On Saturday, I helped my husband dismantle the wooden play set our kids no longer use. When we first bought it, a dozen years ago, it was our daughters’ favorite spot. It had swings, monkey bars and a trapeze bar with rings where I showed them how to “skin the cat.” (That’s where you hold on to the rings and flip your feet over your head.)
Along with the swing set, there was a little house just a ladder-climb up. It had real glass windows that slid open and close just like the ones at home. There were shingles on the pitched roof and a plastic, green slide you could whiz down for a dramatic exit.
The play set survived a move from our original home to a second location. Soon after we moved it to our current backyard, I spent one hot afternoon painting the inside of the little house: the walls in chalkboard paint so they could add their own decorations and the ceiling to look like blue skies with white clouds and the floor to look like different types of rooms—tile for a bathroom, checkered linoleum for a kitchen, carpet for a bedroom, an oval, braided throw rug for a living room. I painted the inside of the door to look like it had a stained glass window design of white birch trees standing in front of distant mountains.
You could argue that I loved the play set as much as they did. But time marches on, and now I have three kids in high school. My youngest is still in elementary school, but he hasn’t shown much interest in it in a few years. Instead, his focus is on the soccer goals standing near the play set or the bike in the garage. My kids just stopped paying attention to the play set.
If this were a children’s book, the ending would be different. If it were like The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, you would see the play set giving of itself until all that was left was a few rungs of the ladder and a broken tire swing. Since that would make my kids like the boy in the story—selfish and negligent of the needs and feelings of others, I’m okay with it not being that particular story.
If I could choose, I would rather it be like The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. In that story, the house is built out in the country. It’s lived in and loved on until the bustling city crowds out the area and the little house is hidden by the train lines and the towering skyscrapers. Just when things look bleakest, the descendants of the original owners jack up the house and place it on a trailer. They drive it out to a new place, farther out in the country where it can be lived in and loved on again.
Sentimental as I am, I was hoping someone would do the same for our dear play set, but it was too complicated. Taking it apart is hard enough, but reconstructing it would be even harder. A few people looked at the structure, but no one decided it was worth all the hassle. I can’t blame them—it’s been sitting out, exposed to the elements for a while and it shows, but it was sad to pry up pieces and toss them in the bed of the pickup truck before hauling them to the dump.
This is one of those necessary phases of parenting. The fact that they don’t play like they used to has been true for a while, but growth is gradual. When you suddenly realize it’s time to box up the Barbies or give away the train table, their evolution out of childhood becomes more tangible. It breaks my heart a little, but I can say for sure that this deep bout of heartache is absolutely worth the years which preceded it. I wouldn’t trade watching these kids play for anything.