Published first on Hyperlocal, a CBC Books & National Film Board of Canada collaboration.
We grew up before the demise of wooden playgrounds, before deadly splinters and fatal falls into gravel pits plagued our parents with worry, before what-ifs controlled our freedom.
Back then, we braved those threats with a wave of giggles.
While plastic playgrounds popped up all over town—the newest just a two-minute race from our doorstep—we thrilled ourselves in mounting our bikes and flying to the wooden playground, the wind tearing our eyes, tousling our hair. In a time when eight-year-olds supervised five-year-olds, it was a delight. Instead of shredded tire cushioning the ground, the wooden playground had a tire swing chained to a post.
But unbeknownst to us, committees formed like an allegiance of heroes, with not but our safety in mind.
“What about scrapes and bruises,” they gasped. “What if they fall and lose an eye.”
“And all that broken glass hiding in the gravel.”
“And dirty needles infected with disease.”
“We have to do something.”
The new principal at the Catholic school was the first to act. He tore down the brand new playground they’d built just the year before.
“No playground is safe,” he declared, tossing his bright cape over his shoulder. He really meant no playground is safe under his reign.
How could our “own good” have such disregard for fun?
But we were the lucky ones. That wasn’t our playground. We heard the moans, witnessed the frowns, but we still had our dangerous secret. Truth is, we weren’t even supposed to go there on our own. But sometimes, if we knocked on all the neighbourhood doors, we could rally up a gang of two-wheelers and training wheels for a game of grounders. There were only a few of us who had to keep it a secret. We knew who we were.
You know, we loved the plastic playgrounds too. We could still swing the swings and call broken dishes just as well. It’s just, that one of wood was better. It was like exploring an enchanted forest, or climbing a medieval castle. There was always a dragon and we were all princesses. Mighty ones at that. The spell was broken at the touch of smooth plastic. Plastic is not medieval.
We weren’t there when they demolished that wooden playground to erect a safe zone. We outgrew the town before rules were less about scratches and more about cleaning our fair share of dishes. But we still cried a little. We cried for the kids who will never know our magical playground and for the ones who did then lost it. But mostly, we cried because the wind got in our eyes as we swung higher than we ever could back then.