For many weeks now, Aidan has been asking if we could buy him and his siblings a Rainbow Play System. For those of you who do not know about Rainbows, click here
and you will enter an entirely new age of "swing sets." When I was a kid, we had two rusty As connected by a rusted crossbar that the swings hung from. When you went too high, one of the legs of the set would actually lift up off the ground, as if to dare you to go any higher....and if you sat down too rough you might just lose a finger, or limb, on the jagged broken plastic of the fancier attachments....now the norm is a wooden play "system" (that might just outlast our species), not just a tired, albeit threatening, metal swing set.
At any rate, our answer has always been no. It would take some work, as well as far too much money, to get one of those fancy play systems in our uneven yard. Not to mention, there are at least three of them within a hundred feet or so in our neighbors' yards. Since the yards in our neighborhood are unenclosed, running out back means playing in an enormous, almost communal yard...almost. However, today I learned just how out idealistic that really is.
Kurt had been working a long time in the front of our house, weeding, when I decided the kids and I would join him. After a few brief moments, it became clear the kids were not going to just skip around happily, picking dandelions, and I told them they could make their way to the back of our neighbor's house and play on the Rainbow. Usually they would go all the way to the last Rainbow and play there since we know the family better and they have made it clear we can play on their play set whenever we so please. However, the kids stopped short on the new (almost exact duplicate) play set in the house closer to us. I could see them clearly from where I was weeding so I decided to just keep an eye on them but continue to weed and talk with Kurt.
After a few minutes, the mom and young daughter of that play set came walking out so Liam and I made our way over as well. The conversation went something like this:
"Oh, hi! I was just telling Aidan that we love having new friends to play with.....but we don't want you guys playing on our Rainbow unless we are out here to play....we wouldn't want anyone to get hurt," said the other mom, as if, by some magical powers she and her daughter would be able to prevent injury from some practically inevitable incident.
Shrugging her off as a newer mom of younger children, yet to realize that injury happens whether we exist or not, I called out cheerily to my own kids, "Ok guys, let's go next door to the other play set!"
"Oh, no," she said. "You don't have to leave, we just would rather you not play on our set when we aren't out so that no one gets hurt." I don't know if she picked up the look of incredulity or not but given that it is her prerogative to decide who gets to share their toy, and since I do get that we both live in the same lawsuit happy society, I agreed to her request and continued to converse with her.
She immediately went on to complain to me about the neighbors behind them: the meticulous lawn-keepers and gardeners who don't want her kids to walk around in it and of course, it is terribly difficult to keep her kids out of the bright red mulch and off the tiny putting green.
"Oh, I can only imagine," I said, straining to keep the sarcasm out of my voice....you know, it is not anything like the family next door who has a fancy play system that they don't want any other kids on....I can't imagine how tough it is for her to keep her kids from playing on the mulch piles....really....
At that point, Lily ran over to the other play set, followed by her siblings and me who continued to play, that much more rambunctiously, with the little neighbor girl watching from her lonesome set. And I thought, how sad. In my head, I have always thought that these big play sets were meant to attract kids, like a bug light attracts bugs, without the deadly ending of course, and that they gave the entire neighborhood a place to congregate and be a community; a place to help kids build friendships. I have never thought of them as the trophy that separates the winners from the losers, the haves from the have-nots; as something to get in order to "keep up with the Joneses". It was at this pivotal moment that I had to push from my mind the idea of making like Eddy Murphy and getting all my kids some ice cream cones and letting them strut around with them, unwilling to share ("I have some ice cream, I have some ice cream. You didn't get none!.....Want a lick?...Syke!") and instead focus on how grateful we are for the openness and generosity of our other neighbors. But, (insert sigh), even in my disappointment, I do understand, kind of.
Only, if I were to own one of these systems, I think I'd hang a big WELCOME sign inscribed with the sonnet The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
And of course, in my ideal world, it might just dwarf the other play systems in the neighborhood, perhaps enough to get the Home Owners Association up in a tizzy, so that everyone would want to play in our backyard, leaving the other sets fresh and new and the neighbors happy....sort of.