion that all the tire swings are now gone from the world because a park designer actually witnessed them being used once. This then caused that person to say "Holy crap, what were we thinking?!?!?!?"

Tire swings were one of the most deadly things ever invented and marketed toward children. I don't know what you did on a tire swing when you were a kid, but I know that I would pile on it with a whole bunch of other kids, WAY more than the recommended number, which I believe might have been three, and some big huge kid in junior high that was technically too old to be getting his jollies at a park anyway would push the big ol' hog pile of kids up into the stratosphere. Whoever was the littlest on the swing would get scared and start crying, which always made the big kid push harder. This continued until somebody fell off and bit it in the sawdust or little pebbles or whatever else they thought would be a "safe" landing zone for little kids being launched at a velocity of 238 miles an hour off of a tire swing.

It always ended in blood. And not once did it ever occur to us not to get on the damn thing, because hey, everyone else was doing it and didn't it look like so much fun? So I'm very glad that I've never seen one in all the parks I've ever taken my son to.

So clearly, somebody came through in the past 15-20 years since I was a kid and remodeled all the parks to take out the death traps for children and replace them with newfangled high tech, specially enginerered developmentally formulated fancy play equipment 3000.

The stuff they have at parks these days is beyond anything my poor little raised in the '80s mind could possibly dream of. There are bridge and weird step things, and seesaws that are fun without being launch pads for the smaller child. There are 543 kinds of slides and 83,434 things for kids to climb up and on. And somehow, they've kept the fear of death right there on the surface of the equipment (because that's what little kids want when they go to the park, right?) but taken the actual RISK of death down to a reasonable .5 percent or so. I mean, nothing is perfectly safe, and you have to just assume that if your 2-year-old is playing too close to a snarky 7-year-old that pushing could happen at any moment. But seriously, they guard rails are better, the materials are better (no more splinters from wooden equimpent, or burns from metal slides) and the creativity is better.

All this stems from my taking Ben to a park in Renton that I used to go to as a child and being bowled over at what has been done with the place since I was last there. They had two play structures, one that was labeled "Appropriate for children ages 2-5" and another that was labeled "Appropriate for ages 6-12."

Want to guess which one Ben wanted to play on? Thankfully, it was during school, so there were no actual 6-12 year olds to mow him down, but I was up there with him, standing behind him every step of the way, because there was some scary looking stuff up there and I didn't know what to expect. My child has been known to pull a "Chuckie" every once in awhile, and I figured I should be around to help him find his way down.

To his credit, he was amazingly brave. The thing that struck me the most about this play structure was they had a place up high where there were some stairs that had gaps in between them. You could see ALL THE WAY DOWN and of course the gaps were small enough that the worst that could happen is Ben's foot could get caught or maybe he might fall all the way to his waist. That would take some effort though. But to my toddler, it looked like THE BIGGEST SCARIEST THING HE'D EVER SEEN!!!!

He had both hands superglued to the vertical handrailing (like crib bars) as he carefully placed one foot on the first step. I verbally coached him through it, telling him to move his hands to the next blue bar while putting his foot on the next step. There were six total steps and when he made it to the top without my having to help or even hold his hand, I gave him like 20 highfives and a big hug and told him how proud I was. He was beaming.

And then I cried because I know it's moments like these that I'll think back to when he's adjusting his tie on his wedding day and asking me how he looks. The answer?

Absolutely perfect.

(boy, this post ended up in a completely different place than it started out, huh?)


Jessi said...

Sweet post. :-)
When are you coming back up here so we can go to the kid's museum?
And did you not see the tire swing at the Everett park? Or are you talking about a different kind?

thesynergizer said...

uh, i don't remember a tire swing, but maybe there was one. honestly, i can't remember either way at this point. i got your message and was going to call you back in like, uh, 8 minutes. i probably still will :-)

and thanks :-)

Jessi said...

Oh yeah, there was a tire swing. I love them. I even played on it a bit. And you did not call. It's OK, though, you can catch me later.

thesynergizer said...

yes. that is because i apparently suck! no, it's because ben woke up with a poopy diaper and we had to put him back to bed AGAIN!!!!


i'm assuming now is too late, yes?

*Kate said...

Cute post. There are tire swings all over in the parks here. But all-in-all they are so much safer than when I was a kid. Which part of me kind of bawks at. It takes out the whole process of natural selection. :P

Easy enough to say when I have a pretty not-brave child who mostly wants to stick by my side.

thesynergizer said...

yeah, hardy har har. says the mom of a kid who would walk right off the edge of a cliff and not even blink.