When I was a kid, my dad designed and built play structures. It had a lot of perks – we had a really great play structure in our own backyard, and my sister and I loved to play on the new ones as they were being built, because it was always fun to try something different.
It seems as though a large number of my childhood involved those play structures. We would haul out all the blankets and build houses on the structure railings. We would try to teach our cats to walk across the top of the monkey bars. We would climb and dangle and twirl on the various bars. And we would swing. I remember the feeling of swinging so high, it felt as though I would soar right off into the air.
There was a huge lilac bush beside our play structure, and when I think of my most beautiful childhood memories, I remember sitting on the lawn swing with my mom, memorizing Psalm 23 while the dusk crept in. We smelled the lilac-scented air, and my mom would say, “Let’s see how high we can swing!”
One day when I was in high school, I was sitting on a swing, deep in thought, when my dad walked by. He said, “I miss the days when you girls would swing so much, the grass could never grow underneath the swings, because you would always wear it out.”
After he continued walking to the house, I got down on my knees and began pulling up handfuls of grass, trying to make the dirt show through, even though I didn’t swing enough to wear it out anymore.
I don’t know when I stopped swinging.
The summer before Everett was born, Ben set up a play structure in our backyard. We’d been debating about it for awhile, wondering if our girls would get much use out of it, but when we were surprised with another baby on the way, we decided to get the structure, because there would be many more years of use with our little guy on the way.
In the beginning, both girls would swing together, shrieking delightedly when they were “double dating” and their swings were perfectly in sync. But slowly, over time, Kaylia often ended up on the monkey bars or in the sandbox, while Anika kept swinging.
I’d notice her going out to swing more and more. She’d take a break from school work to swing. She’d head out there the second we got home from a busy afternoon away. She would swing in the rain, the snow, the dark – it didn’t matter what kind of weather or time of day, she had to swing. I loved to watch her out the window, because she’d usually be smiling to herself, deep in thought as she stretched towards the sky.
It’s been a couple of years since Anika started swinging, and the grass still never grows under her swing.
She had a growth spurt this last winter. In the span of a few short months, she changed from being a little girl, and people started to mistake her for me. She almost looks me in the eye, and she’s borrowing my clothes. She spends hours a day writing fantasy books, and talks about being published, but whenever she’s stuck for an idea, she heads out the door to go swing. Morning, afternoon, and evening, she is out there on her swing.
Because she’s almost my size now, that little play structure built for small children was getting worn out after the intense workout she’s been giving it for three years. It was creaking and groaning, and Anika complained, “It makes so much noise when I swing, people are starting to turn and look from the sidewalk! Dad needs to fix it!!”
So last weekend, Ben finally built a new swing set (with his usual little helper!). He built it adult-size, so there will be no need for our girl to stop swinging.
We planted lilac bushes by the play structure, and maybe someday, the smell of lilacs will also make her think of evenings on the swing.
We tease Anika a little, because she’ll go off to college, and need to find the nearest park so she can swing and de-stress from college life! She says she’ll know she’s found her soulmate when she meets a boy who will swing with her.;)
We were at the chiropractor at the end of summer, and after finishing Anika’s adjustment, he came to me and asked, “Do you have her doing some kind of athletic activity?” I told him she took dance lessons during the school year, but hadn’t been doing anything during summer.
He said, “She’s in great shape – she must be very active!”
I smiled and said, “Well, she swings for a few hours a day.”
He looked confused. “She swings? Like on a play structure?”
I described to him how she swings many times a day, and how she’s gotten muscular from all those hours of pumping.
The chiropractor was amazed. “Her spine is very strong and healthy – she has the body of an athlete!”
And so Anika has proven that even something as simple as swinging can be good for the mind and the body.
I think of all those phys.ed classes when I was in high school, where I was taught that volleyball and basketball were everything, and competitive sports were the only way to be athletic. There was no value for the things I loved to do, like going for walks, or riding my bike in the sunset.
And yet, long after the phys.ed classes are over, those are the things that remain. There are many ways to move and live and feel your body connect with the moment. What I want for my kids are those beautiful moments of enjoying whatever it is they want to enjoy. To see the value in the unexpected. To find strength and beauty in simple things. To do what clears the head and gets the blood pumping. To smell lilacs and see sunsets, and to feel strength in their limbs and to get outside.
If they enjoy competitive sports, that’s great. But even more importantly, I hope they find ways to relax and move through life in small ways, all by themselves, when there’s no team around and without fancy equipment. I hope they keep balanced and active for the simple reason that our bodies were made to thrive that way.
If Anika still wants to swing when she’s an adult, I hope she does. I hope she never feels silly for loving it, because she’s found the secret for clearing her head and connecting her soul to the peace of the moment.