The laws of physics, if you ask a grownup, are fraught with peril. Dangers lurk in every playground, and they can be explained, for the most part, in elegant math (a language which, poetically, many of us forget soon after we’re done with playgrounds ourselves). In a single park or schoolyard, heck, you’ve got it all — gravity, momentum, relative densities, objects in motion or at rest. You’ve got your centripetals, your centrifugals. On a damp morning, you’re keenly aware of friction, as little hands reach for dewy metal bars.
We spend energy fretting about how physics might affect our children, who are but mortal and made of softer and screamier stuff than metal or concrete. I worry, a little bit, that my daredevil ninja-kid might break a leg, crack his head, swing the swing right over the bar in a complete circle, swoop right off the monkeybars and hurtle through the sky, or lose his grip on a merry-go-round and fling himself into orbit.
But I also worry that my kid won’t experience the thrill of danger narrowly escaped. Maybe I’m a questionable parent, but while he’s little, I want him to get a good scare now and then, one that he himself engineers, in a controlled environment with his parents or teachers close by. I want him to learn experientially about cause and effect and the value of assessing (and sometimes ignoring) risk. I want him to scrape a knee, bleed a little, and keep right on playing. Most of all, I want him to find those moments when he suspects he might really be, just for a split second, flying.
There’s no better way to look into the eye of truth than to face your own fragility. That’s something every kid starts to learn on a playground, just as I did all those years ago, even if the language we use to explain it comes decades later.
For some, no matter your age, there’s no finer way to live than to tempt danger — even if you start small, in a well-known place, with someone who loves you fretting nearby. Get a running start. Listen to your shoes scrape on the concrete as you pick up speed, then take that big, perilous leap, grab on tight, and laugh and laugh, as you spin madly and watch the big blue sky whirling above.
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