The Trials of a Trampoline

By Sara Vigneri

Last summer, my kids begged me to buy them a trampoline. So my husband trekked out to the sporting goods store and brought home a monstrous box. My daughter could not contain her excitement and was practically frothing at the mouth as we unloaded the package. Assembling the trampoline was a potentially life-threatening event as my husband and I muscled the rubber mat onto bungee cord anchors and almost lost a few fingers in the process. It took an entire day to assemble the thing, and once we were done, my husband and I collapsed in exhaustion while gazing at the gargantuan netted vessel that had taken over our backyard. Visions of summer nights filled with happy, fit, laughing children filled my head. I also had visions of potential head injuries and emergency room visits, but I pushed those thoughts away. This trampoline that now occupied my entire backyard was going to make me the world’s greatest mother.

The next morning, my youngest daughter woke up, looked out the back door and said to me, “I am the luckiest kid on the planet.” I was already polishing my Mother of the Year award in my mind as I watched her run out the door to bounce. I also decided to print out some liability waivers for the neighborhood kids to sign. The idea of throngs of children that were inevitably going to line up for a chance at the world’s most fun activity was making me nervous, and I figured I needed to protect myself from lawsuits.

But the novelty quickly wore off and reality hit. After a few raucous jumping sessions in the beginning of the summer, the trampoline stood empty and rejected. The excuse was that the trampoline was “too hot”–the black rubber top radiated heat, and the backyard became a roasting pit. “It’s okay”, I told myself, “this will be great for the fall. It will keep the kids active after school!” But when fall came around, I would glance over at the empty trampoline as the wind whipped the netting, and leaves began collecting on the unused bouncer.

By winter, the foam protectors started disintegrating. Sure, I probably should have invested in some sort of cover, but I had imagined no need to cover something that was clearly going to be in constant use. I spent the winter shoveling snow off the trampoline and wondered if the lack of protection from the elements would weaken the rubber. I began to worry that spring would arrive, and the weakened trampoline would collapse the minute my kids resumed their soon-to-be constant bouncing. There was no need to worry because spring came and went, and the trampoline was completely ignored.

I started feeling vengeful. I began crafting ads such as: “Hardly used, barely touched, wildly neglected trampoline for sale”. Then I started planning a backyard garden envisioning tall tomato plants and creeping bean vines in the space where the trampoline now stood. I felt regret that I hadn’t protected the thing over the winter and anger at the regret that I was feeling about an object that had clearly not held up its share of the deal. I had given over my backyard to the trampoline, and where were the happy, bouncing children?

But as summer arrived I noticed something miraculous. My kids were on the trampoline! Well, let me clarify, they weren’t jumping on the trampoline. They were sitting on the trampoline playing some sort of game. The game involved a fantasy story, possibly involving wizards and orphaned children, I’m not exactly sure. They were using props that they found lying around the neighborhood, sticks were transformed into wands, rocks were piled up into some sort of fort, and the trampoline was their meeting place.

The more I thought of it, the more I realized that the trampoline wasn’t actually abandoned over the past year. It was the structure of the activity that they shunned, not the trampoline itself. In my mind I saw: jump+jump+jump = kids having fun! But that’s not what my kids think of as fun. Fun is not a structured activity. They would jump on the trampoline, occasionally but its purpose was reinvented. When it was the “World’s Greatest Jumping Toy,” it lost its mystique. Once it became the wizard coven, or the orphanage, or the secret clubhouse, it was officially fun. And to be fair, they were on the trampoline a lot over the course of the year, it’s just that they weren’t necessarily jumping.

So, the trampoline has entered into my children’s world of fantasy and play, which more often than not, involves very little jumping. In the meantime, my husband and I have found that we like structured activity and have co-opted the jump+jump+jump=fun formula for ourselves. I can’t imagine what the neighbors think when they see two grown adults bouncing and laughing on the trampoline. But hey, it’s fun!

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