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Penkava: Teeter-tottering on the brink of disaster

In the cobwebs of my mind, I recall the wonderment of the old school playground. The sun would brightly reflect off the shimmering surface of the giant slide, the wind would gently sway the long, taut ropes of the swings, the fingers of the teeter-totters would point upward toward the sky, and the merry-go-round would merrily beckon its riders for a go ‘round.

Back in the day, a visit to the playground was not without its jeopardies. Yes, the slide’s surface could approach egg-frying temperatures in the heat of the day, but that just made us want to get down it faster. Besides, there was always the possibility of missing a step on the long climb to the top and tumbling down, only to have your fall cushioned by the three other kids climbing up behind you.

The feeling of the G-forces on the merry-go-round was truly worth the risk of flying headlong off into space. And who didn’t enjoy the beguiling dizziness as our feet desperately struggled to keep up with the world spinning around us, not to mention the glorious onslaught of nausea as we crawled back for another spin.

Oh, and who didn’t relish being held hostage, trapped on the up position of the teeter-totter, holding on for dear life as your partner tried to bounce you off to send you crashing to the ground, shouting, “Hey, hey Buster Brown … whad’ya give me if I let you down?”

Yep, back then we kids knew what a bump felt like and understood the soreness of a bruise. A black eye was a badge of honor, and stitches made you a hero. We learned that when you fell, you just got up and kept playing. If the other kids laughed at you, you laughed along with them. Sure, we sometimes had hurt feelings and scraped knees, but we were being trained to understand that the world was not made of fluff and feathers and people were not always kind.

When we went home our parents patched us up, gave us a pat on the butt and sent us out again. They knew that accidents happen, and that kids were simply mishaps with legs. They believed in gravity and its related consequences, and they didn’t sue a swing for willful criminal negligence because it viciously attacked their innocent, unsuspecting child and broke his arm.

But thankfully, current parents do not have to worry about the possible calamities of giant slides, swings, teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds, for they have all but been eliminated from the modern-day playground. And you PTAs, don’t even think about bake sales to raise funds to buy playground equipment that carries kids above ground level. A parent group from Virginia found its recent $35,000 purchase of equipment suddenly wrapped in yellow caution tape like a police crime scene as the school board stepped in to save the children from certain monkey bar carnage.

And for those of you who have been scratching your heads wondering why in the world they are letting kids run and chase each other playing tag, not to worry. Tag and other similar activities now are referred to as “Human Target Games” that prey on the slower and less athletic children. These games are increasingly being banned from schools. And breathe a big sigh of relief, because the dreaded game of dodgeball, even in Nerf form, finally is being recognized as the evil that it is.

So let’s stop all of this running and climbing and playing on the playgrounds. We’ll just send the kids outside to walk around. And let’s get all lawyered up for when they trip over their own feet and fall to the ground. Then we can sue the Earth for planetary negligence and gravity for quantum theoretical nonsupport. And to that kid who wouldn’t let me down on that teeter-totter … have you ever heard of Frivolous Leveraged Extortion?

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He challenges all you old teeter-totterers to a game of non-Nerf dodgeball … no fair throwing at his photo. He can be reached at

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