I saw two girls on a swing set off Central Park West on Monday afternoon, grins as wide as their faces, pigtails flying in the wind, laughter dancing through the unseasonably warm March air. The scene was transcendent in every sense of the word, but mainly in the immediate sense that I felt myself transported to the quiet warmth of a late May evening when I was five or six and my parents had just filled in the pool in the backyard of our new home off of Rock Creek Parkway in Northwest Washington, D.C. They’d paved it over, horrified at the prospect that one of their brood might wander over one afternoon and drown, and installed a jungle gym with a slide and four swings on one side and a concrete court with a basketball hoop on the other. My siblings and I were desperate to break it all in. I can remember the coolness of the waxy black seat of the swing, the thrill and frivolity as my sister Elizabeth and I pumped our legs as fast as we could, kicking off our shoes in midair in the rococo gesture of a Fragonard painting, gasping for laughter as one ricocheted off my brother, who was dribbling a basketball on the court side. There was an inchoate, misguided sense that I might be able to swing so high I could touch the net of the hoop with my tiptoe, though I was enough of a ‘fraidy cat that when the seat took a little lurch at the very end of its tether — when I was at the highest point of the swing’s arc — I dialed back my pumping for fear that I might flip over the top of the swingset, a misapprehension I’d pocketed from a girlfriend at school, who once insisted that her brother had swung so high, he’d looped over the top and gotten stuck.
But those were the fleeting and fumbling incipiences of a six-year-old imagination, and mainly I swung with nary a thought in my mind save for the unfiltered, delicious rush of weightlessly floating barefoot through the warm dusk air after school was out for the summer. Later bedtimes, later sunsets, light cotton nightgowns billowing in the breeze of the backyard, where fireflies dotted the air and my sister laughed so hard her face turned bright pink with delight.
I don’t know that you ever get that back once you’ve crossed the threshold of puberty — the breathless buoyancy of swinging when you are little, when even the menace of my parents’ fears of a child drowning and the danger of flipping over the swingset feel diffuse, immaterial, things that happen to other people.
Once I hit twelve, self-awareness and desperate desire to be cool and discerning clouded things over. Moments of unbridled, non-self-conscious glee grew far fewer and further between.
On Monday night, I wondered when I’d last felt that freedom. Certainly not in recent years, which — though happy and blessed — have also borne with them the humbling burden of caring for little beings. And certainly not in the years prior to that, when we’d bought our home and started our business and suddenly found ourselves buckled into financial responsibilities and client commitments and legal arrangements that left us solemn and determined and more than a little anxious. Maybe the last time that I felt that swing sensation was when Mr. Magpie and I visited Spain, two DINCS (dual-income-no-children — and, at that time, no pets) with money to spare and jobs that — while demanding, could afford us the space for a proper holiday with minimal professional interruptions. We drank one-euro wine out of tumblers at hole-in-the-wall cafes, ate every pintxo in sight — including the angulas, which was adventurous for my then-budding culinary omnivorousness, wandered for miles and miles around Montjuic with no itinerary save for pouring ourselves into bed at some indiscriminate point between sunset and sunrise.
Even then, there were the briefest of concerns and the slimmest of responsibilities that tarried our step. The obligation to email home to let our parents know we were safe. The occasional compulsion to check in with the office. The logistics of traveling from Barcelona to San Sebastian that needed ironing out. An irritating pain I’d been experiencing in my right flank — what was it?! (Turned out to be a pulled muscle.)
This brings me fresh purpose as a mother to young children, as I strain to pave the road before them, to suppress or cloak the dangers I can, to clear space in our schedule so that they can pump their legs into the warm spring air, savoring that weightlessness of youth.
Post Scripts: Spring Wardrobe Finds for Little Ones.
Before I share some AMAZING childrens’ finds for spring, I wanted to add that mini has gotten SO much mileage at the park, splash pad, and beach with this inexpensive play set, these stacking cups, bubble wands, and sidewalk chalk (which will make you the most popular mom at the park). I almost always keep them in the basket of her stroller (along with one of these convenient, easy-to-pack towels) in the summer.
And also that if I had a backyard, I’d love to add one of these rustic, heirloom-esque wood tree swings to it.
CHERRY BLOSSOM BUBBLE FOR A BABY GIRL (SO PRECIOUS AND WELL-PRICED — IMAGINE TAKING HER TO SEE THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS ALONG THE POTOMAC IN IT!)
CIENTA T-STRAPS (FOR BOYS OR GIRLS!)
HILL ON VACATION IN THE BAHAMAS, IN CLOTHING FORM (HA!)
$15 FLORAL DRESS (TOO CUTE)
FOR SOME REASON THESE SUPERGAS ARE MARKED DOWN TO $18
PRETTY TIGHTS (LOVE THE PINK/WHITE/GRAY COMBO PACK) TO LAYER UNDER DRESSES UNTIL IT’S WARM ENOUGH
SWEET EYELET DRESS (UNDER $20 RIGHT NOW)
P.S. There are so many beautiful spring dresses out right now. I’ve shown so many in recent posts (ahem, lots here and here). But I also love this oversized floral dress, this pareo for layering over my new gingham sunsuit, this beautiful bow-shouldered dream, and this paisley beauty.
P.P.S. More childhood memories.
P.P.P.S. I don’t want anything to change.