The Swing of Things — Chapter 1

IMG_0571I have moved back into my office. It is a Sunday morning and the Rose of Sharon in my yard has recently begun to bloom. The flowers out front are all associated with bushes or plants that need little or no care. I had stipulated this when I had the gardens done. I also said that I enjoyed flowers. As the summer passes each of the plants takes turn coming into bloom. There are several plants that bloom and all of the flowers are pink.

What I remember most about my first home was the great expanses of time that seemed to be structureless. There was a lot of space and there was a lot of free time and I have very few memories of adults being involved.

The backyard was a wonderful place with lots of room to move and play and climb. I also had a very best friend. She was born a few weeks after me, a few doors down from me. We used to sit together in my sand box and have intense conversations about what kindergarten would be like and the new clothes that her older sister had bought. Sometimes we would even have the company of some of the neighbour children.

Occasionally, we would go over to her house and play. I remember that her older sister and her sister’s friends could colour really well. The shading was so neat and professional, it made me wish that I could colour in the lines like they could. When I contemplate these memories it makes me wonder if my children ever felt this timeless feeling of doing very little. I have a few memories of television programs, mainly cartoons, but I have way more memories of just paying attention to whatever was in front of me be it toys, crayons or friends. It was a feeling of falling out of time. These memories do not seem to be bracketed with limitations. There was no thought about when dinner was or when a show was going to be on television or even when we needed to be ready to go somewhere. We stayed outside until we were called home by our parents or when the streetlights came on.

This was a common curfew for us and all of our friends. We could all stay out until the streetlights came on, or rather until it got dark. This is so different from my view of the lives of my own children. Not only did they seldom play outside, requiring me to call them to come home, but also they were certainly never told to be in when the lights came on. For most of the evenings of their lives they were already in the house, or out at some supervised activity like hockey or soccer. At home they would be either in their rooms, watching television or sitting on a computer, not out playing kick the can, tag, hide and seek or any of the other group games that we used to play with the neighbors.

Even at this early age I thought that it was disappointing that there were two school systems. There was a public system and a Catholic system that effectively meant that you only got to go to school with some of the kids in your neighborhood. It seemed wrong to me then, as it does now, that we are not working towards building a system that brings our children together but rather one that separates them early in life into ‘us versus them’. But, for the purposes of hide and seek, everyone played together.

A key feature of our neighbourhood was our swing set and one of the coveted experiences was the underdoggy. For those of you that were not children during this time, the underdoggy is the ultimate push for someone on a swing. Anyone, including parents and grandparents can stand behind a swing and give it a push and then repeat with the same enthusiasm as the swing approaches each time. This is fun and adequate for the person on the swing, but it can only go so far.

The underdoggy is only for the enthusiastic and the agile. My father first showed me the thrill of it in our backyard. Instead of simply standing behind the swing and pushing it when it comes to you, the underdoggy goes one step further. You run with the swing and keep your hands on it until you have lifted it above your head. Then, you continue to run forward as the swing progresses way up, further into the air than you could get with a regular push. This results in a spectacular swing of great height and speed.

My sister decided to try an underdoggy with the glider. The glider was much clunkier than a normal swing and much heavier. She convinced me, after some discussion, that it was going to be great fun. At this point of my life I had yet to recognize the importance of that grey- army green feeling that I sometimes get in the core of my body. I know now that it is a significant red flag that could be loosely interpreted as, “Run Away!, Run Away!” But I did not know this yet and even though I felt it at the time, I still got into the glider. Vicki positioned herself behind me and tried to gain enough speed and height from a stopped position and failed. Then, she decided to work up to the underdoggy by allowing the glider to pick up speed over several pushes. She gathered her resolve and tried again.

With all of her effort she managed to push the glider up and over her head. And then she stopped completely. Exhausted from the push and lift it never occurred to her that in the next moment the glider would reach its full height, return to the starting position and come right back at her full force with the weight of her little sister added to the weight of the metal frame.

I hit Vicki full force in the back of the head causing her to fall flat on her face. The glider was going too fast for me to get out right away and it went back and forth over her one more time before I could get out. Hearing my sister scream, my mom came running out of the house. There was a large V-shaped gash in the back of Vicki’s head that was gushing blood at an alarming rate. The next memory that I have was of being at the hospital. This was a familiar setting for me because my mother liked to be at the hospital so we were often there.

Vicki received several stitches. I don’t recall if she had to stay the night or what was said about the injury and I largely forgot about it until she was about 22 years of age. I don’t think that I’ll ever fully be able to forget that I knew in the pit of my stomach that I should not let Vicki do this. I did not know why or how I knew, but I know I knew. A majority of my memories, despite what I have recalled here, were not about accidents but were rather about walking to school, playing in the school yard, playing outside and having pets.

Keep Reading: Everything Changes

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