Child-proofing a playground

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It was by far the largest box ever to arrive, landing on our front porch with a deep thud. I dragged it inside and wrapped it, using three rolls of paper, before struggling to slide just a corner under the Christmas tree.

Inside were the four walls, ropes, and handhold rocks of a giant climbing pyramid. Also there were about 500 screws, nuts, and assembly instructions written in six different languages. But the assembly of the giant pyramid would be many months away.

First, the play area had to be inspected and made child safe by Yours Truly. All rocks and sticks removed, any holes filled with dirt, and the ground graded off level.

That was now, here is then. That first Christmas we spent living on that old familiar Street not so far away called Flamingo, a play set also landed under our Christmas tree. Unfortunately, no such inspections of the grounds were done prior to the assembly.

Between my three brothers, The Sister and me, we found all the rocks and sticks on our new playground either by landing on them while jumping off swings or “accidentally” throwing them at each other.

That was then, here is now. The day after Christmas, a site was strategically chosen for the play area. Months of hard work started. Overhanging branches, which could possibly fall on unsuspecting children, were removed.

Monthly mosquito spraying of the entire backyard commenced. Rocks, sticks, and a few snakes were removed and relocated. The play area had to be level and built up so four yards of screened topsoil was dumped and spread.

Then a concrete block retaining wall was built encircling the area in order for it to survive any storm flooding. On top of the wall, a hand carved stone ledge for a bench was installed.

After “sit” testing of the stone bench, thick all-weather padding was added for comfort. With over five months of site preparation and wall building finished, the construction of the climbing pyramid could finally start.

That was now, here is then. Dad didn’t do any such site preparation. No topsoil was trucked in to level the ground and a retaining wall wasn’t built. Rocks, sticks and even snakes weren’t relocated. My three brothers, The Sister and me provided the only mosquito control as we tried to slap them out of existence when they landed on us.

Although not really a bench, a nearby fallen tree did provide a nice place to sit and some entertainment as we waited our turn to swing. Full of giant wood beetles, they’d pinch and fight if placed together … or on an unsuspecting brother or The Sister.

That was then, here is now. After two days, the climbing pyramid is finally assembled, and long metal spikes driven into the ground secure all four corners. But the play area isn’t complete until five inches of rubber “playground-certified” cubed mulch has been spread inside the retaining wall. Anyone falling, or pushed, to the ground will have a nice soft landing.

That is now, here is then. Assembling of the swing set took Dad only two hours and he didn’t use instructions. Had he there wouldn’t have been so many parts left over, and Older Brother Richard wouldn’t have flown through the air as the swing fell apart.

Five inches of rubber “playground-certified” cubed mulch didn’t break his fall. But rocks, sticks, and the pile of extra swing set parts did.

The swing set wasn’t anchored either. We knew we were swinging too high when the support legs pulled out of the ground causing the entire set to tip over and fall apart. Dad had only one playground rule — don’t get hurt.

That was then and here is now. Rules for our new play area — just have fun. And don’t kick, throw or eat the rubber mulch.

Here’s hoping that all the kids out there have as fun-filled summer as we did a long, long time ago on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]