"A grownup is a child with layers on." ~Woody Harrelson
We had a beautiful day pop up on us this week. It was so wonderful. The sun’s rays were strong and the breeze was warm. The first bees of the season were hovering slowly as if they were even startled from their slumber by the excellent surprise. The birds were chirping loudly and hopping around the wooded area among the remnants of winter and the crunchy brown leaves that littered the ground. The air was filled the bitter smell of those initial Bradford Pear blooms speckling the branches of the trees as if painted in water colors by hand in hues of whites and pales greens.
I took to my patio in the backyard that was still unprepared to host anyone in a welcoming a manner. This was evident in the clutter gathered on the bricks beneath the patio furniture, the lack of mulch to hug the shrubbery and the chairs that were begging for me to get the hose and scrub them. I decided to look beyond the patio’s rejection of springtime and just enjoy the day.
Son #3 and Daughter were playing the backyard. They were bouncing on the giant trampoline in the corner of the backyard. They would shriek and laugh – as one of the two shot the other up into the air reminiscent of the giant popcorn machines at a long ago movie theater. “Mom, watch.” “Mom, watch again.” “Mom are you watching?”
I was trying to watch but I was sucked away. Drawn back into a time in my thoughts that was so pleasant I wished I could climb inside my own mind – fold myself up if you will- until I had turned myself completely inside that memory – enveloped in the grandeur of that time – a time that I didn’t realize until that moment in the sunshine how much I desperately missed it.
When I was a child, my father assembled a swing set in our backyard. That first country house was constructed on a lovely acre. An acre of wide open land that would eventually be home to my mother’s lush summer vegetable garden and crystal clear and crisp pool of water reflecting the turquoise and royal blue liner within it.
But prior to those things – before there was anything else – there was my swing set. Actually there would eventually be two. One was more of a jungle gym with rings and monkey bars, a climbing rope and trapeze bar. That was the home of my grand circus tricks. The imagination of a little girl who would go outside and pretend she was a lone traveling circus entertaining her audience with all sorts of death defying feats on her jungle gym. Eventually I would tire of my show and spend time on the swing set that sat beside it.
Swinging. My very favorite thing to do. Ever. Nothing more relaxing. Nothing more enjoyable. I could do it for hours every day. In fact, I did. Every day.
First thing in the morning when the dew was still wet clinging to the grass and the wind was still chilly. Those mornings I didn’t want to be barefoot or wear my white tennis shoes – my feet would collect the moisture and then when I grabbed the chains of my swing, I would find my feet in the dirt well beneath my swing. You remember the dirt well? The place that you wore the grass away as you pushed yourself with your toes beginning that first flight into the air. Then the place where you dragged your feet violently attempting to slow yourself to a stop to come in for a landing. I would swing until my stomach told me that it was lunchtime.
Later in the afternoon, I would return to my swing. Usually barefoot now – hopping to avoid the white clovers that the bumblebees sat upon. It is at this time that it would be the hottest point of the day – no trees around to shade my swing and the direct sun would usually send me into the house to invite a Popsicle out to the swing with me. Sometimes Mom would buy the GIANT popsicles with the double sticks from the bottom. Lime green or grape? If only they were the smaller ones I could have one of each. Or if they were Flav-a-Pops – I would choose the blue every time.
The windows were open in the back of our house and though there seemed to be a great distance between that house and my swing – the wind would carry the smell of dinner from the kitchen down to me. I could smell the spaghetti sauce, or the fried shrimp weaving its way to my nostrils alerting me that it was time go inside to get ready to eat. It was then only that I would notice that hours had passed.
After a family dinner – I returned to my swing. Honestly – THIS was favorite swinging time. The coolness of the evening was setting in with the exit of the bright sun. In the wide open country the sky was magnificent. The clouds seemed to melt into each other and ribbons of pink swirled amongst. The bunnies would hop out in their predictable spots looking for that clover that the bumblebees enjoyed in the afternoon. I would swing into the darkness.
Swinging at dark. I remember pushing the limits of how long I could stay out. I would see the motions of my mother within the house that was now lit with the cozy lamplight glowing from each of the open screens. As I would see her image walk near a window – I would wonder if this would be the beckoning call to come in for a bath. Each time would heighten my sense of resistance and when she would walk away from the window my sense of relief.
Though spring and summer were my favorite swinging times, I would swing all year long. Fall and winter as well. There wasn’t much that kept me from my swing. It was my favorite thing hands down. As many toys as I had – swinging was the best. What I have not told you was while I would swing for those hours – I sang. I sang and I sang and I sang. I would sing softly if the neighbors appeared to be aware – I would singly loudly with abandon if I thought no one was watching. I would sing all sorts of songs. Mostly songs off of the album collection that my mother and father had attained. Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline or Cracklin’ Rosie. America’s Muskrat Love. The soothing songs of my swing.
As I grew older, I would still swing. It never got old. I never out grew it. It was still my most peaceful escape. Swing and sing. Sing and swing.
When I was 15, we moved. We sold that house on my perfect acre with the open sky and left my swing sets in the corner of the yard beside the shed that my father and grandfather had built to house the tractor that cut that lawn. The tractor that once my father had let me drive and I managed to crash into my swing set. Buckling its precious metal. But Dad had managed to fix it pretty well.
We moved to a home on 12 acres. Mostly wooded. A deep grand ravine with a creek. It sat at the end of the court – a sweet little cul-de-sac. The house sat back away from the street – she was lovely indeed. But there was no swing set. I remember the new backyard. It was bare. No summer garden. No shed – because the new house had a garage.
Eventually my grandparents purchased a swing for our front porch. It was superb. Swinging had been sorely missed and I was thankful for the ability to gently rock back and forth into the outdoor again. This time I usually sat with headphones of a Walkman and sang songs off of Casey Casem’s Top 40.
I couldn’t swing fast. I couldn’t swing high. I couldn’t pump my legs and rock my shoulders clenching those chains. I couldn't feel the tickle in my stomach as I fell backwards. I couldn’t wait just for that perfect moment when all the planets in the universe would align and tell me it was the moment that I should jump from that swing as high as I could legs outstretched pointing for the ground.
Nope. I suppose every one may have believed I was too old for that. Not me. I believe if I had still had a swing set – I would still be swinging and singing in the dramatic fashion I had accustomed myself. But now as a teen, I would push the swing ever so carefully with the tips of my toes – as there was no dirt well; just the concrete of the porch. I sat on the porch swing after many dates. I spent evenings on it laughing – sometimes crying. My favorite memory of that porch swing? Well that’s easy…
My grandmother was a great friend of mine. We were very close. In a fairly dysfunctional way actually. But anyhow – they were visiting one evening. A weekend evening. I had a date. I was waiting for him to pick me up. So Grandmommy and I sat on the porch swing as we waited for my date to climb the long driveway. As we sat swinging and waiting – I told her how incredibly handsome this boy was. Like the most perfect specimen of the male species that one could ever imagine.
And he was. Perfection. He lived alone with his father in a beach community as his parents had divorced. His dad drove a motorcycle and Paul liked those too but he didn’t drive one. Well not yet. His skin was deeply tanned and his brown hair had highlighted streaks that accented the twinkle in those royal blue eyes. The dimples acted as exclamation points on either side of the pearly white teeth that reflected the tan skin and seemed to perfectly match the whites of his eyes. He was a dream. He was big into working out though he was not known as a huge athlete and was inclined to show up wearing a tight navy blue or black t-shirt that hugged his arms and chest showing off the taper of his waist that would then draw attention to the Levi jeans. Yes – that was Paul. And as handsome as he was – was as kind as he was. He was shy with an entertaining sense of humor. It was our first date though we had spent hours talking on the phone for a few weeks.
After I finished telling my grandmother my story about Paul – I could hear the kick of the gravel and an engine in the driveway. As Paul climbed out of the car to come to the house to meet my folks, my grandmother got a good long look at Paul. Without missing a beat, she squeezed my knee and through closed teeth quietly said, “Ohhhhhh. Myyyyyyyyyy. Gaaaaawwwwwdddd.” I turned to her with a smile and a nod. She whispered, “You are going to have beautiful babies one day when you're married.” We giggled.
Paul and I dated ever so briefly. Things just didn’t work out. Not sure why. We still talked on the phone though. Had nice conversations for years. Every now and then we would talk about going out again but it never came to fruition. A few years ago, a friend told me that he had passed away in his sleep in his later 30s. I never forgot about Paul. Or that swing. Or that night with my grandmother.
Eventually I married and started my own family and my mom and dad sold their home and moved closer to us. They brought that porch swing and hung it under their deck in their backyard. I spent many an evening on that same porch swing with my babies…
My husband and I bought a home on an acre. It was our first home. We had our first child. The spring after he was born, my dad and my husband built one of the new wooden kinds of swing sets. It was just before Easter. We had not decorated much inside the house. Barely any curtains hung or paint on the walls. But there would be a swing set ready for the spring. For me. For Son #1. For any other’s that would follow.
When we designed the swing set, I requested a “family” swing. It was just like a porch swing but it would hang on the swing set. Beside the slide – on the other side of the Rocket Rider. Those spring days with Son #1 under the age of one – quickly set the precedent for all of the years to come. We swang.
We swang in the morning in the coolness of the air before his first nap of the day. We swang in the afternoon before the 2nd nap of the day. And we always swang as a family in the evening after dinner. My husband had joined my swinging club. I had let him in. Into that very special world….
I would teach Son #1 the Smokey the Bear Song that I sang in my childhood. It was a little 45 record that I collected…
“With a ranger’s hat and shovel and a pair of dungarees –
You will find him in the forest, always sniffin’ at the breeze-
People stop and pay attention, when he tells them to beware –
Cause everybody knows that he’s the fire prevention bear –
Smokey the Bear
Smokey the Bear
Prowlin' and a growlin’ and a sniffin’
The air –
He can fight a fire- before it starts to flame –
That’s why they called him Smokey –
That was how he got his name.”
Son #1 and I taught that song to Son #2 when he was born one year later. But Son #2 preferred a different song –
“Oh I like Red, it’s the color of an apple
Orange, it’s the color of an orange-
Yellow, it’s a lemon and our wonderful sun, sun, sun,
Green, it s the color of the trees and all the things that grow-
And then there’s blue for the sky and
Purple is the color that‘s fun, fun, fun
But when we put those colors side by side
Well what do you think we’ve done?
We’ve made a rainbow and it’s a really beautiful one.”
The evenings were spent with Son #2 on my lap, husband beside me with Son #1 on his lap. We talked about the day and how we ended each one. Eventually Son #3 would make his way into the world and it would be time to move to a bigger home.
So we moved. The kids wanted to take the swing set. I wanted to take the swing set. I was saying good bye to another one. Another memory bank filled with so many flights…
But we didn’t. The family moving in had young children. They would sing their own songs and make their own memories. My husband promised to build another at the new house.
And he did. Again – before anything else took place at that new house – my father came and he and my husband built another one. Another family swing. But this one was much larger. It was the biggest swing I had ever seen. So big in fact that we built a “wing” off of the swing set to host it. There was enough room for all 5 of us in the evenings of that fall.
Eventually Son #1 and Son #2 would teach themselves how to pump their legs – they no longer needed my push and though they would still enjoy sitting and swinging with me for a bit – they would look to their own swing to reach and touch the sky with their toes! They rocked that swing set until the posts would begin to thump out of the ground and I thought for sure it would flip over.
Then Daughter was born. And she also learned the ways of the swing. We went out to swing daily. The family swing had become a revolving swing – someone always beside me but not for long as they had their own swinging business to attend to. But one thing was for certain – they had all found the same love of it that I had. They would swing for hours. I would hear them singing from the kitchen. We were building new memories.
The first day of summer vacation when Son #1 was 8, Son #2 was 6, Son #3 was 4 and Daughter was 2 – all four children and I were in the backyard – everyone on the swing set or in the sandbox. I was expecting company and forgot to unlock the front door – so I quickly wanted to run inside to unlock the door. As I ran into the house, Son #2 shouted – “Mom, wook! Wook at me and how high I am swinging!” I replied – “Not too high, baby – be careful.”
I ran into the house – I unlocked the front door and as I was entering the kitchen after just SECONDS – Son #2 was standing in the kitchen door holding his arm. He said, “Mommy, I think I broke my arm.” I got angry with him at first because he was always playing jokes on me like that and I said, “Stop it – don’t be stupid. It’s not funny.” But then he held his arm up to show me…
His face turned white and my knees went weak- his arm from his wrist to his elbow was in the shape of a “U” – it was certainly broken. He had jumped from the swing at his highest point – just like I used to do as a kid – but when he hit the ground he fell then bounced from the impact and snapped his arm.
That sort of changed the swinging for a while. I watched much more carefully. And it was never with the same abandon and love that it had been for my lifetime.
Eventually, I realized it had been sometime since Son #1 had used the swing set for anything more than climbing. Son #2 used it only if he could wrap the chains over the top numerous times to make the swing very short and extremely high. They were growing older and swinging and singing would no longer be an acceptable pastime.
Son #3 and Daughter still would go out. They used the individual swings side by side. Laughing and challenging each other to contests of all sorts upon it. Until I stepped in reminding them of their brother’s injury. “Aw. Mom. We’re just playing.” Still I worried.
I continued to go out onto the family swing during those years as they grew – but no one ever wanted to join me and certainly no one wanted to sing. The swing set was used less and less. It sat right outside my kitchen window as we only had ¼ of an acre so it was pretty much in my face. I watched the stain fade, the moss grow, the tarp rip, the chains rust and the swings break. I’ll never forget the day that I looked out and found out that it was spotted with bright green and orange paint splatters from the middle school boys and their backyard paintball games.
The kids begged for a trampoline. “Everyone has them.” “Please.” “Please.” “Please.” I listened to it for a few years.
Whenever I would say that we had no room – their reaction was - “Get rid of the swing set and put it there – nobody uses it anymore.”
It made me sad. At the age of 40, I would say good bye to another swing set and a whole new generation of memories.
So as I sat this week on my beautiful patio in the lavish sunshine I longed to swing. I still truly did.
It got me thinking that maybe for Mother’s Day I would ask for something that I could keep on my patio. Though I can’t pump my legs and touch the sky with my toes with that type of swing – I’m not sure that I could do it anymore, anyhow.
As I sat in the glory of that afternoon this week – I realized that there was only one thing that truly would have made it perfection…
Perhaps a glider.
Because although it may take some of us longer than others, I guess eventually we all do grow up.
Thanks Mom and Dad for my swing. It was my favorite thing...