When my family and I first moved to North Carolina, we were fascinated by something that we didn’t have in Illinois: Trees. BIG ONES! Huge, tall trees right there in our back yard! It was like living in a forest. My children immediately wanted me to build some sort of tree fort. And as much as I did want to build one, I realized that my Homer Simpson-like skills with woodwork would make for a rather hideous scar on an otherwise lovely back yard.
Before I continue, let me apologize for the appearance of the “grass” in the back yard. This is a very shaded area where grass doesn’t thrive.
I did wish to copy something my brother-in-law had done: A cool spinning tire swing. I just knew this would result in endless fun, laughter, good times and great memories. And it would be cheap, right? Heck, they give old tires away for free at the tire store. I’d just need a few chains, some clips and rope and stuff.
After $100 and 3 trips to Home Depot, phase 1 of the tire swing was built, and I was proud of my work. (I had to purchase the most durable chains, of course, just in case a 500 pound gorilla decided to play on the thing.)
The next step was simple, or so I thought. I merely had to throw the rope 30 feet in the air and loop it around the thick branch I had identified as being the perfect mount point. Piece of cake, right? It turned out, to my shock, that I didn’t have the hulking strength I imagined. Somewhere there is a photo that my wife took while I was heaving a rope with a hammer tied to one end in the air, running away covering my head, as the hammer fell to the ground. I did this repeatedly before accepting the fact that I would have to look for a different approach. My grand idea? I stood on top of a 12 foot step ladder. By my calculations, 30 – 12 = 18 feet (I am a mathematical wizard). No problem! After a few more attempts, this time standing on top of a wobbling ladder on uneven ground, the rope was in place, and to everyone’s astonishment, including my own, I was alive and well.
After many hours of frustration and effort, the tire swing was up. My children applauded and my wife was clearly impressed by the machismo displayed by her (devastatingly handsome) husband. As you can see in the picture, I added some sort of clippy thing to allow the tire to spin. This, I knew, would add a significant amount of fun. What child doesn’t love spinning to the point of puking?
The kids were quick to try it out, as their proud father looked on. “World’s greatest dad,” I told myself, as they spun around and screamed with joy. While the kids played I cleaned my tools up (by cleaning my tools, I mean I threw them into my unorganized toolbox of junk). From the front of the house I could still hear their delighted cries of joy. Listen to all that fun!
The screams continued.
They are having fun, right? Is that a scream of fun or a scream of pain? Are they having SO much fun that they are literally crying? They must be.
When I returned to the backyard I found that the screams were not born of joy: They were born of pain. My youngest daughter was on the ground with her legs wedged underneath the contraption. The rope had slid down the branch, and perhaps it stretched a bit, and the tire swing was no longer 3 feet above the ground.
No problem! Using my sharply honed troubleshooting skills, I realized that the looped section of rope had come to rest in a flat spot on the branch, and it could slip no further. I simply needed to raise the swing higher (see the rope-clippy thingies). Every great inventor has a few failed beta tests. Unfortunately, the slippage had pushed the tire swing closer to the tree trunk, but I wasn’t about to let something as trivial as tire swing-to-tree proximity spoil the fun. I simply told my perfectly obedient children, “Be very careful not to hit the tree.” I emphasized the word very. Problem solved!
“Are you sure that’s safe?” my wife asked. “Oh yeah, its fine, and look at how much fun they are having!” And indeed it was fun, even for me. But it wasn’t long before knees, arms and heads made painful contact with the tree. I reiterated the be very careful instructions, knowing that my 5 and 7 year-old children (and all of their friends) would do so.
For the rest of the summer, the tire swing was mostly fun. Once in a while someone would cry (sometimes a neighbor kid). When this happened I simply restated the rules of tire swing play:
Be very careful.
Winter came and the tire swing was forgotten. The thick twine rope was left in the cold while my family and I huddled inside by the fireplace. I figured the expensive twine rope would last forever, and by spring it appeared just as sturdy as when I first constructed the enormously fun contraption. I even stood on the swing and gave it a few heavy bounces to make sure. One can never be too careful!
Unfortunately, despite my scientific stress test, the rope wasn’t as sturdy as it had been months before. The weather had apparently taken its toll, and as scientific as my jump test was, it failed to predicted the looming fate of the rope. One Saturday morning while the kids were playing in the back yard with a few friends, I smiled as I listened to their childish glee and bellows of joy.
I’m not just a great dad, I’m a great neighbor too!
And once again, the screams of joy morphed into shrieks of pain. I ran to investigate, only to find the neighbor girl on the ground, terrified, with her legs trapped beneath the tire. The rope had snapped somewhere near the top, having been stressed to the point of no return by a 50 pound child. The rope and chains were in a heap on the ground (and thank God none of the heavy stuff landed on the girl’s head). After a few hugs and the wise instructions to “shake it off,” all was well. All, that is, except for the tire swing.
Throughout the summer the creative children found new uses for the fallen swing. One great game involved placing one child inside while the others rolled it. So I decided to leave the tire swing in the back yard. After all, I worked hard on the expensive contraption. Sure, it looked a little trashy there in the backyard, but anything fun usually involves some sort of mess, right?
This past weekend I was mowed the lawn for the first time this year. There in the backyard was the tire swing, my former pride and joy, with chains and a long part of rope still attached. It looked pathetic. As I neared it, knowing that I would have to move the thing eventually, I worked the mower around the rope. I’ll get that on the next pass, I told myself.
The lawnmower, however, had a different idea. It caught the rope, tangled it within the blade and immediately stalled (I may be a genius). Frustrated, I turned the mower on its side and untangled the rope. As I did this, gasoline spilled out onto the grass. The blade didn’t look very good–not good at all. So I suppose the cost of the swing just went up by $10-$15 (the cost of a new blade) and another $20 for lawn repairs.
I wanted to throw the tire swing away, but I’m pretty sure its against the law to chuck a used tire in the trash (even if it would fit in the trashcan). It turns out, the tire store is happy to give those old tires for free for a darn good reason: It costs a lot to dispose of them. So I now have a lovely tire swing adorning my garage.
Long story short: Anyone want a free tire swing? The chains are really strong!