Destroying a Childhood Swingset

For any psychology students out there, here’s a good one for you to analyze. In late August I went home to see my family and start preparing for the fall semester. Upon my arrival my parents put me to work around the house and in the yard. One of the jobs I was tasked with was dismantling the swingset that stood dejected in the corner of our yard. However, before we get into the act of destruction, here’s a little history.

My family is currently living in our third house, all of which have been in the same town and never more than 5 minutes away from each other. In fact, our current house is no more than a few hundred yards from the house I lived in until I was 10. It was in the backyard of that first house that this same swing set first showed up, towering above my tiny 4-year-old self. It had a shiny yellow slide and matching yellow swings. It had a tower with a telescope and a steering wheel, not to mention a rope ladder and monkey bars. There was even a sandbox underneath the tower. For my sister Chloe and I, it was where we spent a lot our time throughout elementary school.

I sailed that swingset across pirate-infested oceans. Chloe and I mastered the yellow swings and would try to launch ourselves as far as possible, resulting in a few injuries now and again. One time my aunt showed up at our house to find my mother asleep while my sister hung from the monkey bars unable to get down (apparently I was looking on from the ground smirking, but that’s not how I remember it). When it was hot I would hang out in the shady sandbox underneath and make earthworm cities. One year there was a cicada outburst (one of those 13 or 17-year cycles) and their empty skins covered the swingset for weeks before Chloe would go back on the monkey bars.

When we moved to our second home I entered middle school but would still play on it from time to time. At that point I had two more little sisters who also got much use out of the now fading yellow swings. Upon moving to our current house, our childhood relic began to break down. One too many of my friends sat on the wooden horse swing and broke it. My sisters and I got older and a swingset was no place for a high school student. Soon the swingset was just part of the scenery; by the time I left for college I barely even noticed it.

Fast-forward to the hot August day when I approached my childhood swingset for the last time. The yellow slide was bleached almost white, the swings close behind. There was no longer any sand underneath the tower, and the ropes were all fraying badly. I tried standing on the first rung of the ladder and the wood promptly snapped underfoot. A second try broke the next rung the same way. My dad and I tried to loosen a a couple of screw and bolts but quickly realized they were frozen, rusted shut in the wood. Any conventional disassembly was out of the question now. So my dad handed me the old wooden hatchet from our garage, the one he received from his dad many years before the swingset or I existed.

What followed was a surreal experience that was both physically and mentally tiring. At first I didn’t really think about what I was doing because the physical act of destruction can be therapeutic and enjoyable, especially when you’re handed a hatchet and told to go wild. The only rule was that the pieces had to be small enough to fit in the back of our truck. With great enthusiasm I started chopping at the right side post and it quickly gave in to the metal of my hatchet. Now I turned my attention to the left side where the tower was and attempted to detach the other side of the monkey bars. It wasn’t quite so easy. I attacked the crossbeam on either side of the monkey bars and after about 15 minutes the bars came free. I had climbed into the tower to gain a better angle and I suddenly realized how comically large I was compared to the rotting infrastructure around me.

I continued my mission, becoming more and more aware of the symbolic nature of my act. Memories of the swingset came flooding back as I raised my hatchet high above my head over and over. Every resounding “thwack” reminded me that my childhood was something I’d never get back. Taking apart the tower itself was more difficult, and my hands were beginning to blister from gripping the old wooden handle. When I wasn’t trying to take down the tower I would return to the pile of debris and hack it into ever smaller pieces. My shoulders began to ache. I wiped the sweat out of my eyes. My childhood was refusing to go down without a fight.

By the end all that remained were the splintered ends of a once proud structure. The only thing that was left intact was the plastic slide, which lay on it’s side like a beached whale. We packed it all into the car and drove it to the dump. And then it was gone. I went home and carried on with my day. What else could I do?

I took some pictures of this event, which I realize now was a performance in which I was the actor. I wish I documented it better. I only have a few frames from about mid-way in the performance. At first I was angry with myself for being so complacent in what was certainly the metaphorical death of my childhood. But now I can’t help but think that I’ll never forget this event and therefore all the memories attached to it. The past will always be important for us to learn from and look back on, but we are not meant to dwell on what has been. My childhood swingset lasted almost 15 years, and it would’ve kept standing around if I didn’t take it down myself. But perhaps this symbolic act was necessary. I like to believe that my swingset had to die so that one day I’ll be able to build a brand new one for my own children.

One thought on “Destroying a Childhood Swingset

  1. Hello.. wow you got my heart racing I must admit. I loved the question you presented for “psychologists” , and although I am NOT (ex- teacher, currently on the “road-LESS-traveled”, ENTRYOPY)… I knew almost without reading your entire post—> which I forced myself to—> in order to understand what conclusions YOU made… and while you made the perfect connection to the SWINGSET being your metaphoric “childhood”, and needing to knock something down to its foundation— in order to build something stronger & more suitable in its place. The SERENITY / CALMNESS that ran through your every fiber of your being- DESPITE THE seemingly VIOLENT and perhaps UNNERVING perception you conveyed to the casual onlooker.

    ***(this summer, I pulled out EVERY SINGLE weed from my garden (there once was a pool covering the ENTIRE yard before we moved in)…feeling a theraputic release each time I successfully saw a BULB- knowing it COULD NEVER GROW AGAIN… it could never impose upon the BEAUTY i was trying to culminate … i even came back from my “job’s headquarters- the district of phiadelphia and in HEELS, A FAVORITE OUTFIT, MY LONG (cousin it) HAIR STYLED for once…AND IN THE DEAD HEAT OF SUMMER—> i feverishly went to work as my NEIGHBORS stared occasionally, confusedly…. (which later I found to have been described as one, “YOU JUST LOOKED … REALLY BUSY”…). Perhaps you can see more into me, and will shed some light down the “road-LESS-traveled” i’m on … as i hopefully will perhaps … on yours… ***

    I WAS CHEERING YOU ON! AGAIN, MY HEART RATE UP… WAITING FOR YOU TO MAKE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN YOURSELF, YOUR SWINGSET, & YOUR :::super/supraconscious:::, not SUBCONSCIOUS. but you did not… and i saw an opportunity to hopefully answer—> or provide a :::hint::: to help you solve this… FOR I DO NOT KNOW YOU PERSONALLY. but here is what i {{SuRMiSe}}…

    You metioned, in a susinct and businesslike manner, that you had moved a total of -3- TIMES, (though these ^upheavels^ did not consciously –INTERRUPT– your social life, nor were a consequence of seperation (?), or an ENVIRONMENTAL change… As I said, (being as though I spent over two decades in the corner house I was brought home to as an infant….) YOU did not delve into the IMPACT of that…. as if it didn’t produce one. And I believe it did……… …… …

    SO HERE GOES MY ATTEMPT to answer/ reveal/ help/ whatever the following does in regards to your ? …(as warrior .ex- teacher . chaos.woman @ge 28 turning 100 in May)…
    1) *your SWINGSET… was your CITADEL, if you will… your (+)SOLACE(+)… a place where you went for {{peace, to ponder, look up at the sky with wonder, dream, pray (?), excitement, fun, happiness, protection [&quite literally that, as you described], and perhaps most importantly… HOME. at least where you felt the most AT HOME at… until you adapted to the CHANGE that comes with moving place-to-place…
    2) IT was *ONE of the ONLY* TANGIBLE, MEANINGFUL, & POSITIVE thing that REMAINED CONSISTENT… RELIABLE… SOLID… STEADFAST and what i find to be most significant and key to solving this ? …=what YOU considered to be a PARALLEL between the 3 houses… your past, present & future… ((*you see… what we place our IMPORTANCE on as an infant, baby, adolescent, child, teen…and adult, are quite different we find- … for example: your toy breaks! waaahhhhh… your lamp breaks! waaahhh… AND TO YOU: perhaps, YOUR SWINGSET WITHSTOOD THE TEST OF TIME, it remained EQUALLY IMPORTANT to you from the moment you 1st SAW it!! —> FELT, TOUCHED it ——-child, i believe you said…. until the very moment you CHOPPED IT DOWN as adult…
    3) You saw it as a sign of “Maturity”… of maybe cutting ties between you & “CHILDHOOD”… and i understand that completely. It makes perfect sense. It was a symbol for you in the positive sense…. but here’s what else I can locially deduce, or perhaps add up staring further down the SCOPE of the SWINGSET and your MINDSET…

    4) i can infer, from what you described… that you were extremely CLOSE to your sister, and still are. Maybe more of a “best friend” relationship than “sister/ brother” one.. perhaps she even BUSTED YOUR stones for not being there when YOU TORE IT DOWN. … it would probably means the same to her as it did to you, and as a result… She, perhaps felt “jipped”. or “sad” like she missed a [birthday] or [graduation]. I can tell that you are close in age- you the older (? dunno if you said that already… im typing too fast to go back, and my 3 yr old is just dying to jump up and start pressing keys)

    5) Because you RELATE your SWINGSET to the +POSITIVE+ …it is hard to think, consider, mull over WHAT NEGATIVE could be connected to your beloved treasure. It is here I will not insult you by pretending I KNOW exactly what your life was like… who you are personally… HOWEVER, I WANT YOU TO ASK YOURSELF THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS… and let me know, hopefully, if i’ve helped…please do not take offense.

    A) You said that you moved 3 times…. WHY? (do you know? have you ever
    asked if not?) Also… you did not express yourself in a manner that would
    lead me to believe you harbour any resentment towards your parents… but
    DO YOU HAVE A CLOSER RELATIONSHIP with your sister, siblings…
    then you ever will them?
    C) HOW DID YOU ^REALLY^ FEEL when you saw your favorite PRECIOUS
    seemingly LIFE-LONG FRIEND/ GEM—> tattered… warn out… uninhabitable.
    UNKEPT… ????
    D) How did you REALLY feel about your swing? Did it draw out a SPECIFIC
    emotion when you saw it was unkept?? Who did you blame?? *for so long you
    saw it as something perhaps, naiively, that would WITHSTAND the TESTS OF
    TIME… as it always has…

    E) If you own your own house… do you have a SWING there? a Canopy? an outdoor SET-Up? …. or a ROOM in which is SOLELY yours??? (I would lean more towards the OUTDOORS… for what nature gave to the serenity you felt on your SwingSet and I find we try to recreate that for ourselves… at least i have.
    …. i would like to write more, and plan to… perhaps you can let me know if i am on the right track with this… or not… PLEASE KNOW, I DO NOT WANT/ NEED TO KNOW THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUETIONS—- BUT RATHER IF YOU ANSWERED THEM FOR YOURSELF….. i believe you would feel more comfortable that way, and willing to be more honest with yourself …

    ***oh, and btw are you overly cautious or a complete wildhorse?? if I knew the ANSWER to that question I could probably read more into you….. HOWEVER, are you someone that needs to be in control of your situations, items, emotions, relationships?? (though you do not do this to ANY extreme??… meaning to a compulsion/ or at least not with all of the elements i mentioned)…

    —> i need help/ insight badly… and i struggle with {{self-reflection}}-> though i can usually feel. tell. conclude everyone around me … messed up, huh? Perhaps you can shed light on me, or help me answer my questions.

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