"Can we stop for a play?", she asks, looking over at me with that silvery blonde hair swinging around her shoulders, face flushed pink from the ride up the hill. Despite wanting to get this hill over and done with, wishing to be home already, I smile and agree. I am immediately glad as she sits her slender eleven year-old frame onto the swing and starts propelling her legs and body in unison to get some movement going. Long may she want to play.
Our local playground is not fancy. In fact, I would call it sparse.Set in a small tanbark ring, you'll find a pair of swings and a small slide with a ladder. A wooden bench sits alongside, opposite the scattered gumtrees that line the pathway that links our street to school. Every morning we race past the playground, invariably late and relishing the wind in our faces as we pick up speed on the downhill. On the way home, things are slower. It's a slow and steady uphill, with the playground marking the halfway point. Despite the lack of monkey bars, there being no climbing frame, certainly nothing like a flying fox or sandpit, this playground is my favourite.
As an adult, I'm no longer interested in trying to slide down a pole or squeeze through a tunnel at a playgound. No, my interest lies solely in swinging. But not all swings are created equal, and there are certain parameters that must be met if I am to swing. For starters, the seat on the swing has to accommodate my seat. On some, the metal sides can be so close together only a toddler can squeeze in. Or some have one of those baby only seats that position the body upright to the point it's impossible to get any momentum going. (As I write that, I recognise that this could indeed be the point.) Not that this matters, because I can't squeeze into the seat in the first place. It's not only the seat that matters, howver. The height of the frame is a crucial element. Those teeny tiny frames that call for short chains and only allow for short, fast swinging are no good to me. These are almost always set with the seat too close to the ground, too, so my feet drag and hit at every approach. No, swing frames need to allow for a long chain from the frame to the seat, which in turn allows for a wonderful, long, slow swinging arc. And a seat that allows me to dangle, one that needs a little leap to get into. This is my perfect swing.
After pushing my daughter, always that little bit higher, that little bit longer, she vacates the swing and lets me saddle up. As soon as I grip the chains and push myself up into the now falling seat, a wide smile crosses my face. Feet up, body back. Feet back, back arched. Up and back, back and arched. Up, back...back, arched. My breathing matches my movements, getting longer and stretching further each time. I look into the canopy of the trees before me as I get to optimal height, calling to my daughter that I'm nearly there. After one final reach with the tips of my toes towards the tops of the trees, a quick adjustment of my hands on the chains to grip a little harder in just the right place, I am once again at the summit, looking down towards the ground which is now some distance below me. This is my time. My anticipation is palpable. At that moment, I close my eyes and throw my head as far back as it will go, my arms straight and body in a line, my legs out straight once again and toes soon reaching for the sky. Laughter escapes as I whoop in delight, sitting upright once again for the backward swing, relishing the little flip my tummy makes as I ready myself for another laying-down swing. As the momentum is once again forward, I whip back into the hammock position, feeling as if a thousand tiny ball bearings are running from my toes up through my legs and torso and finally to my scalp, flipping my stomach out of the way in the process. It is so freeing, swinging like the pendulum of a clock. Ah, the joy. Some swings, I stay in that laying position all the way forward and back, until my grip becomes too uncomfortable and I have to right myself. So this goes on.
As I slow for the final time and gather myself to disembark, my daughter comments that even though we swing and push when we stop at the park, its somehow still relaxing. I couldn't agree more as we step back to the path, shoulder our bags once again, and use a good bit of reclaimed strength to push down on that pedal and restart the climb home.