Backyard fixture succumbs to children's age

Sunday, June 16, 2002

PELHAM, N.Y. -- I took down our backyard swing set the other day, and I guess it was about time. On the same warm spring morning, my oldest daughter was taking her college entrance exam.

For months I'd been warning Bridget and Caitlin that the blue-and-silver fixture in our small suburban backyard would soon be dismantled. I wanted them to take their last ride down the slide, hang upside down from the trapeze one more time, prepare themselves emotionally for the sudden disappearance of their biggest childhood plaything.

"Whatever," they seemed to say.

Caitlin, not yet 13, hasn't been using the swing set except as a place to sit and talk to her friends; lawn chairs will do. Bridget, 17, is driving now and barely ventures into the back yard except for sunbathing.

So I carried a couple of screwdrivers and some Liquid Wrench outside -- only later would I resort to the hacksaw and sledgehammer -- and started taking apart what my wife and I had built in the late 1980s.

It wasn't sad, really -- what's sad about two happy, healthy adolescents? -- but it sure made clear that we don't have little kids anymore. I wondered if I'd wasted opportunities to teach them more, back when they were eager to listen to me.

And I wondered about the change in me as well. How carefully we had put this swing set together! I remembered following the instructions robotically, capping the end of each bolt with a rounded piece of plastic, driving the steel anchors deep into the earth. I could fully protect my kids, back then.

For a couple of years we regularly checked the connections, then slacked off. When a crack appeared in the metal tube that formed the trapeze, Ellen taped over it. As the girls grew, we raised the swings time and again so their legs would clear the ground. Then we stopped.

Despite the recent neglect, the swing set proved plenty sturdy when I tried to take it apart. Nuts and bolts would not be separated; what had once been Rod A and Bracket B and Strut C had grown together as if organic.

It took a hacksaw to cut the bolts, a sledgehammer to knock out the braces, a shovel to dig out the buried ends of the legs. It was noisy, too, with metallic clangs interrupting the morning's birdsong.

When the girls first noticed -- it took a while -- they each managed an "Oh, wow." But there was no bittersweet recollection of time spent on a swing or a slide. Luckily, we have photos.

I got no sympathy, when I called the city to ask how to get rid of the pile of junk that was left.

"Pickup's the first Tuesday of the month," the woman said. "That's bulk metal."

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