Folks! Here’s a guest post from Greg Olear, senior editor of The Nervous Breakdown and the author of the novels Totally Killer (Harper, 2009) and the brand-spanking-new Fathermucker, which concerns a single tumultuous day in the life of a stay-at-home dad. I absolutely adored Fathermucker — soooo funny and soooo spot-on about parenting foibles (every single, crazy one of them!!!!!!) — that I am delighted he’s writing here today! — L.
Swing No, Sweet Preschooler By Greg Olear
Last year, for a variety of reasons, we decided to move from the idyllic Hudson Valley to my hometown in no-longer-idyllic New Jersey. Our son would be entering kindergarten in one of the best school districts in the country—the main impetus for our move—and it fell to me to find a suitable preschool for our daughter.
This proved more difficult than anticipated. For one thing, my hometown had become, to my solidly-middle-class astonishment, the sort of tony suburb where you had to fork over 75 bucks to apply to a preschool. As we were new in town and thus late in the application process, this meant we’d quite possibly be paying $75 a pop for fancy letters regretting to inform us that enrollment was closed. So we had to choose prudently.
One afternoon, my wife and I took a drive around town to tour the various preschools. It was Sunday, so they were all closed. All we could do was check out the playgrounds. And that’s when we noticed something unusual.
“These playgrounds all suck,” my wife said.
She was right. Compared to the glorious expanse of fun our daughter had grown accustomed to at her preschool in upstate New York, these Jersey playgrounds were downright pathetic: small, cramped, and devoid of any remotely interesting equipment. They looked more like pens for dogs than playgrounds for kids.
And then we realized, simultaneously, what was missing: “No swings!”
It was true—not one of these pricey preschools was endowed with a single swingset. We guessed at reasons: lack of adequate space was the best one we could come up with (northern Jersey has become, in the years since I last lived there, as densely populated as an actual city).
Ultimately, we opted to send our daughter to a brand-spanking new preschool the next town over, even though it, like all the others, did not have a swingset. We asked about this deficiency during the interview.
“The state inspectors strongly advised us against it,” the director told us.
“There are concerns that a small child might choke.”
“You should have seen this great slide I bought for the playground,” she said wistfully. “I had to return it.”
There are two ways you can get hurt on a swing: 1) The swingset breaks, or 2) You let go. That’s it. (Contrary to urban legend, it is physically impossible for a child not wearing a jetpack to swing high enough to go over the top.) But choking? How exactly would someone choke on a swingset? Why are we — that is, why are insurance companies, who charge prohibitive premiums in New Jersey for preschool swings —worried about this? Has this ever happened in the history of time?*
I thought of my own childhood, the countless hours my two- and three-year-old self spent contentedly swinging back and forth and back and forth. There was nothing I enjoyed more than that. But kids in my hometown would now be deprived of that pleasure, because of the bureaucratic fear of an outcome that is about as likely as alien abduction.
The school we chose proved terrific — great teachers, ambitious curriculum, etc. My daughter, now a kindergartener, loved it there so much, she likes to go back for lengthy visits during her vacations. But she may have loved it even more if there were swings.
*Apparently, it has. According to safekids.org, 147 children perished from “playground equipment-related injuries” from 1990-2000. Most were on equipment at a private home, but about 40 weren’t. (That is, four a year.) And strangulation — usually caused when the pull-cord from a sweatshirt gets caught on the equipment — was the leading cause of those 147 deaths. I couldn’t locate statistics for swingset strangulation deaths specifically, but it seems, to me, highly improbable, way more improbable than being struck by lightning. — G.O.