I took my kids to a renovated playground on Sunday morning, and two things stood out, other than the seeping chill of early October in Sweden: the four dads and the fact that my daughter could have easily broken her arm.
I loved both.
I recently got a request from a Canadian journalist who wanted to find a park where dads meet. I couldn’t answer it because that encompasses every park in Stockholm. And there is no special time either – just when kids play. So it was no surprise that there were three other dads and me at the playground, and it was no surprise that we ignored each other (ahhh, Sweden).
But the new playground equipment was amazing – this huge climbing thing, with rope steps and balancing paths 9 feet off the ground. There are sliding poles that fall 10 feet and which my daughter refused to acknowledge (No! This is where you jump!)
She is 4. She is really too young for this playground, but her preschool comes here and she is a master of the jungle gym.
And then there are the swings. Brand new swings.
I compare this with the US, where swings are disappearing, where anything fun and challenging is disappearing. From an editorial from Investor’s Business Daily (not a socialist mouthpiece by any means):
Fearing lawsuits over injuries, a West Virginia county is removing swing sets from elementary schools. A minor, local issue? No. America’s litigious society has changed the way kids play …
A Massachusetts elementary school has told students they can’t play tag. One Boston school forbids handstands while another in Needham, Mass., doesn’t allow students to hang upside down from the monkey bars. A pool in Hazleton, Pa., closed some years ago after a swimmer sued for $100,000 because he cut his foot running and jumping into the pool, though he’d been warned not to.
“There is nothing left in playgrounds that would attract the interest of a child over the age of four,” Philip K. Howard, lawyer and author, wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2008.
I fear that I oversell Sweden sometimes. It is not paradise. There are huge downsides to living here. But, paradoxically, what the socialist Swedes have that supposedly so independent Americans lack is this: common sense and a sense of personal responsibility.
As a country, Sweden takes care of people where they truly need it (as babies, by allowing parents to stay at home) and then does not overprotect them when they do not need it (as kids, who are allowed to jump off swings, and even break their arms).
I love that. My kid feels safe because I got to be home with her. And she can use that safety to play and push herself and find her boundaries.
And sure I cringe and stand beneath her and nag her to be careful.
But better that than my and the kids staring at an empty field.