I was tan-legged and thin, and I bolted like a colt at recess and lunchtime to the playground, trying to be the first one to the swings. With their white-washed seats and rope tied to a sturdy silver frame, they were steeds awaiting the arrival of riders. The ropes were the reins, and sometimes we became stunt riders for the circus. We stood on the seats and pumped our legs to bring us closer to the sky.
Then we'd hold our breath and wind our way up, daring each other to jump from the highest proximities. We always managed to land on our feet, faces flushed and ready to try again to go farther. We were perhaps a bit rash, unwary of danger. Like baby birds on first flight, we stretched our wings to the limit to capture the experience.
As an adult now, with children of my own, I cringe when I think of my young engaged in the same daredevil stunts. I want to warn them, to tell them to keep both feet on the ground. I yell across the playground when I see them pump up to the sky. But then I remember how it felt to be young and to fly off those wooden seats when the bell would ring.
In the long summer months, how often would the swings stay empty as we went on fishing excursions or trips to grandparents' homes. The warm air would tenderly sway them to and fro, like horses tied patiently at a post, waiting to be ridden again.
The swings would look lonely as I rode by on my bike. Sometimes I would stop and enter the abandoned schoolyard. I would pick the best swing and dangle my legs, twist the ropes as high as I could, and then let them go like a spinning top. It was a chance to get a cooling breeze on a long warm day. Soon other kids were drawn to the swings, and we would have races to the top of the sky.
Toward the end of August, the same workmen who painted the school's hallways and waxed the floors to a mirror shine would slap a new coat of paint on the swings, and for a few days they would be off limits to us. They sat with new shiny reflective paint eagerly awaiting the footprints of children. We knew that the painting of the swings was the sign that our summer was coming to an end and the classroom and the lessons were not far behind.
Soon we would be back inside the tall wooden building, filling our heads with science and English, reciting poems and clapping chalk-dust hands on unsuspecting backs. Learning replaced the long hours of summer freedom.
But there were always the swings waiting at the ringing of the bell. Waiting for the child to once again break in front of the crowd and choose one for a ride.
Now when I catch myself in that adult role of warning my children of the dangers of flying too high on wooden swings, I remember that tan-legged colt of a girl, and I know I must someday let them fly as I once did. I undo my hair from the stiff adult elastic. I smile and put myself back in time, and I race my children for the best swing in the playground - trying to touch the clouds that are always just a little out of reach, as we strive higher and higher to reach the goal.