It’s that time of year again or maybe it was that time of year as soon as the thermometer hit 60. Either way, jungle gym companies are glad to see the return of warm weather and the parents it ushers into its stores and onto its websites.I successfully refused to succumb to this requirement of suburban family life for more than eight years. And, then, last year I cracked.
My kids didn’t badger me or complain. I’m not even sure they wanted one. I wanted one. Whenever we were outside in the backyard my kids wandered around aimlessly, invariably returning inside to the couch. I wanted to shoo them back outside and tell them to go play. But with what? We didn’t have a pool or swings or even a paved driveway to draw on. I decided for my sanity and their survival we needed a playset.
I actually had visions of summer days whiled away on the swingset or in the attached fort, children’s laughter floating by on a balmy breeze, as I worked uninterrupted nearby.
But I wanted one thing to be perfectly clear. If I was going to take out a second mortgage to finance a playset for my kids, they would have to live on it. I’m not being funny, and this isn’t hyperbole. I mean literally.
The playset we eyed up had a house-like enclosure and a picnic table and was practically as big as my house. It was certainly a suitable dwelling for two smallish people. They could come in for the winter but not until then. And if we ran some electric wire and plumbing to the fort, I might not ever have to see them again.
But as with all fantasies, once realized, the facts on the ground don’t quite match the vision. And so it was with my dream playset.
My research on playsets commenced in March that year. I thought if we bought in the off-season, we might be able to get a reasonable price. I was wrong. Reasonable prices do not exist when it comes to playsets. I don’t know if the hardware is solid gold or if the structure is constructed out of a rare wood imported from a remote tropical isle, but bargains were not to be had . So I considered an option a friend suggested: used playsets. I could get a whole playset for half the price. That had my name written all over it.
Unfortunately, my husband’s name was not written on it as well. Kevin was against the whole playset idea from the beginning. It would damage a small corner of his lush green lawn. If, however, I was going to force him to acknowledge he had children and that they needed toys with which to play, then he determined he would have to have a deluxe model set. Something that would compliment his grass.
I continued in my search for pre-owned models, convinced I could satisfy both of us, and I was successful in finding a used playset in relatively good condition. It was large enough for two school-age kids to use at the same time, and it even had a rock wall. The best part was it only cost about a thousand bucks. Victory was mine. My husband promptly pointed out the playset was somewhere outside the tri-state area, and we didn’t have a vehicle large enough to transport it even if we did want to take the half-a-day’s drive to go get it. We’d have to rent a truck, and we’d have to dismantle and reassemble the 5,000 parts ourselves. I silently nodded. I understood, and with my heart broken, I gave up on my beloved used playset.
Weeks passed as I comparison shopped online, until finally the day came when I spotted my dream swing set. It had everything I imagined any elementary school kid would die for and all the components necessary for hours of fun. The only problem was I couldn’t afford it.
Over the course of the following weeks, I visited the playset several times, hoping as the days stretched further and further into the summer to find a sale. In mid-July the company had what constituted a storewide sale in playset circles: free gangplank weekend. I was sold.
For those who have never had the experience of shopping for a playset, it’s quite a daunting task. There are many makes and models and heights and configurations to choose from and all the actual play things are extra. I suppose you could buy a wooden frame fairly cheaply, but all your children would be able to do is stare at it wistfully. It would come without swings, fort, slide, trapeze bar, rock wall or monkey bars. Essentially, it would be an oversized sawhorse that they could neither climb on nor play with.
Free gangplank weekend was a huge coup for me. I could swap the slide for a free gangplank (experienced friends advised the slide was a waste) saving myself a couple hundred bucks, throw on a rock wall, go with the two swings and a trapeze bar (mandatory) and the two-story fort but opt out of the model with a ground level floor to compensate for the pricy fortress (my husband needed the floor but agreed to build one himself). I breathed a sigh of relief that the hunting and agonizing and planning was over. Then the sales guy hit me with the bill. Just under $3,000. And it was FREE gangplank weekend!
The playset has been bought and paid for, delivered and erected in our yard for almost a year now, but it hasn’t been much played with. Or, maybe I should say it hasn’t been played with as much as I would like or as much as $3000 would dictate. We haven’t made our money back on it yet, but a few items have been worth their price. The swings and trapeze bar. That’s really all you need. A simple, old school frame with some swings and a trapeze bar. Take it from someone whose been burned.
The kids still wander aimlessly about the backyard, ignoring the one component, the most expensive one, for which they lobbied so vehemently, the fort. It sits empty except for the birds and the squirrels. But maybe if we installed a T.V. in there….
(Photo: Flickr: WalkingGeek)