Hallowed Playground



    I just ordered our third wraparound safety net for the trampoline. Last week, I picked up our fourth fade-resistant, no-mold, never break market umbrella at Lowe’s. If it were in the budget, and if anyone could swear to me that we would eat more than a half-dozen meals on our deck this year, I might spring for new cushions for our outdoor dining set now – rather than waiting for Target’s clearance event in July. We already took the last batch to the dump.

    My point is, unless you take really, really good care of outside things, which I do not – the elements have a way of beating up on stuff in your backyard. Things just aren’t built to last. Unless they are.

    When our oldest started to outgrow the Step 2 plastic play equipment in the backyard, and when our neighbors started leaving Rainbow Play System pamphlets on our mailbox (I kid, of course!), we decided it was time to think about maybe buying a real (translation: wood) play gym for our backyard.

    I said maybe, right?

    I believe our quest began at a hardware store, but it really didn’t matter. My husband Scott, a hybrid of amateur woodworker and architectural engineer himself, was not very impressed with the quality of the build-your-own kits available at any of the big-box stores. The materials, the plans, the salespeople – he was having none of it. So we took one of those pamphlets off the mailbox (which I will reiterate, could not possibly have been placed there by a cranky neighbor, who, fearing we would invest in a Step 2 clubhouse to compliment our play gym, may have since moved out of the area) and headed to the nearest outdoor showroom. It made perfect sense to take the kids along. They were four, two, and not-even-new. Lindsey, nestled in the safest of all baby carriers, was due any day.

    At the play gym lot, four-year-old Sam darted from structure to structure test-sliding and swinging and climbing ramps. Had she complained later about her cheeks hurting, I would have immediately known the cause. This was a case of extreme smiling. (We called her Samster the Hamster for a reason.) I kept busy helping two-year-old Robin in and out of various swings. For his part, Scott was quiet – deliberate even, as he stood in the middle of the lot stroking his beard while he scanned the grounds. It was impossible to ignore how incredibly happy our children were here. It was also impossible to ignore that a choice was imminent – one of these play gyms or a college degree for our unborn child.

    On the way home, Mommy said: “It’s clear that everyone in the family is going to benefit from a nice quality play gym.”

    And Daddy said: “Hmm. Or a 14-inch mitre saw and a power drill.”

    The next weekend, the man of my dreams bought the power tools of his dreams to construct the play gym of our dreams. He also picked up a slide, swings, a trapeze bar, a fire pole, and I-don’t-know-how-many bags of Quikrete to set the beams because, as I reminded him, “It has to be sturdy enough for big kids, too!” Over the next year, he built monkey bars, a climbing ramp, and a clubhouse with a play table for mixing mulch and stone soup. He even fashioned phones from wood blocks and attached one to the clubhouse wall and another to the upper level so the women-children (as he liked to call them) could keep in touch. We christened the palace on Lindsey’s first birthday with an open invitation to the entire neighborhood. Watching more than twenty kids climb and play on that magnificent structure, I knew we were home.

    Over a decade later, the state of our house constantly reminds me that we are not the DIY family we might have set out to be. While we have the tools, no one has the time. We have the dreams, but no one has the vision. Most every room has its nicked-up trim or slightly off-kilter cupboard door. And we never did sand and refinish the floors like we talked about, or tile the bathroom walls.

    So our house isn’t in perfect shape – who cares! It looks like our play gym might stand for all ages.