Occupy Childhood

The swing set consists of four seats attached to a mechanical clothesline of backyard magic, each hung securely from arms that once lead restless ponies in a futile waltz beneath the shade of a sycamore tree.

The boys, equally restless, ride it daily. It is the same as it always was, and as fresh as the first time. They take their seats and assume the position. Then the motor kicks on and the swings start turning to the right in a soft, careful circle. It is their spotlight. It is as wild as a slow dance, and their hearts beat accordingly. They pass me by again and again. The only thing that changes is the calendar.

Today I stood there, just out of reach, matching my smile to theirs as they swooped around like laughing hands across the face of a clock. I glanced at my watch and got lost in a metaphor.

“They grow up fast,” said someone, somewhere. Again. Or maybe it was me. It is all a blur to the sprint of childhood, and try as I might I cannot keep up. I can only shout words of encouragement and hand them a cup of water every time they lap me. Sometimes I run onto the track with a bandage. Sometimes I tell them to get up and keep going. Sometimes my back is turned and I miss what was surely their finest moment. Their tireless gallop pulls my gaze straight into the midday sun.

The temptation is to turn away and stare down the paths they took in getting here, now trodden and threatening to be forgotten. It is the magnetism of melancholy, the desire to skip again upon ground now paved in milestones and littered in memories. It is an apparition, a ghost of spring where there is always fresh grass growing through the cracks and birds singing songs that the children left.

It hangs there like a painting.

But the swings keep spinning, just like the rest of us, allowing its riders to see where they are going and where they have been. It is a constant trip forward. The boys call to me each time they pass, their smiles pure as morning.

They are my anchor in the now — the reality between scrapbooks and choices to be made. Postcards and dreams are best saved for rainy days and quiet conversations. All they know is this very moment.

I watch them catch the tail of their laughter, and then I watch them set it free again.

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