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