Schoolyard playgrounds used to be dangerous places. The key words there are “used,” “to,” and “be.” I’m a believer that the higher the danger levels on a playground, the higher the coolness factor.
Over the Christmas holidays I visited my parents in Ohio where I grew up. During one of my trips out into the frozen tundra, I stopped by my old elementary school. I hadn’t been on the premises in over fourteen years and truth be told, had no desire to go; however, I had my girlfriend with me and she has mastered the art of getting me to do things that I really don’t want to do. As I got out of the car and braved the snow, I noticed something truly horrific. All of the old playground equipment that I had spent six years of my life climbing up, falling off, climbing up a second time, falling off again, and subsequently hurting myself on, had been torn down and replaced by brightly colored, child-proof plastic eyesores.
I had not prepared myself for a change of this magnitude. I stood in shock while I gazed out over an alien land of snow-covered plastic. At some point in the last fourteen years, everything that I once knew had disappeared. I felt as though I had lost a part of my childhood. After all, this was the place where I’d had my first meaningful conversation with a female, it was the site of a football’s first encounter with my groin, and above all, it was the location where I was first punched in the face by a bully. Somewhere out there, a tooth of mine lay deep within the soil.
Looking back, I remember recess as a time of freedom and unpredictability, though more often than not, it was also a time of unbridled violence. You never knew exactly what was going to happen but undoubtedly, someone would do something stupid and get hurt. As kids we spent our time trying to burn off our excess energy by running, climbing, and falling, all while trying to avoid the playground attendant who, if I remember correctly, looked eerily similar to the Bride of Frankenstein. During my time as a student there, I saw many of my peers succumb to the evils of the equipment. It was commonplace for someone to bust their head open on a merry-go-round or nose-dive off the side of a slide and end up unconscious. I suppose it’s kind of like being in a war and you just get used to the carnage after a while. As the old memories flooded over me, I couldn’t help but feel bad for anyone who was currently a student there. With a playground like the fluorescent one I saw, I had no doubts that their recess time was boring and uneventful. The experiences I’d had on that playground helped shape me into who I am today… and caused most of the scars found on my body.
I felt sorry for the current student body as by no fault of their own, they were doomed to grow up in a time where children are coddled and live inside a constant bubble of safety. I felt remorseful that they would never know what it was like to take a ride on a tire swing hanging from rusted chains that would snap if you piled on too many buddies and gained too much velocity. I was saddened that they were never going to experience the joy of an aluminum slide that would heat up in the summer, causing your skin to fuse itself to the metal, and leaving a trail of blood and sizzling meat behind as you slid down. I was regretful that they would never swing from the monkey bars that stood ten feet off the ground, giving concussions to all those who attempted to cross and failed. I was disappointed at the fact that they would never find themselves on a rotted seesaw that without warning would break into two pieces, causing them and a friend to simultaneously break their tail bones in three places. I was mournful that they would never feel the freedom of jumping off a swing and having their shirt get stuck in the chain, ripping it clean off their bodies in mid flight. Above all, I was heavyhearted that they would never know the feeling of having a shirtless friend land on them after jumping off that same swing.