The dawn was breaking and early morning light was beginning to paint the playground in that eerie half-light and half-dark that happens only for a moment or two before the sun takes over the day. As I ran by the playground I heard a sound, it wasn’t a clank; it was sort of a half clank, muted by forces that only a playground swing would understand. It was the swings swaying gently in the early morning breeze.
That sound triggered the memory of when I learned how to swing, how to pump, how to soar. It was as if I was taken back in time and my little 5 year-old legs were trying to match the rhythm of the push from my father’s hand.
I remembered, or thought I remembered how hard I was concentrating on getting the push, pump, sequence down. I heard my father’s voice saying: “Pump your legs, back and now push out.” This went on for several minutes. Then as if by some prearranged magic, I got it. Push, pump, the rhythm was wonderful and now I started to soar. “I want to go higher,” I said to my father. He pushed a little harder but he did want to push his luck with his five-year old son who thought he was older and more capable than he was.
As I gazed at the swing set, gently swaying in the early morning breeze, I saw myself, my father and then suddenly, there I was with my children teaching them the same things my father taught we. Push, pump, and then the magic of getting the rhythm down, and then the giggles as they soared. It was all so simple and yet, the effect, the integration of body and swing, was intoxicating to a young heart and a young mind. My son used to rush towards the swings, any swing in any park we were near and as he would run on his young legs he cried out, “Come, push me.” I would push and then soon would come the cry: “Higher, higher.”
Recently several places in my life have been given new playground equipment. Lots of it elaborate, jungle gyms and other great adventure pieces for the young minds to explore with their growing bodies. But in each of the new playgrounds, at the center is a swing set, never fewer than six swings and often as many as eight. I stopped the other day to listen as several parents and their children were using the new swing set at the center of a playground near where I live. I heard giggles, and cries of higher, higher, and heard shrieks of joy and saw faces that were smiling so hard that I thought the smiles would crack into a million pieces.
But the larger swing sets are not for children only. A few years ago at a beautiful resort on the shore of Lake Michigan, I watched a wedding party, filled with celebration, spy a swing set on the resort grounds. I don’t know which one in the wedding party, groomsman or bridesmaid, discovered the swings, but I watched with delight when they all made their way to the swings. Every one, including the bride and groom started swinging. Some would swing and some would push and the magic of push, pump was expressed by these thirty-somethings with just as much delight as the little children. There were giggles and shrieks of joy, these young adults were smiling and laughing and were once again in touch with their primal childhood. The were crying out, “higher, higher,” and they pumped and laughed and for a brief moment they were suspended in time and space and were returned once again to the simplicity of swinging.
Chains and metal poles,
heavy seats of wood or rubberized tire treads,
a swing lonely swinging gently in the breeze,
then suddenly the swing seat is filled
with life, a little boy or a little girl,
a mom or a dad there to help
and the swing begins, first there is the push,
and then the gentle words: “Pump your legs.”
At first there is no rhythm, there is
something disjointed about the pump
the swing is steadied and mom or dad
begin again with a push and now
the pump is almost in sync.
One more push and the swing steadies
itself everything is centered and the
little legs pump and the eyes are
filled with delight as push and pump merge
and now comes the cry
higher mom, higher dad, higher.
Now comes the giggle, the gentle laugh,
the parental smile as the child masters
the wonder of something so simple
and the air is filled with joy.
Remember when you had your first swing. Remember who helped. Return to that place in your childhood where you learned how to put the push and the pump of your legs together to find the magic of swinging. Remember and as you remember say the words out loud: “Higher, I want to go higher.” Write a story about swinging, swing sets, playgrounds or your own childhood swing adventures. Remember that first swing and “Write On.”