I stepped into the time machine again the other day.
It’s taken many shapes over the years… Sometimes a cardboard box of photos, sometimes a garage full of old stuff that’s in that strange stage between being treasure and being junk, sometimes an old car full of memories.
In this case, it was a train… and a plane… and a mountain…
…all in the shape of an old swing set.
It was old when we got it almost 20 years ago from a family that was moving out of state and couldn’t take it with them. I remember seeing it and thinking it was just the kind of swing set I’d drooled over years ago in the old Sears catalog when I was a kid. My dad was in the Air Force at the time, and we moved around too much to be able to have our own swing set, and this time, even though it was used, the little boy inside me was just thrilled for my own kids, that they’d be able to have the kind I’d always wanted – down to the paint and everything.
And you know what? The kids loved it.
I learned to pull the kids by their feet on the swing from the front, not push them from the back – that way I could see their faces, tickle their feet, and laugh with them as they swung toward me. I never understood the idea of pushing them from the back, pulling them from the front was just so much more fun.
We moved, and took the swing set with us to what we called “the brick house” – where the back yard was barely big enough to take it, and you ended up with your butt in the hedge when swinging all the way back, the only thing visible being your arms and maybe your feet.
And we moved again, this time to a house with a back yard big enough to hold the entire swing set and have plenty of room to swing, and slide, and play.
I spent some time on that ‘glider’ swing with my son – where one adult and one kid (or four kids) could sit and pretend they’re on a train, in a hot air balloon, or on an adventure of some kind. For us it was mostly the train, and we swung back and forth as we traveled through magical kingdoms and faraway lands, with bridges crossing beautiful valleys, and tunnels darkly going through tall mountains.
There were times that the train also ended up traveling through tall jungles…
(that had to do with where I was working, and the length of the commute),
…because I had to hack and slash a path back to the swing set in late spring when I had the time to spend an entire weekend taming the jungle that had been a lawn at one time.
We’d tied a rope from the swing set to the tree house we’d made in the apple tree, and put a pulley with a handle onto it. That pulley became the quickest way to escape from the apple tree (just in case there were monsters attacking that needed escaping from).
And as time went on, the swing set was played on by many children, mowed around every couple of weeks in the summer, and it was a place where the imagination, and children, could soar.
One morning awhile back, I went out there again, and things looked different. The grass was still worn underneath, but it was something else that caught my eye.
It was obvious that the swing set had current visitors, but the laughter of small children on it was still. The chains had rusted, and instead of children going on magical journeys, there were spiders.
And there was a web.
And it got me thinking…
We have our children for a very short time.
I’ve learned the hours and minutes can feel like they’re dragging on (remember the last time you were in an emergency room with your kid?) – but the months and years fly by like the smoke from a blown out birthday candle.
I remembered when I was a kid, desperately wanting to grow up because adults always had all the answers, and adults knew everything, especially mom and dad. As I grew older, I realized that I didn’t have all the answers and in all honesty, neither did they.
In fact, I found myself repeating that one especially as I learned (from my own kids) that there were questions I’d never thought of, and it’s impossible to have all the answers for your kids, especially when you’re still looking for them for yourself.
I stood there, in the morning sunshine, watching the spider weaving her web, and came to the realization that I was in the middle of a transition. My mind stumbled across it all. Among the myriad of things that had happened this year, our daughter had gotten married, and both she and her new husband were doing amazing work at their respective companies. Our son, heading off to college this fall, had started a small shop selling chainmail jewelry, which he would often make while singing along with John Rawnsley’s wonderful version of The Barber of Seville (he’d graduated from the Bugs Bunny version that I found myself humming…)
And then, while the last of the strains of Figaro (the barber) were still echoing in my mind, I thought of the lessons I’d taught them, both consciously and unconsciously. For good or for bad, I’ve learned some of the most powerful lessons that stick are the ones we don’t realize we’re teaching them, and we often only realize years later. I thought of the conversations I’d had with both of them over their lives, and I pondered a moment at how much both the kids and the conversations had changed. Both of them were in various stages of putting away their childish things (we know, because most of them are still in the basement 🙂 ) and are well on their way to thinking and acting like the adults they are becoming instead of the children they had been.
They’re growing up…
I gave the swing just enough of a push to make the spider a little woozy and watched as it swung back and forth a few times.
It brought a smile, a tear, more than just a little gratitude at the blessings I had experienced with them, because of them.
I stood there a little longer…
A lifetime of memories floated by as the swing swung a little slower each time, creaking a little less with every one…
The years, unlike the swing, seem to go by more quickly each time, creaking a little more with every one.
I pondered a little more… reflecting, and then suddenly became conscious not only of the years, but of the minutes, and realized that time never stood still. It was still passing. I stole a look at my watch and realized it was time to leave for work, so I turned, took a deep breath, wiped my eyes, and like the kids, left the swing set and the memories behind to start a new day.