My mother’s 2007 Christmas gift to the children sat in our garage until April 2009. If I told you why, that would lead to another story, and I want to stay focused today. It was a trampoline for my sons. It was the largest, most industrial, safest trampoline my mother could find, because… “I don’t want my grandbabies getting hurt out there.”
I remember the day my husband and brother put the trampoline up. It was so large, we couldn’t find a space in our back yard – which is a wooded forest – to put it. When we tried putting it in a clearing between our house and the neighbor’s, we received “feedback” from the neighbor. So, several tree cuttings later, the trampoline sat squarely in the middle of our back yard… in direct view of my bedroom windows.
When you were a kid, do you remember the house where all of the kids from the neighborhood hung out? Well somehow, that house became my house. When the trampoline first went up, there were no more than 3 kids allowed on it at any one time, and the older kids directed which children, based on weight and height, could participate at the same time. It was very systematic and I proudly watched from my bedroom window as they fairly managed equal amounts of jump time.
In the beginning, there were only 5 or 6 boys gathered in my backyard after school. But as the school year ended and summer rolled around, the number grew to 10, then 12, then more – girls too. And eventually, the restrictions lessened so that about 6 - 8 kids of various sizes were jumping at once. One day, as I watched with concern, two children aimed balls at the jumpers and they began a dangerous game of Jump-Away-Dodge-Ball. Instead of running outside and putting an end to the risky business, I watched, mesmerized, as the kids were actually able to dodge the balls and flip and fall and get back up. They laughed and high-fived each other as the ones that were hit were replaced by the ones aiming balls into the pit.
Winter soon rolled around, and I was sure the trampoline would be forgotten as the weather turned cold. But the creativity of children is amazing. They found that jumping and falling and bumping into each other with thick, fat coats on was even more fun than jumping without the extra padding. A new game of Bumper-Bodies was created and whoever fell off, was out. Now this may sound unsafe, and it probably was. But as I watched from my bedroom window, ready to spring and run to save a hurt child, they would bump someone off the edge and, he or she would roll softly onto the bed of dead pine needles and leaves. Unscathed, they’d get up, dust off, and get back on.
In January, it snowed, and this brought on a new game of See-Who-Can-Make-The-Snow-Bounce-Highest. That game was combined with Bumper-Bodies and Jump-Away-Dodge-Ball (note: balls were replaced with snowballs that week). And the kids never stopped coming.
One day last month, I noticed there were no kids jumping in my backyard. For the previous 12 months, there had been kids moving vertically in my backyard every non-rainy day. So the absence of bouncing children was a bit strange. Upon closer inspection, I noticed there was a strange dip in the normally taut material in the center of the trampoline. Hm. Eventually, my sons and 4 of their partners in crime trooped into the kitchen with serious faces. “Uh, Mom…”
I’ll spare you the lengthy details of 6 boys trying to explain how they broke the trampoline, but I will tell you that it involved a highly complicated game of heaviest, largest children on one end all jumping as hard as they could at once while small children lifted the rim on the opposite end. Don’t ask… I still don’t understand the concept.
I knew this would be the end of the trampoline and my backyard as the clubhouse. And I have to admit, I was actually a little sad. I would miss seeing how the kids communicated and interacted. I would miss watching them argue and then figure out solutions to their disagreements. I would miss watching new children become part of the Trampoline Family. But most, I would miss watching how innovative they were as they created fresh new ideas for games and activities on the trampoline.
So, you can imagine my surprise when the next afternoon, there were at least 7 kids in my backyard. I stopped what I was doing and sat, mesmerized again, as they worked like little ants to carefully take apart the trampoline. Over the next week, they pulled, pushed, propped, and pitched the poles and metal from the rim of the trampoline. Then they stretched the fabric and netting over the corners of the poles and rim. By the next weekend, they had a covered clubhouse. The twins from up the block brought chairs, and another child from across the street brought an old wooden crate his parents had thrown out to be a makeshift table. Children from everywhere brought books, and toys, and stuff, and things. (I’m not sure how I feel about all that stuff in my backyard, but we’ll discuss that at another time.)
There is a lot to learn from observing children. My sons and their neighborhood friends clearly demonstrated three important facts:
- When you get tired of playing the game, create a new one. It can be just as much fun as the old one – maybe better.
- There’s room for everyone to get in the game if you take turns and follow the rules. You don’t have to turn anyone away.
- When the game becomes obsolete, reinvent it.
Our house is still the house where all the neighborhood kids hang out. And I think I like that…