The big slide is terrifying! The big slide is BIG! It is well over adult hand above your adult head height. The big slide was built in the seventies by the Wicksteed Company, the English company that claims to have invented the slide and probably did until Wikipedia came along and ruined it by purporting that someone else in New York may or may not have also invented the slide. A cutout of the company name forms each of the dozen or so iron steps to the top.
The big slide has braved over 40 Scottish winters and multiple generations in our local play-park. The big slide is age-worn metal with layers of flaking paint from previous playground refurbishments. The big slide does not conform to today’s health and safety standards. The big slide will never conform!
The big slide is terrifying! And I don’t mean for the children. They love it, with the blue, the red, and the yellow, bright, inviting, deceptively innocent, primary colors. It is terrifying for the adults. For the stay-at-home dads who still pretend that they are doing a good job of keeping their children from dying before the age of fourteen, from crossing a road or falling down the stairs, by holding their hands or holding the railings, pretending that it is not just dumb-luck.
There is no hand holding on the big slide. Your mother saw you through childbirth and I will see you through this, but only from down here, so ‘two hands, don’t turn around, and don’t let go of the railing, ever!’
The big slide gives each parent a choice. You can stand behind your child when they climb up the stairs, hoping that when they turn to wave and instead fall backwards through the air, you will be able to catch them gently enough to prevent a head injury. Or, you can stand at the base of the slide, hoping that you are able to wrangle them before they shoot off the shiny, 40 odd year-old, slicked-metal surface into the playground spinner thing that the vintage playground design major strangely chose to install just off the left-front of the chute.
But you cannot do both. The big slide is too big to make the run from the base of the stairs to the base of the chute before your kid comes flying out. So you have a choice. Which are you less terrified of?
Sure, it is fine once your children are old enough to manage it without you turning white-knuckled with fear. Like when they turn twelve! Sure, the parents of older playground kids nonchalantly chat to each other all smug in their secure conviction that daredevil Bobby is rubber-boned. But I guarantee you the big slide has put kids in the hospital! Ok, maybe not for lengthy stays, but I have definitely heard several first person accounts of frantic visits to check for concussion and broken wrists.
Sure, it is fine when you come with two kids and two parents on the weekends. You both just choose a side, easy peasy lemon squeezy. You grin and she smiles. It is all laughter and joy on the big slide. You may even go up and do it yourself a few times, as long as your wife promises to keep you from hitting the spinner thing on exit. You can handle the stairs. ‘Two hands!’
But on your own, during the week, with both kids, one of whom can barely walk, and could stumble face first into an oncoming swing as easily as they could cheerily give you a two-handed wave from the very top of the big slide, completely oblivious to the fact that they could now topple either direction. You, having no idea which way to run, and not wanting to scream or say anything at all to startle them, because that would just start the toppling over that much faster. You just stand there paralyzed in fear returning the two-handed wave with a rictus grin on your face, spitting out the words ‘Just Sit Down Please!’ under your breath from between clenched teeth.
And as they finally sit, after a few more waves, ‘Look at me I’m on top of the big slide!’ ‘I know, for god’s sake, I know, I can see you!’ and then hurtle themselves down, out the chute, over the edge, just short of the spinner thing and land on their rump with a diaper-padded bump. You walk to them in that moment of silence, when you are both still unsure of which way it is going to go, and then they decide, and turn to you and burst out laughing, like that was the funniest thing that has ever happened. As if it has never happened before, EVER, and you wonder, how on Earth, generations of children have survived as long as they have.
When you return to the safety of your own home, with everyone in one piece, you can stop hyperventilating. You can put on a video to calm everyone down while you get a much-needed drink. Only in hindsight can you pretend that perhaps you were getting worked up over nothing. You can relax. Your apartment has no stairs and you have covered all of the electrical outlets. And your children will grow sturdier by the day with or without you fretting over them. At least until the next adventure on the big slide.