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Posts from — May 2010

The Ban on Fun

I just read a great piece at salon.com about how un-fun playgrounds have become. 

I know about this firsthand.  When I had my preschool, I bought a house with a great big back yard.  It had three huge apple trees, a horse chestnut tree, and lots of grass.  We had our driveway paver add an asphalt pad in back, and eventually I ran across beautiful used steel preschool bikes, about eight different kinds, and bought them.  They last forever. 

We built a sandbox, cadged a monkeybar set that was about 12 x 12 x 12, with one of those little towers on the top, from a school that was getting rid of it, and built a wooden fort.  We had a great swingset, a teeter-totter, lots of balls large and small to kick around or balance on, and all manner of playground toys.  I can’t even remember all of the possibilities.  No one ever got hurt.  Kids (these were 18 months – 5 years) have a very tight grip.  At one point, my partner got a trampoline.  I must admit that the trampoline bothered me, but no one ever got hurt.  And it should go without saying that we had a great child-adult ratio at all times to make double-sure that no one got into a dangerous situation. 

Over the years, the fun of the playground vanished. 

Some things were obvious, for safety.  We had wood chips under structures, which were within the regulations at first, but then they had to be replaced with really expensive rubbery stuff.  That’s fine.  The sandbox had to go–I can’t begin to tell you how much time the kids spent there, and how much they learned about volume and designing cities and roads, or learning about viscocity, or geometric-solid shapes, but sand is a good transmitter of impetigo, a common staph infection, so that made sense.  I imagine that we were the only preschool in town that washed down all our shelves and equipment with bleach water once a week; that definitely was not required and a cheap and easy way to cut down on infections.   I suppose that, once we were aware of it, we could have wet down the sand box every evening with a weak bleach solution. 

But then, the swings were banned.  My goodness, a child might walk in front of a child who was swinging and get beaned.  Um, excuse me.  That might happen in an environment that slacked off in having enough adults around when no one was looking, but why not cite those preschools and let the kids in mine learn about motion and have fun at the same time?  Monkeybars–concussion material.  Teeter-totter?  You can imagine! 

I objected when the health department demanded that I cut down the horse chestnut tree.  Oh, and the apple trees too.  Raking up the burrs from the horse chestnut was something the kids enjoyed, and ditto the apples, the ones we didn’t use for applesauce in a crock pot, but we also had yard people to take care of it and I had not, in twenty years, encountered a horse chestnut burr injury/infection.   Sure, the fallen apples might attract wasps or bees, but we didn’t want the kids to get stung, so we took care of that.  And east Tennessee is hot in the summer.  The trees gave us some nice, cool shade.  Iused to stand out in my complex, intensely green, cool, shady playground of a summer morning while the kids shouted, ran, climbed, played, and quietly rejoice.

But then  it went.  And went, and went.  An interesting, challenging environment vanished, piece by piece. 

I rent my school to another preschool now, and when I visit, I am nonplussed.  The lovely steel bikes are stored under the house, and there aren’t even any substitute vehicles (hot wheel trikes were always easy to find, but the kids wore them down to the nub in about three weeks).  There are no climbing structures.  I may be wrong, but I think the children are discouraged from running very much.  Under the house, I found the beautifully designed toddler structure we had comissioned from a cabinetmaker, lying in pieces.  Why?  The railings were properly spaced so as not to catch heads, and it was only about four feet high.  Nevertheless, they might fall. 

When I was a kid, those big playgrounds were thrilling.  We’d take waxed paper to the highest, scariest slides in town–metal, of course–and sit on the paper to make the slide more slick and fast.  We’d take turns pulling the merry-go-round–that big flat round platform with metal handles bolted to it–and hop on when we got it going fast.   The most dangerous place, I suppose, was not even a playground.  It was a car junkyard near my grandfather’s ten acres on Bear Creek outside of Miamisburg, Ohio.  We weren’t allowed to go over there, so of course we did, at any opportunity.  Those old, smashed cars, from the fifties and late forties, fascinated me.  I’d wonder what happened.  Did the people die? What music had those old radios played?  How did they shift those gears?  We also had a huge pile of bricks–thousands–at the end of the apple orchard, left over from building the house, which was the kingdom of the kids.  We built castles and thrones.  You had to plan out the foundation, number of bricks to use, and so on.  Good thinking stuff.  Then another bunch of cousins would come and tear it down and build something else. 

All gone.

Here’s a link to the article:  http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2010/05/17/war_on_childrens_playgrounds?source=newsletter

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May 18, 2010   2 Comments

In Defense of Hoarding

“Hoarding” is presently a code word for “nutsy cuckoo,” or, “soon to be institutionalized for their own good.”  It’s a mental disorder.  I was in the hospital a few months back with a friend, and I heard her doctor tell her, in a kind but stern sotto-whisper, that she was a hoarder.  She needed help.  I thought, don’t come to my house with that checklist or society will be paying for my incarceration.  

I do save things.  However, I mastered the cardboard boxes a few years ago.  No need to nest them under the buffet!  Out with them.  Ow.  With that under my belt, I soon plan to conquer my inability to throw away rubber bands.  But why?  They are small as well as useful.  But saving them is an addiction.  One must master these things.  Get strong.  It’s either that or run away and roam the streets with a grocery cart full of similar items. 

Those boxes still come in the mail almost every day–lovely, perfect, cheap, useful boxes.  It really is a shame to throw them away.  Of course, you need one the very next day anyway.  Think about what went into the manufacture of these countless boxes!  This is my conundrum:  I cannot make my own cardboard boxes.  Instead, I am blessed to live in a world-time where others have thought out the process, built factories, contracted for  raw materials, stored, finished, and shipped containers that those in other or older cultures would deeply covet.  And don’t get me started on plastic deli take-out containers, the sturdy kind with lids. 

Here’s a quote from my story “Memory Dog,” which took second place in last year’s Sturgeon Awards:  

“We are in that heaven that all the saints so longed for and predicted, pens scritching across rough vellum in damp towers, heads bent beneath sputtering candles.  Heat, ample light, plenty, near-infinite knowing.  But man is still enemy to himself, and man still must find god within himself to go beyond the oppression; the killing.  And first, he must find killing wrong.  That seems to be a sticking point in some parts.  What if, suddenly, we all simply could not kill.  If it was impossible.  Memory drugs might do this.”

Okay, the second part of that went to the heart of what “Memory Dog” was all about.  But the first part is about how wondrous, technologically, our present surroundings are, each object with its provenance of thought and utility. 

In other words, it’s a damned shame to throw all this stuff away.   Sure, I recycle, but that removes the object’s utility.  Maybe we need a Craigslist category:  Hoarding Bounty.  It’s not that one necessesarily believes that he or she will suddenly open up a deli, or (more the way I think) that I will someday find a novel artistic use for a hundred sturdy airtight plastic containers, like melting them down with some bits of color and making them into iridescent earrings or–hmmm.  You see, this way lies madness.  But *someone* might have a need, a use. 

Let’s move on to that serious type of hoarding that even so-called rational folk might indulge in:  memory-hoarding. 

These memories might be in the form of mine, furniture that has been in the family for generations.  Some is probably valuable, but that’s not the point.  People had bigger houses in the Olden Days.  I remember our first tour of the model house in the Northern Virginia subdivision inwhich my father still lives.  It was 1962.  We moved past the tiny, carpeted bedrooms in a line, as if we were in a museum, for the rooms were protected by thick red velvet ropes with brass hooks on the ends.  The subdivision, on the Beltway (still unfinished at that time) was so popular that there truly was a line moving through the house.  I remember noticing that the bedrooms were tiny.  About the size of my grandparent’s closets.  Now, to others, perhaps the high-level military people who filled up a lot of the subdivision, this solved the problem of furnishing the damned house, because they were already tightly edited and hung on to nothing–not place, not stuff, nothing cept the job.  For my parents, buying this house meant an attic and a basement.  Too late for the basement, though, as the foundation for our house, on the lot my mother chose on an exhilarating day when she returned to our Falls Church apartment fairly lit up  her announcement to our father and us that she had finally found us a home, was already poured.   We had been in limbo for several years,  moving from Ohio to Hawaii to Virginia without buying a house.   And we.  Saved.  Stuff. 

So my father put down planks in the small attic of the house, which was instantly filled by things that had been in storage, along with antiques from my grandparent’s house, furniture from the nineteen-hundreds.

This is my true hoard.  Hands off!  (gripping a cutlass between my teeth) 

Ah.  More later.

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May 2, 2010   1 Comment


Twelve days ago, during an hour and a fifteen minutes in surgry, my hip joint and part of my femur were removed and replaced with titanium versions.   I’ve had four rehab sessions, and I’m transitioning from a walker to a cane.  I’m deeply astounded and grateful about all this–astounded that this happened all so quickly, from diagnosis to kind-of-walking, and grateful that it can even be done.   I lost a lot of blood, which left me with little energy and, for some reason, absolutely no desire to procure it directly from other humans.  Instead, I’m taking a lot of iron.  I had to try several kinds before finding one that didn’t make me sick.

I have a story to write, a manuscript to go over soon, and the novel I’ve been bursting to write for years.  Much of it is done, but I’m sure that a lot of what I’ve written will need rewriting.  So I’ll wake it from its long sleep and ask what it has been dreaming.  I’m hoping the characters have been injected with antic restlessness and a willingness to commit reckless, entertaining acts.  Maybe they’ve done all that, and they’re ready to recount wild tales.

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May 1, 2010   2 Comments