Before there was a swing set, there was just an empty backyard.
The first time I planted my feet in the yard was the first day we moved into our house almost four years ago. The air was warm, and the sun was setting to my right. I held a baby on my hip as I moved my eyes around with each exhale of breath. There was a wooden fence on one side and a chain link on the other. The back was lined with four tall pine trees, a fence in their own right. In the corner stood a tall oak.
Jake would hang a baby swing from a branch in the oak a few days later, our first tangible mark on the yard. A few days after that, we would add a pink plastic pool.
But in that moment, it was empty. Untrodden by tiny toddler feet. I heard Jake talking to my mom in the house behind me, and I remembered being in a different room in a different state with her just three months earlier. We had thrown a baby shower for one of my best friends, and as I stood in the corner of the room watching my friends and family mingle that day, I saw all the things I would be leaving behind with the move to Ohio. Sadness washed over me. A sadness which was quickly followed by gratitude.
As I surveyed the room, I realized that my sadness meant Jake and I had done something right. We had put down roots and immersed ourselves in our community. The move felt so hard because we had filled our lives with so much good.
My mom laughed from inside my empty kitchen and brought me back to the present.
I shifted my weight forward to my toes.
“I hope it’s hard to leave here too,” I thought to myself.
The second summer we lived in Ohio, Jake decided we needed more than just a baby swing in the corner of our yard.
“I’m going to build the girls a swing set,” he said to me as we sat on our front porch one night after the girls had gone to bed.
I shifted in my rocking chair, seven-months pregnant with our third baby.
“They’re both too big for that baby swing, and it’ll be nice to throw them in the backyard to play once this new baby comes,” he continued.
“That sounds great,” I said.
Not even two days later, a swing set stood tall in our backyard, built piecemeal with wood Jake had found from the actual woods. Two swings hung from the center.
“It’s a little bigger than I was expecting,” I said, craning my neck and wondering if you could see it from the road, “but I love it.” That night I sat on a green lawn chair while I listened to the girls squeal as Jake pushed them on the swings. I pressed my toes into the grass, and our backyard felt full in all the right ways.
“I think I’m going to add a slide to the swing set.” The girls, now 4 and 2, were swinging happily while our 9-month-old baby boy sat picking clover leaves in the grass at my feet. It was our third summer.
“It will be great. I’ll just build a platform off to the side and bring up the slide from the basement. We can even put the kiddie pool at the base and use the hose to turn it into a water slide.
The platform took him a morning to assemble, but he ran into problems with the slide.
“They’re going to break the pool unless I can slow them down before they hit it.”
And so, our bonafide water slide was born. For two summers in a row, the girls spent hours climbing up a ladder and sliding down a yellow playground slide onto a flat wooden platform which sent them into a new pink plastic pool—an upgraded version from our first summer.
The second summer of the water slide, I sat in the shade, seven-months pregnant again and noticed the wear in our backyard. There were two dirt spots under the swings where grass once grew, and toys littered the clover all around me. But I didn’t just see marks from our own family. A fire pit sat nearby filled with ashes—a remnant of a gathering of our friends—and a bottle of bubbles was just beyond, emptied at the hands of a three-year-old friend. The fences showed wear too, likely from all the times our kids pressed against them talking to the neighbors who loved us all like family.
I felt the roots we had laid and saw all the beautiful things that had grown from them.
The swing set is gone now.
A few weeks ago, on a cold, February afternoon, Jake took a chainsaw to it. We can’t take it with us when we move back to Iowa in a few months, and he was worried the sagging crossbar was going to snap from the weight of the swings.
So, our backyard is empty again. Void of the towering wooden structure that kept our kids entertained for three summers in a row. All that remains are those two patches of dirt.
As I watched the wood and swings collapse that day, my breath fogging up the cold glass while I held the newest baby on my hip, I felt the thankful sadness wash over me again. We built memories for our kids here. Put down roots and erected swing sets and lived these years in Ohio as connected to others as we could.
It will be hard to leave this behind.
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