The Life Cycle of a Swing Set

Joy Riggs essays 0 Comments

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I am with Steve, 3-year-old Louisa and 1-year-old Sebastian in the backyard of the 80-year-old house that is new to us. In the space where the previous owners once had a swing set, we have spread out planks of splinter-free white cedar, a blue plastic slide, and three swings. We have spent more money on this swing set than is prudent. But it’s a beautiful model made out of untreated wood from happy trees. I place Sebastian in his Exersaucer, and Louisa and I help Steve as he works his way through the instructions. By the end of the day, as the sun sets over the neighbors’ trees, Louisa is gleefully trying out the slide, her curls bouncing behind her.

***

I am in the backyard. Steve is working late, and I can’t muster the energy to go inside and make dinner. I am hoping to tire out the kids so they will sleep soundly. I push 4-year-old Louisa and 2-year-old Sebastian on the swings — an awkward maneuver because my belly has grown large with baby number three. Louisa wants an underdog. “I can’t, sweetie, I’m sorry.” The corners of her mouth turn down into a pout, which would be cute if I weren’t so annoyed. “Yes, you can,” she insists. Persistence should have been her middle name. I shake my head. “I’m sorry, I can’t.” Sebastian, meanwhile, flashes a dimpled smile as he flies through the air, mimicking his sister’s movements.

***

I am upstairs, within earshot of Elias napping in his crib. A voice calls from downstairs: “Mom, Ryan is on top of the swing set!” From the window of the boys’ room, I can see Ryan, Sebastian’s friend from preschool, walking across the top of the swing set like it’s a balance beam. My heart races and I speed downstairs and out the back door. Trying to project the calm I do not feel, I say, “Ryan, please get down. We have a rule that you can’t walk on top of the swing set.” We don’t actually have this rule because it never occurred to me to make it. But we have it now.

***

I am parked in front of our garage. Louisa is next to me in the passenger’s seat, her face soaked with tears. I have just driven her home from middle school and I am emotionally exhausted after our lengthy heart-to-heart. She is upset about a friendship. I have listened, offered suggestions and encouragement, and listened some more. I have nothing left but empathy, so I go inside to check on her brothers. She walks to the swing set, which she rarely visits anymore. She sits on a swing for nearly an hour, thinking, until I call her in for dinner.

***

I am passing through the dining room when I hear shouting. I look through a back window. Sebastian, Elias and their friend Dmitri are in the backyard, armed with wooden swords and shields, acting out a detailed adventure only they can see. I reassure myself that the shouts are part of the game, not a cry for help. I watch as they run up the slide and leap from the swings, their growing limbs flailing in midair. I marvel at their imaginations.

***

I am sitting in the computer room, writing a letter to Louisa. It’s her first time attending a month-long summer camp, and letters are the only allowed form of communication (except in cases of emergency). I am surprised by how much I miss her, and how quiet it is at home without her. The stillness is broken by an unfamiliar sighing and creaking. I look out the window in time to see a giant tree slowly fall across the width of the backyard, bisecting the lawn. I blink a few times and look around to see if anyone else saw it — then remember that Steve is at work and the boys are busy elsewhere. It has rained hard for several days, but it is not raining now. I go outside to assess the damage and discover that the tree has mangled the swing set as easily as a toddler would crush a tower of Lincoln Logs. It is a bittersweet accident, but it is also an opportunity. I go back inside to call our insurance agent, and I add another paragraph to Louisa’s letter. “You’ll never guess what just happened …”

***

I am standing on our screened back porch in the early morning, looking out at the newly landscaped backyard. We spent more money on it than was prudent. It was finished a few weeks earlier, exactly one hour before guests began arriving for Louisa’s high school graduation party. In the spot where the swing set once stood we have planted three sturdy evergreen trees in rich, mulched soil. I will enjoy watching them grow.

***

About the Author

Joy Riggs

Joy Riggs is the mom of three teenagers. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous publications including Minnesota Parent magazine, the Star Tribune, Minnesota Monthly, and Viking magazine. She blogs about her family’s adventures in making and appreciating music at , and she is working on her first book of narrative nonfiction.

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