The time we started to build our playground

*This was originally posted on my other blog.*

My family (my parents, brother, sister, and I) moved around a few times within East Palo Alto, but I spent most of my childhood living in a one bedroom apartment in front of what is now a Four Seasons hotel, on Manhattan Ave. (Our street, however, was far from being as iconic as the one in New York.) Still, I always thought that our apartment building looked nice from the outside. It was almost a perfect rectangle with three floors and an underground parking garage. The color scheme of the building was constantly changing as were the doors of the individual apartments–to match with the outlines. It started with an off-white base with green outlines. Then, it was off-white with red. Then, a darker, cream base with tan outlines. Maybe navy blue at some point too. The outside was bordered with trees and small bushes that sprouted the tiniest pink flowers. I used to break off the leaves because I thought it was so weird that they bled a white, milky liquid. To get into the building, you needed a key card to get through the first door. This was because the steps that led to the actual door to get into the building was protected by what to me, always resembled a cage. (From the picture above, you can see that they have gotten rid of this first obstacle. It’s a lot safer now, so they must’ve deemed it unnecessary.) After making it through the first door, you then needed another key to get through the second door just right up the stairs. This made us feel safe; although, many times, all I had to do was page the manager and she would buzz me in without even asking if I lived there.

It was a completely different world once I was inside because I felt protected by the building and I have many memories of our time spent on the first floor. As I mentioned in the previous post, the “playground” on the first floor of our apartment building was actually just a patio. When we first moved in, the ground was covered in pebbles that I imagine must’ve all been attached to make a nice looking first floor at some point. For the most part though, there were a lot of loose pebbles everywhere and some parts of the ground were missing them completely, revealing the concrete underneath.

During that time, it didn’t matter whether you knew each other or not, if you were a kid living in that building, you would spend your free time outside with any other kid that also happened to be outside that day. We were automatically friends and we were more than happy to work together. Because we didn’t have video games, many toys, swings, or slides to play with, we had to get creative.

For reasons that I never understood, a metal pipe stuck out of the ground one day–about a foot–and looped into a straight, horizontal line for a couple of feet, then just looped back into the ground. It made a perfect rectangle and a nice little seat. We didn’t question its purpose, we just knew that it was there and that someday we would use it. Then, another day, a spare, flat piece of wood appeared. It was about ten feet long. So, we put our heads together to brainstorm about what we should do with this exciting new toy. There must’ve been about twenty of us outside that day. After some deliberation, we–being the innovative geniuses that we were–came up with a brilliant idea: let’s make a see-saw.

It was a simple plan, really. All we needed was that piece of wood and some jump rope. We would lay down the piece of wood on the metal pipe and secure it by tying the middle with the jump rope. We didn’t have a way to make handles, so we decided we would just grab hold of the wood itself. And voila, we would have our very own homemade see-saw!

We wasted no time. We all helped to carry the piece of wood over to the pipe. Next, we had to make sure that the wood was in the perfect spot. We didn’t have any measuring tools, so we eye-balled it until we were all satisfied that equal amounts of space were available on both sides of the wood. Balance was important, after all. While a few of us held the wood in place, a couple of others brought over the jump rope to tie it as tight as possible. The jump rope was tied diagonally going one way, then tied diagonally again going the other way. We had to make sure that the see-saw wouldn’t move out of place once we started using it. Once we had tied the jump rope many times, it was time to test it.

Maybe it was because we were just kids, but we decided that we were ALL going to test it out at the same time. Once again we put our heads together to figure out the weight distribution. It didn’t take us long to figure it out and then we were all slowly climbing onto the wood to take our places. I got placed towards the middle of my designated side, along with my sister. Because there were so many of us, both sides of the see-saw were completely full and we would all have to work together to push off the ground at the same time.

So finally, the moment of truth arrived and we were ecstatic.

With one big push, we were off the ground, back down, and then back up again. It worked! We were so thrilled that we had actually pulled it off–we had started to build our own playground!

We laughed and screamed with joy as we ascended and descended. We started getting so excited that we began to speed up. As we were going down, we were already pushing back up. It was so fast and we were pushing so hard that the jump rope got loose. Pretty soon, not only were we going up and down at full speed, we also began to sway from side to side. All the fast movements made it difficult to keep holding on and some of us began to lose our grip.

Between all the bouncing, laughing, and screaming, I ended up losing my balance. I felt my body tipping over, but I held on. I refused to go overboard. And I didn’t. Kind of. In a blink of an eye, I was hanging upside down underneath the wood. This only made me laugh even more. The see-saw was still moving up and down and I was still having fun. Luckily, I had been placed in a spot that kept me from getting my head smashed in between the wood and the concrete. This safety issue, of course, never crossed my mind. All I knew was that I had to get back to the upright position. I began to swing my body to get back over. After a few tries, I succeeded and I was back on top with everyone else.

The first test was successful for the most part, but we had to address the pressing mechanical issue: the jump rope got loose and that was dangerous. The solution, we decided, was to use more than one jump rope next time and also, we had gotten a little too excited and needed to tone it down a notch. Going as fast we did, was definitely not safe. After making the proper adjustments, we were back to playing with our new see-saw.

I can’t tell you how long we had it for, but I know that it was with us for a limited time because unfortunately, just as our materials had suddenly appeared, it wasn’t long before they were gone again. It didn’t matter though, because we knew that whatever was available next, we would be sure to find a creative way to use it and enhance our playground.

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