Teeter-Totter Tribulations

Sticky summer nights, the smell of Cracker Jacks and the drone of engines lined up like soldiers in the Drive-in movie theater. This was the playground of my family’s Saturday nights when I was a young girl growing up.

A picnic of sandwiches, chips and soda-pop preceded the moment that we children considered the highlight of the evening, which was being allowed to escape the confines of the family station wagon and fly off to play for a half hour on the playground dwarfed by the giant screen above it.

It was a simple playground, not like the amusement park replicas our children play on today. It had a metal slide, tall with a wave in the middle, which we would cleverly slide over with a slice of our mother’s wax paper to make it far more slippery than any mother now would consider safe. It had a Merry-go-round, a cylinder disc with curved bars to hold on to- while some energetic child would hold on and run circles on the ground and teach us what could happen to children who didn’t hold on tight in this world. 

The most unique piece of equipment was the giant drum. All of the kids would cram into the drum like rats in a sewer and we would lean to one side as the drum began to move. The more we pushed, the faster it went until the force of our actions caused it to move with great speed and we all went tumbling over one and another into a screaming, laughing heap. Some of the kids would get scared and get out. Some of the kids would scream to go faster. Someone ALWAYS got hurt. It was inevitable. It was usually my sister. It was a blast.

When my crazy (fearless) sister wasn’t commandeering the drum, she was likely to found swinging from the top of good old-fashioned Monkey Bars. While more sedate and cautious children, like me, were down below examining the risks, she was shimmying up the poles, one hand after the other, climbing over slower, more hesitant children, rushing to the top. Every now and then, she would fall off. Once in awhile she would sprain or twist a body part, but she would dust herself off, find another way up and try another route, and before long there she would be again, calling for me to join her from the top…the highest Monkey in the land.

My personal favorite piece of equipment was the Teeter-Totter. I was always trying to get someone to go on the teeter-totter with me. I was fascinated by the concept of it. The fact that you couldn’t go on the Teeter-totter by yourself and have it DO anything was both a marvel and an annoyance that I couldn’t get over. I wasn’t satisfied to continue going up and down, up and down, up and down on the thing. I wanted to play on the Teeter-Totter for the same reason I kept jumping out of trees. I wanted to do the impossible. I wanted to fly- and I wanted the teeter-totter to stay suspended in perpetual balance up in the air.

The fact that I was a complete failure at this experiment-at least for more than a mere second or two at a time- never seemed to faze my cohorts or me. We would try, repeatedly, to get just the right momentum going, just the right balance, to get those both sides to match and stay suspended in space…before one side or the other would fall and we would dissolve into a fresh fit of laughter.

The signaling glow of the lightning bugs would always end our playground follies and bring us back to the movie portion of the evening. In looking back, I can’t name more than a few movies my family watched together on those mosquito nights with the scratchy little speakers pumping the sound inside our cramped car. But I do think about the lessons learned on the playground out there. The life lessons I learned by playing on “dangerous” paint-chipped equipment, which society put away long ago.

Power of Wax Paper. With a little wax paper, we can speed things up. If things are going a bit too slow or are problematic and not to our liking, we do have some control over the outcome. We can think it through, problem solve, come up with a solution and bring our own solution to the table (or slide) and not be a victim of a slow slide. We have the power to make change happen.

Truth about the Spin Cycle. The world is spinning FAST. It isn’t going to slow down for you to catch your breath, no matter how much you wish it would. If you let go, you may spin out into orbit and get conked on the head or get a fat lip. It’s your job to HOLD ON TIGHT. That doesn’t mean you always have to have a vice grip on it either. You can hold on and scream your head off or you can hold on, laugh your head off, and have fun. You are still in control. But YOU CAN’T LET GO.

Teamwork Turns the Drum. As long as we all worked together to keep the giant drum turning, it didn’t matter if we went fast, slow or in-between. It only mattered that we communicated and worked together. Then we could have fun. As soon as everyone only started thinking for themselves, people fell over, got trampled and got hurt.

Falling isn’t Failure. My sister wasn’t failing every time she fell off of the Monkey bars. She was learning a better, faster way to shimmy up to the top. Soon, there wasn’t a kid from miles around who could climb up there faster than she could. The rest of us were still trying to figure things out from down below, staring up. Rarely do we learn looking up, we learn looking down at where we’ve been.

Life’s a Teeter Totter. The bad, really sad news is that life isn’t going to balance. Our teeter-totters, balls, balloons, marbles or anything else we try to juggle and toss up there aren’t going to stay suspended in perfectly balanced animation NO MATTER HOW HARD we try, and no matter how hard we WISH, or VISUALIZE them too.

Remembering that Life is a Teeter-Totter, we realize that we aren’t playing out here all alone. Many of us have trouble balancing our lives because we try to do it in a vacuum- and then are surprised when Life and people get in the way. We design the perfect balance plan and someone walks in with an important need and hand-grenades our strategy to bits. Their turn up, our turn down. We must ALSO build in times for our turn at UP. Because if we don’t…it might not come. We have to bring our own wax paper and make things happen for ourselves. We can’t wait for it. We need to start now. We can also shoot for those rare moments of middle ground. Just don’t expect them to be the norm.

Remembering that life is a teeter-totter, we realize that just because we haven’t achieved the perfect Zen of life balance doesn’t mean we are failing. It means we are learning. We are growing new ideas and expanding our understanding about who we are as authentic human beings in communion with other authentic human beings. Sometimes we get caught up in feeling as if we are the only ones in the spin cycle. Not true. We are all in the Drum together and we can keep it turning through better communication, compassion and teamwork. Teamwork keeps us from tripping over each other. TRUE LIFE BALANCE comes as we grow as individuals and in community with each other.

You can’t ride the Teeter-Totter alone.  

 This post is being submitted as part of the Life Balance Group Writing Project at Create a Balance

Comments

  1. HAHAHAH!

    Remember going on the Teeter-Totters, and all the people were taken, so you paired up with a bigger kid you didn’t know too well?

    And then littie sh*t would jump off at the crucial moment and you’d go SLAM!!! into the ground! And he’d walk away laughing.

    Every kid learns this lesson, at least once. It happened to me when I was five, and I never forgot it.

    Life is like a teeter totter. When you need someone’s help to make something work, and you have to place yourself in a position of vulnerability, it’s important to pick someone you can TRUST.

    Otherwise, they might just jump off and let you fall to the ground.

    (PS. Today’s playgrounds are so sanitized and safe and LAME, kids won’t learn ANYTHING.

    What are they gonna learn about a 2-foot plastic slide and wood chips?

    Friar’s last blog post..Things About the Workplace I Don’t Wanna Understand

  2. What a wonderful post, Wendi.

    We still have those traditional playgrounds here in the UK, although the slides are far slower than they used to be.

    I remember one slide I used to play on just outside a cricket ground. We would go to watch the cricket when it was a warm summer evening and then my brother and I would go to the playground next door. There was a slide that went down the middle of a small wooden roof with some seating under it. I remember deciding the slide was boring so I would see if the wood was any better. Yep, my bum didn’t appreciate the splinters of wood that were stuck in it for the next week. :)

    I can’t say I ever tried to balance the seesaw (teeter-totter). I was always one of those kids who would run away when the other person was at the top. haha.

    Jamie

  3. I think I needed to read this today…shall help me with my day and have a positive spin on it…Thanks as always…

    Sue’s last blog post..Kona…The Run

  4. Wendi

    Your post also makes me nostalgic for the Old-Time playgrounds.

    Where swings were planks of wood (and not pelvis-crushing rubber straps). You could swing high enough to go weightless, and then jump off at the last moment and land in the sand.

    Slides were long, shiny and FAST. (Except when a kid spilled soda down it0.

    Merry-go-rounds were downright dangerous…and the most FUN. They really taught you about centrifugal force and the laws of physics, too.

    The park near where my Grandma lived had a huge jungle gym in the shape of a ROCKET. You could climb up inside with ladders, and there were three different rooms, three stories stacked on top of each other. At the top, I swear I felt 200 feet off the ground.

    Now, THOSE were fun playgrounds.

    (I feel sorry for today’s kids…playgrounds suck so bad, no wonder they want to play videogames).

    Friar’s last blog post..Things About the Workplace I Don’t Wanna Understand

  5. Friar,

    Ah yes, that rotten Kid who jumped off the teeter totter. ( Now we know it was Jamie Harrop. Shame on you Jamie!) My sister used to do that to me. She was rotton like that. I can honostly say I have NEVER done that. I don’t relish the idea of falling that much :)

    Jamie, so sorry about your slivered Bum, I’m quite sure you’ve given your mum a few sleepless nights, coming up with brilliant ideas like that! Glad you are here! I was over visiting and reading your post on Nostalgia for the old days of Blogging. Well, we aren’t that old here, but we are a friendly close-knit group. Pull up a chair and join us! I think you’ll find what you are looking for here. :)

  6. Sue,
    Isn’t is wonderful when the right words that we need show up at the right time? I’m glad I could do that for you today. Have a shiny day!

  7. Friar,
    I have often mourned the loss of REAL playgrounds. Heck, they probably were painted with lead paint they were so dangerous. My sister and one of my sons broke so many body parts on playgrounds I lost count for both of them. So I understand the March of Moms to eradicate them from our world forever. But a lot of life lessons were learned on those playgrounds. Namely-Cause and Effect…the biggest amoung them. You leap off a giant Rocket, you are likely to bust a body part. Now we pad their lives in so much fluff they think the world has no consequences. BIG MISTAKE. Best to learn it on the playground. The real world hurts a heck of a lot more.

  8. Lovely post about using the teeter trotter to explain about life balance!!

    I was just reading this quote (see below) before I came onto your site. How apt, I thought, to illustrate that we are all in the Drum together. Here it is…

    “The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”
    — James Arthur Baldwin

    Evelyn Lim’s last blog post..Be Careful What You Wish For

  9. Dude, now I want crackerjacks. (And I still have the Monday song in my head.) You are a veryvery bad influence. Which is only part of why I love you. :-)

    Amy Derby’s last blog post..Sucking the Suck Out of Corporate Presentations (or, Conversations With Monkeys)

  10. Evelyn,
    Thanks for sharing that quote. Perfect!

    Amy, Dudette!

    How about…”You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…you make me happy…when skies are gray….you’ll never know DEAR-how much I LOVE you…Please don’t Take my sunshine away…”

    Is that better? CrackerJacks on the way by train…..

    Oh, I don’t think I ever answered, I can get all the way to the big city on one train- one hour. straight there.

  11. Wonderful post, Wendi. None of us can ride the teeter totter alone. When we think we can is when we fall the hardest.

    (I like the remark about amusement park replicas. It’s so true)

    Writer Dad’s last blog post..At Least I Don’t Have Zits

  12. Teeter toter bread and water, wash my face in dirty water!
    My memories of the drive in back in the day were of us kids being able to go play on the playground until dark and the movie was just about to start.. hurry back.. only to have mom and dad say “get down” as they pushed our bodies down (in a kinder, gentler way) because it was a “dirty movie”.. lol! We used to sneak a peek at what all the hoopla was about but I can’t for the life of me remember the movie.. probably a good thing!

  13. Your last line Wendi – about not being able to ride the teeter-totter alone — so true! And wonderful comparisons you made in this post. I especially like the idea of falling off and getting back on the monkey bars – and seeing that as not failing. Too often, we try something, fail, and quit. When, all we need to do is look at it differently – not seeing it as failure, but as one way that didn’t work. And in that case, it’s success – because we’ve eliminated one way of doing something – and are that much closer to finding the solution we desire.

    Anyway, this is a great piece to add to Stacey’s project!

    Lance’s last blog post..Life Balance: A Very Personal Pyramid

  14. I absolutley LOVED the teeter-totter! I never got to play on one long enough though, others would get bored with it too quickly and I’d be stuck on the ground.

    Ironically that’s how I feel right now, these last few weeks. I’m the only one on the teeter-totter and I can’t get my feet off the ground. Too many things are being piled on my half and there is no way I can get it even a little balanced!!

    Jenny’s last blog post..Moments

  15. I miss the old time Cracker Jack too.

    Nowadays, the kernels of popped corn are perfectly spherical and uniform in size, to within a tolerance of 0.001 inches. The caramel candy coating is glazed on perfectly, to within a nanometer.

    It’s almost TOO PERFECT. Like it’s genetically modified corn or something, prepared by robots.

    Cracker Jack still tastes good, but I like the older style, where it looked like human beings made it.

    (MMMmmmm….Cracker Jack).

    Dammit, Wendi. Now I gotta go BUY SOME after work. :-)

    Friar’s last blog post..Things About the Workplace I Don’t Wanna Understand

  16. Mistress O says:

    Never Teeter Tottered – ever. Was the Queen of the Swing and always there instead. Did not do the monkey bars till a group of us in high school went to a playground and I did it for the first time.
    Such fun.
    So no life lessons about teeter-tottering to report. Loved reading the other replies.
    Ms. O

  17. Oh Wendi, this was beautiful. I felt like I was on that playground with you. You also brought back wonderful memories. I loved going to the drive in with my parents. My mom always dressed me in my pj’s with the feet in, and wrapped me in a coat. I loved the cartoons at the beginning and the fun of laying in the back our station wagon with a blanket watching movies with my Mom and Dad. Good times! I am looking forward to your book with all these wonderful stories. I have loved every single one!

  18. I liked what you wrote here, and then I got a funny thought – because life is like the old time playgrounds – you can have a lot of fun, and you can also get hurt. That’s life.

    Now, look at today’s playgrounds – only a complete moron would get hurt there, everything’s wrapped in pillows!

    Because some busybody came by and made it “safe”… how long before the busybodies do the same thing for “life” too – yeah, we’d be safer, but we wouldn’t have as many opportunities either…

    :)

    -Brett

    (PS – I will email you shortly)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..viking fridays – tears in the rain.

  19. Going to the drive-in movie is one thing I think kids of today are really missing out on. It was an ideal family outing when the kids were young and later, the perfect place for a date ;) Believe it or not, there are still a few drive-ins and the last time I went to one was when Pirates of the Caribbean came out. Pretty cool, eh? Ours didn’t have a playground though I do remember the one in the movie Grease did!

    “Stranded at the drive-in, branded a fool. What will they say… Monday at school?” Hehehahee!

    Melissa Donovan’s last blog post..How Writers Can Stay on Top of Their Game

  20. Wendi – how interesting to read your post and your views on the teeter-totter. I wrote a post last week about the see-saw at the playground and my metaphor for life balance. I love reading different points of view! thanks for sharing yours!

    Stacey Shipman’s last blog post..Blog Action Day: Thoughts on Poverty

  21. Hi Wendi – these are great comparisons and so true. Is a teeter totter the same as a seesaw, where one person sits on either end. It’s never easy to get the balance right in life is it? I bet even some of these personal development gurus struggle with it.

    Cath Lawson’s last blog post..Why Some Of The Best Business Ideas Suck

  22. Terrific post! I loved the swings. I liked to swing as high as I could and close my eyes to make the momentum that much more intense. I used to imagine I could swing over the top of the bar, off my swing, and into the sky like a bird.

    Yeah, I think that’s how I still look at life, too. Thanks for reminding me.

    Jamie Simmerman’s last blog post..The No Regrets Journey

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