Our swing set is gone.
On the surface, this seems like a trivial observance. The wood was rotting. The chains were rusty. The slide was askew. It was becoming a dangerous liability for the children who now only occasionally hung upside down from its rungs.
It needed to go.
In its place, there are now some pretty pear trees, all in a row. Grass has now grown over the dirt patch where little feet used to scuffle before an acrobatic dismount. The yard doesn’t have squirt guns and Frisbees and jump ropes strewn about. The grass is not flattened where the Slip ’n Slide was placed. It looks cleaner, more polished.
I thought this would make me happy. It’s time to take our yard back, I mused. I can get that patio installed or have the fire pit I’ve always wanted. I can walk in the yard without tripping over a hula hoop or a Barbie or a half-eaten piece of watermelon, or something much worse and usually unidentifiable.
Of course, it needed to go.
The girls are teenagers now. They don’t spend hours telling secrets under the treehouse roof or dog-daring someone to do a flip off the swing or pretending to clean the slide until it “shines like the top of the Chrysler building” while my neighbor and I pretend to be yelling at them in our best Miss Hannigan voices. They have texts to answer and shopping to do and friends to meet.
It served its purpose beyond our wildest dreams. It entertained our kids and many of the neighborhood kids for countless hours. It provided a place that was just theirs, not ours. It was where friends met, Popsicles were eaten and crushes were revealed. It was not a fancy swing, but it was home to our girls for many years.
It had done its time and then some. It probably wanted to go.
But I am not happy with the perfectly manicured lawn. I miss the swing set. I do. I don’t miss its rotting timbers or squeaky brackets or its cracked plastic slide. I miss what the swing represents.
That swing was there to celebrate when my daughters “graduated” from kindergarten. It was the backdrop to a time when they wore perfectly coordinated Gymboree outfits with bows in their hair and squealed when they heard the ice cream truck coming down the street.
The swing was there to help soothe a scraped knee, a cut elbow or a bruised ego. It was a place to go for solace when the grown-ups just didn’t understand. It was a carefree, judgment-free zone with a code of conduct and language all its own. It was privy to diary entries and secret codes and all that was sacred to an 8-year-old.
Perhaps its memory was full and its duty was to go.
I often wonder what happened to that swing set. It initially made its way to a neighbor’s and then was replaced by a newer, shinier, much swankier version of itself. Maybe our creaky swing set is off with another family, chronicling some different adventures that are unique to them, providing the backdrop of childhood to another group of unsuspecting kids.
That would be a good reason to go.
It may seem silly to be grieving the loss of something as commonplace and ordinary as a swing set, but I suspect many of you understand the underlying significance of the emotion. Of course, it’s really about moving into another period. It’s about letting go and bracing for the next phase with all its unknowns. It’s about taking the leap off the swing at its highest point and hoping you — and the people you love — land on their feet, happy and healthy and racing toward the sound of the ice cream truck or whatever it is that makes their heart sing.
I suppose they call it “raising” children for a reason. The process implies upward movement, and growth is good and expected and the natural course of things. Yeah, I know all that. But leaving something behind is hard — maybe it’s past mistakes or hard life lessons.
Or maybe it’s an old swing set that gave you its best years.
Sue Tabb is an account director with Thomson Communications and a freelance writer. She lives in Newburyport with her husband and two daughters. You can visit her blog at www.parentpill.com.