Sunday, April 1, 2007

I had excellent intentions, but you know what path that leads to...

Here's the short story: We decided that the trampoline was too dangerous for our little kids, so we decided to get rid of it and replace it with a high-quality wooden swingset. It has been up for 24 hours, and we've already had two injuries involving blood, including a neighbor boy who ended up at Instacare yesterday to get stiches in his brand-new, swingset-induced head wound.

Now for the long story:

Two and a half years ago we were given a trampoline by Ryan's parents. They had bought it and never set it up, and were now moving and didn't have room for it in their new yard, and knew that our kids would love it. We set it up the weekend of Zack's baby blessing, I think he was about 4 weeks old at the time, and both sides of the extended family were here to lend a hand.

The kids did love it. When it was still a novelty, it was played with for hours every day. Of course, that doesn't last with anything other than Lego Star Wars, and after a while it was used frequently but not daily. The real problem was that I was terrified that someone would break their neck on the darn thing. Which, of course, is an actual possibility. In our old neighborhood in Orem, we had neighbors who absolutely refused to get a trampoline because of the broken neck/broken back potential. Instead, they got a pool. (They said that at least if someone was drowning, they would know what to do to solve it - with a broken neck, what do you do?)

And our kids weren't the only ones who loved it; the whole cul-de-sac loved it. Of the families with younger kids, we were the only ones with a trampoline, so that was Noah and Zack's friends' favorite thing to do when they came over. (Brad's friends all tend to have them already, plus you can't play video games while you're jumping up and down, so it wasn't such a big deal to them.)

I've never known anyone to break their neck, or die, from a trampoline-related injury, but being very good friends with a pediatrician and knowing his, and my own doctor's, opinion on the things, plus knowing that Ryan was never allowed to go on one as a kid because his sister broke her wrist on one, was all enough to convince me to take some safety precautions. First, we bought a net to enclose the entire thing. We figured falling off would probably hurt kids, and NOT falling off would be a good idea. But most injuries don't occur from falling off, they occur from being on. So I made a rule that only 3 kids at a time can go on, and that I didn't really want, say, two big kids and Zack, who would get really hurt by them.

With rules comes micro-management. I had to be hyper-vigilant when kids were out there, because even though most neighbor kids knew the rules, Zack didn't, and would get on whenever he wanted to, causing a scream-fest from whoever was currently on. Also, there generally ended up being a line formed outside the trampoline waiting for their turn on, so I had to be the time keeper and let everyone know when to get off, and when the next group could get on, and which kids that consisted of. Usually it was Noah and his friends, then Zack and his friends, but heaven forbid the groups overlap, or Noah only has one friend over, making his group only 2 kids, leaving a spot for one of Zack's friends... If there were more than 3 kids in my backyard, I had to be outside or sitting at the kitchen table watching and supervising.

As it turns out, the hyper-vigilance worked pretty well. We had no major injuries to any little kids in 2 1/2 years. In fact, the only real injury came from an incident involving an adult and an older teenager, who, frankly, would not have welcomed my hyper-vigilance, although it seems like they could have used it, seeing that we ended up loading the adult into a minivan for a trip to the ER with a sprained ankle. But the little kids, who I felt a responsibility for, never had real injuries. That doesn't mean, however, that things were perfect, though. Noah and Zack frequently came into the house complaining that they hurt themselves. Frequently it was their neck or their back or their arm that got hurt, from landing wrong, or getting stepped on by another kid, or whatever.

After the ER trip, I started reconsidering the wisdom in having the trampoline at all. And every time a kid came in complaining of getting hurt, I would chalk up another mark against keeping it. Finally, at the end of the season last year, when we were all preparing for our winter hibernation, the last straw came. One of the boys came in hurting, and I said, that's it, it's over, we are not keeping this anymore. Ryan and I sat down with the kids and told them that we are getting rid of the trampoline and why, and they were pretty accepting of it. Brad was logical enough to see the danger, Noah was still hurting (I think it was him that got hurt) so he got the message, and Zack was barely 2 and too young to have an opinion.

We found a family in the ward who wanted to take it from us, so we made the commitment to get rid of it. But with the snow on the ground and such, we just left it there for the remainder of the winter. And guess what? My kids played on it safely and without serious argument for the next three months or so. There were no injuries, no hyper-vigilance required. Of course, there were no friends over usually, but still, I started having second thoughts.

Finally it got warm outside and my kids were playing outside more and more. The trampoline's new owner called and said that they were ready to come over and pick the thing up the next evening, a Monday. I was feeling so guilty I could barely stand it - clearly, my kids loved playing on this. Was I wrong to get rid of it? They were in just as much danger when they went to someone else's trampoline, this way I could at least supervise, enforce my rules. Were they going to hold this over my head for the rest of my life, kind of the way Ryan says that he could never play on one because of his sister, as if a little piece of childhood was stolen from him. How could I look my children in their beautiful blue eyes and steal their fun from them? All in the name of protecting them from some nebulus harm that may or may not be worse than simply driving in the car? Oh, the guilt, it killed me!

Monday came, and it was a gorgeous day, the first truly gorgeous day of the year. My kids went outside to play after school, joined by a couple of friends. Those friends multiplied, like Gremlins when you throw water on them, and before I knew it there were 11 kids in my backyard. We have about 1/4 acre total property, so we have a great big backyard, perfect for 11 kids. But what did they all want to do? Jump on the trampoline. And they were random kids, several who didn't know the rules, who weren't there with anyone in particular, all in line for their turn on the paralysis machine. I turned into the Trampoline Nazi, with a "timer" (none of them could tell time anyways) and the authority to determine whose turn it was. And instantly, I had no more guilt! I had no more regret! In fact, I could not have gotten rid of that thing sooner!

So with the tramp now gone, it was time to decide on it's replacement. We thought it would be a good idea to get a new swingset. The one that was back there currently was a) rusted and falling apart, b) too small, with only 2 swings and a monkey bar contraption that was used for sitting on top of, c) anchored in cement which was coming out of the ground, and d) constructed of hollow pipes that were, naturally, filled with wasp's nests. (Why this didn't seem like a bigger danger than the trampoline originally is beyond me.)

We started looking at our swingset options. And let me tell you, there are a whole world of options out there! Did we want a small one, a large one, a metal one or wooden? With monkey bars, or a fort, or a sandbox? How about price range: the swingsets meant for backyards started at about $200 and went up to $5,000 or higher. That doesn't even include the "professional" playgrounds, like you would see at a school or a park - all of that equipment is available too, through the magic of the internet. Brad fell in love with a gigantic wooden boat, about 20 feet long, that you could attach swings and stuff to, for a measly $4,150. Plus shipping of like $500. You can imagine the sincerity in my voice as I apologized, but we simply were unable to afford something like that.

Eventually we settled on a large wooden swingset with a fort, monkey bars, no sandbox, with a tire swing (seemed to appease Brad after his disappointment with the giant boat). There are places for 5 kids to swing, plus a trapeze bar, and a slide. Other than my fear that a kid will get kicked by someone on a swing, I am sure that this is a safer alternative than the trampoline. After all, everyone here has a swingset in their backyard, so their kids are in no more danger at my house than they are at their own. Plus, there are so many options for what to do on this swingset, it should keep them busy for hours! The price was a mind-boggling $799, which really was the low end in terms of wooden playgrounds, but with a 10% discount and no shipping, it seemed like a good deal.

Ryan has spent the last 10 or so days building the swingset, including two full Saturdays and two days of coming home early from work. The goal was to get it done in time for General Conference, so that the kids would have something to do that kept them busy so we could watch and enjoy ourselves. So Ryan spent yesterday (Saturday) putting the finishing touches to the swingset - the fort and monkey bars have been up for days, he attached some swings first thing in the morning, and spent the time between sessions doing the roof.

Within the first 6 hours of having a 90% completed swingset, we sent one kid to Instacare for stitches in his head (they did staples, actually). Within the first 24 hours, we had our second victim.

Both injuries came from the two-person glider swing. The first injury, to one of the twins that lives next door, happened because they decided instead of swinging to and fro the way the swing is made, they swung it side to side, causing it to crash, his head first, into the fort. The second injury came about when Brad decided to sit on the glider all the way at one end, see-saw like, causing the other end to tip up. As Ryan stood from the doorway and told him to stop (which he didn't hear), Brad dropped the back half, right on Zack's face. Zack started screaming, nose bleeding profusely, as Brad said, "I don't know what happened!" Which, of course, either means he is literally too dumb to be using a swing or trying to protect himself by lying. We vote for option 2. There was also one minor incident involving Noah's friend trying to jump off a swing, but getting the timing wrong, which ended up with him hitting the ground smack on his chest.

I'm tempted to wait to post this until after the final session of conference, to see if we get a third blood-related injury in as many sessions. Ryan is fairly depressed about the whole situation, since he was the one to spend so many, many hours building this thing that he now calls a "death-trap." He says he feels he is just biding his time until we have to make a trip to the emergency room. The kicker is that the whole point, our grand intention, was to keep our kids, and the kids who end up in our yard, safer. Oh, the irony.


Drake Steel said...

Hi Emily,
Well, you can add 3 more casualties to your collection. Last night Tim was reading this to mom and I and we were all laughing so hard that we sustained injuries! Remember the book "Best of the Worst?" It had a story of a safety lecture/movie or something that was so tramatic that people got hurt just watching it?

You know a game/toy/kid thing is a sucess when its like... used! When kids do things sometimes accident happens. Interestingly enough when kids do nothing bad things happen also, take a look at the epidemic of overweight children.

Also I grew up around farmers. These people were always missing something, fingers, arms, noses. It was just a fact of life and it was impolite to make a deal about it. Once I when I broke my arm in an accident that should have more properly taken my arm off I remember a farmer talking to me in a manner that implied that now that I'd paid my dues I was worthy of his respect. As he was a very cool guy I liked that. We used to understand the concept of activity has risks, somehow that seems to have been forgotten. Personally I'm glad you have the tramp or dangerous swingset or whatever because it means that your kids don't sit in front of the computer (like me) 24x7.

Emilayohead said...

Glad the story was so amusing... as with most vaguely traumatic things in life, it was less amusing to live through but I could recognize the humor potential in the situation. You, however, don't have to live with a slightly brooding husband who just spent probably 25-30 hours building something he now regrets purchasing. That's a painful number to regret. Also the $750 is a painful number to regret. I could write a whole blog about regretting money spent, for example the item that DH recently bid on at ebay that he almost instantly changed his mind on, but of course has nothing to do but wait the 10 days of the auction and hope that someone outbids him. So far, no luck.

I did have a thought right after I posted that original entry - isn't there a military concept that in a battle, the least experienced soldiers are more likely to die, so that after you've survived one battle your chances of surviving another are higher? I might just be making that up, but it sounds like something I might have read in a Stephen Ambrose book. So my thinking is, now we've got a bunch of survivors in our neighborhood, it will be the next wave of kids to come over that have a higher likelihood of getting injured because the current batch know what to look out for. Although that assumes an intelligence that I don't know if I can attribute to the 4- and 2-year olds that got hurt. You'd think instinct would help here, if nothing else, right? Survival of the fittest? This swingset is just a giant evolutionary proving ground. Whichever kids make it through here unscathed are clearly the ones most worthy of continuing the species. Darwin would be proud.

Well, thanks for the comment -this was a nice distraction, as it is 5:30 and I woke up to see way too many lights on in the house, which you know is a bad sign. Fortunately, I haven't found anyone out of their beds yet, but while I was laying in bed trying to go back to sleep I started thinking about bugs being in my kitchen (Not that there are any, but it's just one of those creepy fears that keeps people awake) and I needed something to take my mind off the bugs. That, I think, is going to sound slightly psychotic when I really wake up and reread what I have written, but I'll have to take that chance.