I passed by something the other day I haven’t seen in quite a while—a playground with an honest-to-goodness metal slide. These playground fixtures are rare today, as plastic slides have replaced the old metal ones. The new slides do not appear to me to be much fun, as one can’t actually slide down the plastic chute. Kids kind of have to “Flintstone” it down the slide to make it to the bottom. Where’s the excitement in that?
The metal slide is just one more idyllic childhood memory that has been sacrificed on the altar of “no child shall get hurt and sue the playground.” (Or rather, their parents, appalled at the prospect of Little Susie or Johnny suffering a bump or bruise through normal childhood play, have litigation attorneys on speed dial.) Gone are the days when we children happily sped down the slick aluminum surfaces, often landing hard on our derrieres at the bottom. Even better, if the metal baked in the hot sun of a scorching summer’s day, we left layers of our skin on the blistering surface, as we sizzled our way down. Ah, those were the days. If we really wanted to up the ante in the thrill department, we rode down the metal slide on pieces of waxed paper—guaranteed to launch us at warp speed and risk a possible broken arm upon landing.
In my day, playgrounds were built on good old-fashioned cement or asphalt. None of this sissy cork board padding. If we fell, we got the battle scars to brag about. I remember the teeter-totters, which one doesn’t see very often anymore. If your partner weighed more than you did, they could hold you up in the air indefinitely until they tired of the game and abruptly hopped off, letting you slam to the ground. Remember the good old monkey bars, where a kid could hang upside down from the top rungs? If he became too cocky or too clumsy, he often ended up on the unforgiving ground with a bloodied chin or a knocked-out tooth. How about the merry-go-rounds, where a whole group of kids had to hold the handles and run in a dizzying circle to get the ride going, then hop on before they got dragged behind on their knees and shins? That ride was tough on us slower runners. But it built character! And the swings, where a kid could go so high he could almost wrap around the top bar! The brave kids even jumped off in mid-swing, which was often good for a sprained ankle or worse.
Now-a-days, there are very few ways to earn the badge of childhood-rite-of-passage on the playground. All the equipment is so child-safe and the surfaces soft and cushiony, there is virtually little chance of any child stubbing a tiny toe. Even the children who venture up the plastic slides the wrong way have sure footing and a helicopter mom swooping in to rescue them from falling to the padded ground below.
I worry about how our sheltered children will ever learn to navigate through the ups and downs of the real world. But, then again, although they may escape the bumps, and bruises, skinned knees and elbows, and concussions from falling on their heads that we fondly remember, I suspect they will all require corrective surgery for near-sightedness and thumb replacements from chronic dependence on their electronic devices. But who can blame them for preferring their virtual worlds to the real one where they can’t even shoot down a real slide without sticking to the plastic?