This post is courtesy of a 642 Things to Write About prompt: “Your favorite piece of playground equipment”
I don’t like to sound like the cranky old person who says things like, “Back in my day…”, but the truth is that when I was a kid there were fewer high-tech distractions for children. We had television and video games of course, but we didn’t have cell-phones or tablets; we didn’t even really have computers until I was 8 or so. And so we tended to spend a heck of a lot more time outside than the current generation. Summers in particular were filled with days of bike riding, hiking, swimming, and of course, playing on whichever playground equipment was available.
There were several playgrounds near enough for me to walk to from my parents or grandparents’ houses. I had a swing set with a see-saw in my own backyard, and the elementary school – which was right down the road from my grandparents’ house – had a set of monkey bars and later a bigger playground with slides and lots of things to climb. When I got a little older the town erected a larger public playground down next to the ball field; it was the kind of huge structure that dozens of kids could be playing on at once, with rope bridges and bars to swing on, and lots of climbing areas that would give you a little thrill of feeling like you could fall to your doom at any moment.
My favorites were always the bars for swinging on. I was never the most terribly graceful person, but I loved to jump up on top of the bars and swing around them, hang upside-down from them, and act like I was some amazingly-talented gymnast. I always had a ton of fun if there were bars to swing around, and I’d often come home with hands polished raw from all the twisting and flipping.
My daughter, on the other hand, seems to have a strong propensity for all things playground. She loves the swings, the slides, the rock walls, the rope ladders…pretty much anything is game to her. Last summer she was ecstatic when some neighbors who were moving offered to leave their swing set with us. It was an old set that had been passed along from two or three different families over the years, but she didn’t see the age, only the fun. She got tons of use out of the swing itself, and was super-proud to climb the little ladders by herself. She practically beamed with pride when her father taught her how to climb to the top of the rope ladder without any help.
This summer, with her kindergarten “graduation” as an excuse, I decided that I wanted to replace the old swing set, which had definitely served its purpose but was getting old and starting to split in several places. To say that I went overboard is a bit of an understatement, but my daughter loves playing outside so much that I couldn’t quite help myself…I ended up getting a swing/playhouse/slide set. The one I picked up was deeply discounted because it was a discontinued model, so I felt I was getting a great deal. But my husband and I soon found out why this particular model was discontinued.
Two parents have scarcely worked so diligently, with so much biting frustration, to construct something for their child, I swear. The front page of the instructions claimed that it would take between 10 and 14 hours for two people to build the playground. Being tradespeople, both, I figured we could easily fall within that estimate, but I didn’t count on road blocks at every turn. My husband and I are the kinds of people who are perfectly capable of following instructions to completion, but the instructions for this kit mocked us from the very first step. The kit came in three boxes stuffed with cuts of wood, and while the instructions showed pictures with labels and measurements for each piece, none of the pieces of wood themselves were actually labeled. Aside from a very few pieces that had some kind of manufacturing number stamped on them, the only way to find the pieces needed for each step was to actually take out a measuring tape and painstakingly move through the pile until you found the piece with the proper dimensions. That was frustrating enough on its own, but when we came to actually bolting the first two pieces of wood together we came across the second problem. The instructions called for two “H8” bolts, but in the bag marked “H8” there was only one bolt. We searched through the mountainous pile of marked bags of screws, nuts, bolts, and washers, but couldn’t find another bolt of that particular size. So before even being able to complete the first step, I had to run to the store for parts.
This trend continued over the course of the next two days. A couple of steps later I was screwing two pieces of wood together and flabbergasted by the fact that the screws were going right through the other side of the wood. It was then that we discovered that many of the bags of screws and bolts were labeled wrong, so we had to actually start measuring everything to confirm which ones to use. Later we were certain that there were pieces of wood missing, but it turned out that the pieces in question were slightly longer than what the instructions claimed. Another scream-worthy moment came when we ran out of a certain length of bolt and found out that neither of the nearby stores carried a bolt that size, so we had to use ones that were almost an inch too long. By the time we found that one of the rungs of the ladder had only been machined on one side, we almost just had to laugh.
It was a painful ordeal that spiked our tempers more than once, but what really spurred us on was when the little missy finally realized what we were building. We hadn’t told her, but around the time that we were screwing the floorboards into the little playhouse area, she happened to pick up the instructions and flipped to the picture on the front page. She came running over to us then, with a cry of, “Mommy! Make it look like this!”
In the end, we spent about 18 hours (a few of them in the rain) trying to build this monstrosity. We weren’t able to complete the ladder, since the lumber store in town didn’t have the proper machine to fix that one rung, and we ended up having to purchase a couple of pieces of 2×4 to create a stable base for the swing set side, which kept wanting to sink into our mossy backyard. It was frustrating, and cost more than it should have, and technically it’s still not quite done, but in the end it was worth it because my little missy loves it to pieces, and watching her and her cousin play on it was like looking back into the past, to another little girl who used to love to climb and jump and slide and swing.
What was your favorite piece of playground equipment?