Well, it's March again, folks, which must mean it's time for us to take away a giant backyard toy because it is "dangerous" and replace it with something which may or may not be safer. Yes, the Simmons' own version of March Madness. If you recall, last years match-up was Evil Trampoline vs. Traditional Wooden Swingset. The Swingset was a sure bet. After all, it hearkened back to good, old-fashioned family values, you know, with kids using their imaginations and the whole thing being built out of wood, just like the pioneers build their kids' swingsets, not this new-fangled steel-and-rubber pain machine that you just know Laura Ingalls Wilder never would have tolerated. Plus, we had the added bonus of sacrificing real dollars for our kids' safety - the swingset was like $800, but there's nothing too good for our kids, right?
This year, the Traditional Wooden Swingset is going head-to-head with Sturdy Metal Swingset, and while the odds are about even, it looks like the Sturdy Metal Swingset might come out the winner. I honestly thought the Traditional Wooden Swingset would be the Champion For Life, like we'd have to retire the whole sport of Backyard Play Equipment due to its infalliability. I thought this would be the swingset our grandchildren would come over and swing on, and there would be a grown-up Brad and Noah telling the story to their kids about how originally they didn't want to see the trampoline go, but how they had come to love this swingset. Yes, there we'd be, sipping our lemonades on the porch while the boys recount their glory days on the ol' set while watching the young'uns swing on the very same swings they once did. It looks like the story is going to be a different one than I had hoped.
We knew there was a problem with the swingset pretty much as soon as it was finished, not only because on Day 1 the blood started flowing from various children's bodies after they proved the swingset-is-safer fallacy. No, the problem was that the whole contraption swayed from side to side when anyone swung on it. It made Ryan sick to his stomach to see just how not sturdy the thing he had spent 20 hours or more building was. But how do you return something like this? Do you take it apart, throw all the pieces in the back of the van, and haul it all back to Toys R Us? I suppose we had that option in the beginning, but it seemed ridiculous to do that.
It seems less ridiculous now, a year later, when the swaying problem didn't magically fix itself. I don't know what I was expecting, that a year out in the elements would toughen it up a little? Like once the swingset knew that weakness would not be tolerated here it would brace itself for the storm that is a neighborhood full of kids? Well, here's a news flash - if you ignore a problem for a year, the problem is just a year older, not a year better. It turns out that I am pretty good at ignoring problems, I think it comes with being an optimist. I'm not an extreme optimist, like my friend Kathy who could see the bright side of the sun imploding, but definitely try to look for the good in things. There are some problems that are minor enough that if you ignore them, it eventually doesn't bother you. Swingsets are not one of those things.
Now that the snow has melted and we are venturing out of our caves again, we see the swingset problem in full bloom. And it's worse. At last count, we've got four separate pieces that have broken off, one of which (a monkey bar) left a giant screw sticking out of it, which Noah cut himself on last fall. I called Toys R Us at the time to complain about the thing breaking, and they couldn't have cared less. I suppose if it had been made in China and dipped in lead, then we could have had a discussion, but simply falling apart is not nearly as bad. I tried to call the manufacturer, Adventure Playsets, but it was on a weekend, and by the time they were open again I had forgotten. And now, naturally, it's out of warranty (except for defects in the wood).
Ryan approached me today with his concerns. Well, "concerns" is putting it mildly - he has resented this $800 wooden intrusion into our lives since it first started wobbling. Today he very nicely asked me if he could take a sledgehammer and destroy the thing, and replace it with a metal swingset. No, I said, it's here and it's staying. I am not throwing away $800! He said that it had gotten worse, and I should take a look - we don't want it seriously hurting someone before we decide to get rid of it.
I wanted to blow him off about this, but after he left to go see his grandparents for their birthday (I stayed home with sick kids) I watched Brad swinging. And Ryan's right, as much as I hate to admit it. Something is going to go seriously wrong. Not only is the swaying worse, but one of the arms that holds a swing bows dangerously when Brad swings on it. Not just a little, either, it bows by several inches. I had to tell him not to swing on that side at all. Plus, two of the giant screws that hold the monkey bar assembly onto the playhouse structure have popped out.
So now the question is, what do we do? Do we call it an $800 loss and start over with something else? Do we rent a backhoe and level a piece of ground, and move the swingset? It's my opinion that the problems are caused (or at least, exacerbated) by the ground not being level, although Ryan is pinning the problems on cheap wood. Both are probably true. But do we toss this one, or try to salvage it? Are wooden swingsets really disposable? Or at least, recyclable?
It would be an easier decision if the original swingset hadn't been so stinkin' expensive. If it had been, say, a $300 swingset, this would be an easier decision. Ryan and I keep a mental list of the stupidest things we've ever wasted money on, the worst financial decisions, and so far $500 is the most we've blown at one time. When Brad was about 6 months old, we got suckered into a uniquely Los Angeles scam, where we paid $500 for the privilege of a company called FlashCast Kids to try to get Brad cast in a commercial or something. What can I say, he was awfully cute and they were awfully sure he could be successful. Dave Ramsey (a radio financial guy) calls this kind of thing, where you waste money, a "Stupid Tax." We still regret those $500 (and the stupid decision it represents.) Will this wooden swingset replace FlashCast Kids as the phrase that one of us utters to remind the other about how stupid we can be?
My current position, which I am only tenuously holding onto, is that I'd like to repair this swingset before we toss it completely. Ryan's position, which is substantially firmer than the swingset itself, is that the wood was too crappy to be salvaged, and as the one who built the whole thing with his bare hands, he has an intimate knowledge of the wood in question. Why waste the time and money on something that was substandard to begin with?
Ryan's vote in the Traditional Wooden Swingset vs. Sturdy Metal Swingset is the metal one. The boys spend almost all of their time swinging or sitting on top of the monkey bars - they rarely slide or play in the playhouse, so all they need are swings. Ryan also votes for getting the crew of Mythbusters in to blow the thing up, he thinks that would be a fitting end to the whole situation. Me, I'm still on the fence. Which is a safer place to be than on the swingset.