It’s one of those Adirondack mornings that I dream about when I wake in my South Carolina home, where most days it reaches a humid 90 degrees by 9 a.m. I’ve come here to vacation with my family, the same as I have each summer since I was born, except now there are more of us. My two sisters and I have brought four of the five kids to a small playground at the rural airport just down the road from our camp. They are happy; my girls see their cousins only two or three times a year, and their delight is almost painful to me, a reminder of how far away we live from one another.
|Swing selfie… Swilfie?
The four-year-olds climb and hang on a structure built to resemble a helicopter. The one and two-year-olds descend a tiny slide with a repetitive, almost obsessive determination. While Beth, my oldest sister, watches the little ones, I join my sister Meghan on the swings.
It’s not something I do often. Playgrounds are for supervision, for readying snacks and mediating conflicts. Swinging is something I used to do, before I had real responsibilities, back when I still felt young.
In grade school it was my activity of choice at recess, pumping my legs in time with the other kids with a force that lifted the legs of the swingset out of the hard-packed gravel and made us shriek, believing, every time, that this time it really would tip over.
As a teenager, my friend with a car would pick me up to go get ice cream or a gas station cappuccino. We’d drive to the playground at Hughes Elementary, get out and dangle on the swings, looking out over the Mohawk Valley, which was green and beautiful in a certain early evening light. We talked about boys. We talked about the future, which was so close. How everything would change. We’d swing, because growing up was scary and we liked the way the wind felt in our hair.
These memories are present in the cool of the chains in my hands, in the way my toes push off from the ground. The sun is warm and the air smells like pine trees and dirt. I lean back, my feet against the blue sky. Meghan glances over at me, points out that we are just… about… synchronized. And then we are, our legs rising and falling in exactly the same rhythm. It’s an effort to stay that way but we try, laughing, the kids on the helicopter pausing mid-flight to stare.
I recognize this feeling as joy, but it’s more than that. Joy is scattered in my every day. It is my baby’s fuzzy head on my cheek, my two-year-old walking around wearing a hood that has monkey ears on it, her curls bursting out on either side of her face. She calls it her “sweatshirt hat”. Joy is not always easy, but it’s there when I remember to look for it. No, this is something far rarer. This is fun, uncomplicated by stress or worry. This is me allowing myself to let go, briefly, of the person I have somehow become: tired and impatient, plagued with papers to sign, doctor’s appointments to make, meals to plan.
Three weeks ago I put my feet back on the ground, skidded to a stop, and walked away from that swing. I was smiling. I felt new. “If I could do that for five minutes a day,” I told my sisters, “I would be a better person.”
A few days later, we drove back to South Carolina and resumed our lives. But I can’t let go of that feeling, that freedom, the weight lifted as I was suspended in air. Five minutes a day of fun, of real laughter. Five minutes where I can feel like I used to, like I’m about to embark on something big. Like I’m about to actually take flight.