Like many of you, I came of age during the heyday of childhood – before youth was hermetically sealed for your protection and the fun safely removed from every last little thing.
Trying to kill us. Granted, I also came of age during a time when, in retrospect, it would seem that our parents were actively trying to kill us a good portion of the time.
If we can get past the monumental “what were they thinking?” safety issues such as the legions of us who grew up riding around in vehicles by standing up on the back seat, jumping up and down in our mother’s laps, or in some cases, lying prone across the rear cargo area of the family station wagon (a very, very bad idea); we must still address the variety of injuries obtained during our leisure time.
Battle scars. That is when we were, presumably, supposed to be building lasting memories rather than lasting scars. Ask any old-timer of any age over 30 about a slight limp, permanent lump, or interesting scar and you are likely to set them off on a trip (or fall) down memory lane.
“Hey, tough scar, old football injury eh?” you might ask. “Nah, merry-go-round, 1956” is the likely reply.
Many women have spent decades carefully powdering and concealing the evidential scar of a swing set “duck under” gone awry or the moment when they almost made good on their mother’s relentless (and unheeded) warning: “You’ll poke your eye out.”
Meet the concrete. Decades before shredded rubber “play surfaces” and fully enclosed tunnel slides would become the demanded norm for our own offspring, we ran amuck on asphalt playgrounds or grass flecked mud which was packed to the forgiving consistency of, oh say, cement.
In retrospect we must wonder if it really had to take great advances in modern science and/or the space program for playground designers to come to the remarkable conclusion that unforgiving hard paved surfaces were not, perhaps, the best choice to cushion the inevitable falls of airborne children?
Nonetheless, upon these brutally unforgiving surfaces we enjoyed fun filled games like tether ball: essentially a chance to stand elbow to elbow with schoolmates and get whomped in the head by an airborne ball at high speeds until – lookee here – it would come around from the other side and hit you again!
Merry-go-round. We willingly rode merry-go-rounds where, with the right amount of centrifugal force, we could be flung clear from the platform and go skidding, somewhat less merrily, across the asphalt or gravel.
Check around and you’ll find that many of your peers carry minuscule, pebbled fragments of childhood playgrounds permanently embedded under their flesh to this day.
Legions of us hung upside from monkey bars shrieking “Look! No hands!”. This was generally followed by a dismount where we fell neatly onto our heads.
Dodge ball. Undaunted by mild concussions, we braved swing chains that pinched, teeter-totters that slammed us to the ground from dizzying heights, and dodge ball – the latter later outlawed in 46 states.
Undoubtedly because some ninny decided that teaching children to throw balls at other children while the victims scurried for cover like startled chickens was a bad idea. Sheesh, some people can suck the fun out of everything.
Survivors. Discussing this topic with a group of battle scarred playground survivors it occurred to me why so often the gawkiest, most non-athletic students, those that hung back from playground fun – the social wallflowers so to speak, often grow up to be the movers and shakers of class (i.e. The Bill Gates effect).
Undoubtedly, they’re the only ones with any strength left.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt still gets nervous around anything resembling dodge ball. You can reach her c/o firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)