Safety and being a kid

FLINT – I need a break – we all need a break – from the election, so today I’m going to write about jungle gyms, specifically the one in a black and white photo – circa 1920s or so – someone posted to Facebook the other day.

You should see this thing. It’s a lawyer’s dream and an insurance company’s nightmare – metal pipes, without protective coatings, no wood chips or rubber mats to cushion falls, no warning signs saying don’t do this or that, no netting, no safety monitor with a whistle.

Somehow, despite any of that, the kids seem to be having a ball. Some sit or balance like wire-walkers atop the highest bars, which are 20 feet high. Others swing on swings hung 10 glorious feet off the ground. How they got on the seat is anybody’s guess. Under the whole construct: park benches that would easily snap a falling kid’s neck. The daily casualty count from this rig must have been huge. It’s Broken Arm City, to be sure.

But my god it looks fun.

Our school’s playground wasn’t quite as impressive but it still had stuff that would never pass muster with today’s Safety Nazis. Our monkey bars were way too tall, our slide was way too long and got way too hot, and our swings flew way too high.

My favorite was the merry-go-round. Man, four of us could get that sucker spinning like crazy. Once, just to see what would happen, our buddy Dean had us tie him to it with jump ropes and spin him for the last 10 minutes of recess.

He didn’t walk straight for a week. You couldn’t do that now, of course – the playground attendants would go nuts. Those involved in “the incident” would surely get suspended, if not brought up on child endangerment charges. Local TV might even do a story: “Is your child safe on the playground from other kids?”

That’s the way schools are these days. Life, too.

That’s a good thing, of course. Safety first. Blah, blah, blah.

But for all the safety and security built into today’s society, I do think kids – whose lives are wrapped in bubble wrap and hovered over by helicopter parents – are missing out on something that my generation took for granted.

Let’s call it freedom. Or maybe a certain sense of adventure, writ small. When I was a kid (yes, I know, cue the sappy string music), every kid in the neighborhood would get up on weekends or summer days, gulp some Lucky Charms, then race out the door.

We’d be gone all day jumping banana bikes off ramps, blowing things up with firecrackers, playing ditch in the woods, damming creeks, playing completely unauthorized football, carving sticks for sword fights, jumping off swings, etc. We’d only go home when mom hollered out the door for dinner or the streetlights came on. Our lives, in short, were a lot like the movies “Sandlot” or “Stand By Me.”

Not today. Unsupervised children running around and doing God knows what? No way – it wouldn’t happen. Too dangerous.

Today, kids’ lives are structured, supervised, tracked and sanitized for their protection, and thank god for it.

But I’m still glad I grew up when I did.

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Andrew Heller, an award-winning newspaper columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Follow him at andrewheller.com and on Facebook and Twitter. Write to him at andrewhellercolumn@gmail.com.


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