At first I wanted to write you a scrawled, angry message in black marker and put it anonymously up on the trees where the swings used to hang. Just so you’d see it and read it and know how I and my family feel. But my wife talked me out of it. She reminded me that I don’t know what’s going on with you. She’s right. I don’t know what you know about the swings; what you felt about them; or why you did what you did.
So I’m writing my letter to you here in this blog. Not because I think you’ll ever read it, but because I just have to write it. I have to get it out of my system.
We have lived in this estate for the last four years. What you probably don’t know is that for most of that time my two children didn’t really have many friends here. It’s a beautiful, safe estate and we’re privileged to live here, but it really isn’t well designed for children and certainly doesn’t have a play ground or focal point for kids to meet each other and play.
So or the first three years here, we were on the look out for other kids, but there was rarely anyone out. Even with the bad design of the estate, it was strange – an estate full of families, but the children invisible.
Things changed when neighbours put up the swings. They hung them on trees on the long, public strip of grass across the road from our semi-detached houses. My daughter learnt to cross the road safely so she could go play on the swings with her brother and those neighbours’ children. Gradually other invisible children became visible. Far from all of them but enough so my children could made new friends. They spent hours sitting on the swings and chatting, climbing the trees, even in the evening while wearing hi-vis jackets. Sure, there were times they arrived home with tears and complaints, but mostly they just loved them. It was a little hub for the kids in the area, like a coffee shop for grown ups.
But on Friday night, you snuck out when it was dark and cut down the swings while we all slept. You threw the wood seats into the bushes of the estate next door and left the ropes dangling pointless off the tree branches. I know you’re one of my neighbours as there’s no reason for anyone but a neighbour to cut them down. Maybe I’ve spoken to you or nodded hello to you. I don’t know who you are so I can’t confront you about what you did. But I’m angry at you. It feels like you just smashed my children’s favorite toys. I hope you saw how the local children responded to it. The shock. The upset. In some cases, the tears. I hope you felt ashamed.
But I still want to know, why did you cut down the swings? I can’t believe that you’re just malicious and cruel. You must have had a reason that made sense to you.
Was it just the 12 year olds that have popped up in the last week or so? Boys on their bikes popping wheelies and girls sitting on the swings taking selfies of each other. Sure, they were irritating, but they’re clearly good kids and no harm. Didn’t you realise that within a week or two they’d be gone? That it was just an end of summer fad? Or were you scared that these new kids were here for good? Did that fear overpower any concern you have for all the other younger children who use the swings and who came running over on Saturday morning and stopped in their tracks at seeing them gone?
Or are you a parent too? Maybe a parent to some of those invisible children that I mentioned earlier? The ones who are never seen out of their house except when getting in and out of their car to go to school and definitely not seen on the swings? Or the ones who have neatly scheduled and carefully monitored playdates in their house or back garden? Did your children constantly ask to go out to the swings? Was that it? Was it the pestering? Or was it the terror of what could happen to them out there that made you cut them down? They could fall and hurt themselves. They could be hit by a car crossing the street.They could be abducted. Did you imagine all of that and worse?
If those are your fears then can’t be angry with you anymore. If that was what motivated you, you’re not alone in your fears. There’s people making a great living out of keeping you scared. Every night on TV, we’re assaulted by serial killers, hordes of predatory pedophiles and children dying by the dozen. All to keep us scared and keep us watching. And the news picks the worst, most horrifying events that befall children around the world and neatly packages and serves them up to us daily. As a result it’s easy to think that our children are in unparalleled danger in the modern world and that we need to wrap them up in cotton wool to keep them safe when the reality is that the risks are very, very rare.
Ah, maybe you’re not an original thinker. Just a copycat. After all it’s also not the first time swings have been cut down in this estate. This summer there was set of swings put up over the little trickle of a river that runs through the estate. My kids made a whole new set of friends there. A few weeks ago someone cut all of those swings down too. Also at night. Also in secret.
Maybe you don’t understand why losing swings hurts so much. It’s just a piece of wood and some rope, huh? No. It’s much more than that. In childhood there’s only a few brief years now before their mobile phones take over. It was out there on the swings among their peers that my kids learnt resilience and to cope with difficulty on their own. It was out there in the fresh air that they got exercise and developed their coordination and imagination. The swings were the focal point to get the kids together. Once they were there, they built huts or traded Stickies or played soccer or climbed trees or played poohsticks in the river. The same things I did as a child and perhaps you did too, well, other than the Stickies.
On Saturday afternoon, the weather was good and my kids had been in the house all morning. I sent them out of the house to go out and play. They came within minutes. No one was out anywhere. Nothing to do. It was back to how it used to be.
Still – writing this has helped me. I’m not angry at you anymore. It can’t be nice to be so scared or upset or desperate or angry that you cut down children’s swings. It can’t be enjoyable to be the person that destroys rather than creates.
But myself and some other parents will be sending you a message. Not a handwritten message stuck on a tree, but you’ll understand it immediately. It’ll be in the form of new swings for our children to play on. We’re not looking to antagonize you so maybe not on the same trees, but nearby. I’m not too handy myself, but a neighbour has already agreed to help me put them up.
And if you or someone else cuts down those swings too, we’ll just put new ones up again. And we’ll keep putting new ones up for as long as it takes.
But if you do have children yourself, hopefully in time your children will come out and play on them too and you’ll see the benefits. And if you don’t have any kids, come out and watch ours play for a few minutes. Maybe that’ll change your mind.