“Back in the day,” when I was a kid, we didn’t have fancy play equipment in our yards. I had one swing made from thick ropes and a rectangular slab of plywood that hung from a towering maple tree. I had a “seesaw” that consisted of a long plank of wood fastened onto a barrel, and a “sand box” which was just a pile of sand. I played in my yard for hours; after dinner in the summertime, my dad would come outside to push me in the swing or jiggle me up and down on the seesaw, usually while smoking his then politically correct cherry-tobacco-smelling pipe. I was in heaven.
I also loved to play under the dogwood trees in a small corner of the yard. I spent many a day sweeping the dirt floors of my imaginary house under the dogwood leaves, or making “stew” out of dandelions, twigs and other “organic” ingredients. I write about this not to complain about how spoiled kids are by modern play equipment (more power to them!), nor to whine about how deprived I was as a child. Nope, I simply write because I now know how incredibly lucky I was. Playing in my yard was a great preparation for adult life.
Curiously, though, it was not the sweeping and straightening of my dogwood digs that most prepared me for marriage, work, and motherhood (good practice, but I never did master the art of keeping a real house spotless and organized). Rather, it was the seesaw that taught me the most about life. I distinctly remember the glorious feeling of being way up in the air, almost weightless. And then the descent, with a hovering midway in a state of perfect balance before my father slowly let me drop to the ground. And then, up again. Up and down, up and down, and then that hovering balance.
Sort of like life. Sometimes the highs are momentary; sometimes they last for days or months—when you fall in love, for instance, or bring home a newborn baby. And then there are the lows—when you drop straight down and wonder if you’ll ever get back up again—when a parent dies, or you have to battle a health crisis. But a lot of the time you’re smack in the middle, in a luxurious state of complete equilibrium. I remember when my dad would just keep me hovering there, and it would be a surprise as to whether he’d next let me fly up or down. Because he was (quite naturally) a lot heavier than a six- or seven-year-old, he was in control of where and when I was headed. Thankfully, being the loving dad that he was, he never let me down too hard, or kept me up too long.
Most of the time, I strive in my life to be in a place of balance, in a state of calm equilibrium, where I can feel content and safe. But I know it’s those dramatic changes—sometimes caused by highs, sometimes by lows—that challenge and teach us. And quite often, you just can’t see them coming.