Today we took down the playhouse. I couldn’t be happier. I think. I mean, it’s what I wanted and it’s where we are at in life, but still…
When we only had one child I would routinely take her to the park. There were many mornings, coffee in hand; I would trek to the park, ready to intercept mulch before it entered her mouth. I would pack snacks and diapers and wipes and a towel to wipe down slides wet with morning dew or quickly extinguished showers. I would push her in the little swings, long after she fit correctly. She would meet new people and pet friendly dogs and I would feel less alien in my stay at home mom status.
Just before we had our second child we got serious about getting a play set. We thought about how practical it would be to throw open the slider and let the kids out to play, calling it quits when it became apparent in need, without the hassle of buckling reluctant children into car seats. We would be able to give Big Sister one on one time with us while the baby napped, we would be in the fresh air and sunshine – I was sold.
My husband and two of his friends unloaded the wood and hardware on the side yard so that it could be assembled as a surprise for Big Sister (I had just had the baby and was on light duty). I remember one day when it was just my husband and his friend Kris, how they worked tirelessly in forty-degree weather while it rained on them (we are in Florida, so that was a huge deal). I made soup and sandwiches and when I brought it out to them I remember feeling so hopeful and happy for all the goodness in the world.
The girls played on that playset for the longest time. They had friends over who challenged them to climb the rock wall, swing the highest, scout imaginary ships from the pirate spyglass and slide down as quickly as possible. I served lunches at the little bench on the bottom floor and painted nails on the top landing. There were bad times there too, like the time a friend came over and was stung by a bee in the playhouse, multiple missed rungs on the monkey bars, falls from the swings and human chains down the slide that didn’t quite go as planned. We watched them struggle and we watched them overcome – both seconds from ice or Band-Aids or a warm bath and a long nap.
We had repainted the wood a few times, perking it up, but time wears on the most loved of toys and the playset was no different. A few pieces of wood splintered off, and then the tandem swing broke, followed by the rusting of the monkey bars. It got to the point where we were down to one rung and in the beginning we’d laugh about playing on “the Monkey Bar” until that fell too. The kids would still swing, but the unit would groan and sway in response to their more powerful pumps. It was time.
Yet we kept it. Even when it was barely used, it stayed dignified, surveying the backyard like a silent, though well-informed guardian. I felt an allegiance, in some part because when my grandmother had passed, just before the birth of our second daughter she had left a little money that went toward the swing set. Then there was all the work in assembling it, all the time spent mowing and weed eating around it for years. We couldn’t just give up, now could we?
My husband had to be absolutely certain that the kids were ready before taking it apart. They agreed. It wasn’t perfect – the temperature when we put it up had a high of around 65 degrees, today was around 90 degrees with more than 75 percent humidity. The kids were a lot more interested in discovering a chalkboard we had staged in the structure than helping with the task at hand. The music station I had playing wasn’t suitable for our audience – 90’s alternative; I thought it was safe(ish), which prompted my husband to ask that I find “a more appropriate station”. A few minutes later as I was carrying wood, lightened with decay but studded with screws, I accidentally let the dog loose. We are working on that one as he is still a pretty new resident. Across the street, hoping we wouldn’t be seen as lurkers deserving of police escort or worse, we rounded him up safely.
“What are our plans for the clubhouse now”, Big Sister asked. Concerned that she didn’t understand the permanent nature of removing it, I tried to explain that we wouldn’t have it there anymore. “It will always sort of be there”, she replied “but it’s going to leave a mark”. I let the gravity of that sentence root me to the Earth.
It would leave a mark, not only in the grass. It was a tool that served us well when the kids were little, and here we were days before they’d both be in school full time. It had taught them to lean in, to trust their bodies, to use their imagination and to be a little wild. Honestly, it taught me the same things.