Lucky to Be Alive

by Telling Dad on September 26, 2009

slidegrater2I took my 8-year old son to the local playground and reminisced about my own playground experiences at that age. Today’s children have it so easy. Nothing seems to risk life and limb any more.

It was surreal to watch children walk away from the playground with all of their limbs intact. I felt like breaking out war stories from my own playground days…like a salty ol’ war veteran desperate to prove just how sissy-ish today’s generation is in contrast to his own.

How school officials approved the contraptions we climbed on back then is beyond me. I remember how strange it was that the size of my elementary class kept dwindling over the course of the year, but I assumed families had simply decided to relocate between third and fourth period.

It never dawned on me that the missing children were probably among those left behind after recess…entangled, maimed or impaled by the various medieval instruments of death that dotted the landscape.

There was no code of honor amongst us elementary folk. “No man left behind” didn’t exist. Are Bobby’s legs caught in the Chains of Despair? Leave him. Is Suzie laying in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the slide? Drag her as far as you can and then save yourself.

We were like Pavlov’s dogs when that bell rang. We’d drop whatever we were doing (or whoever we were dragging) and immediately scurry back to our classrooms.

Slides of Agony
As I watched Michael glide comfortably down a soft plastic slide with siderails, I experienced flashbacks of the leg burns I suffered from sliding down big panels of molten sheet metal that had spent the day baking in the blazing sun.

While Michael was able to start at the top and slide all the way down to the bottom in one fluid motion, I remembered that I never had the luxury of such a smooth descent.

I had two options…and both were equally painful.

One, I could raise my legs high into the air like a birthing mother so that only my cut-off jeans were touching the slide. The problem with this approach is that the denim of the 1970′s had supersonic properties when it touched metal. Speeds would approach 150mph as I careened uncontrollably down to the blacktop, and if the landing wasn’t perfectly timed, I’d suffer immediate road rash.

Or two, I could endure a painfully staggered ride as my skin defied the laws of inertia when it came into contact with the searing metal. The entire ride consisted of painful two-foot bursts.

Bars n’ Scars
I then watched Michael climb around on what today’s softies would call a “jungle gym”. Again, I felt like standing at attention and bellowing, “You call that a jungle gym you prancing little sissies? Come here and let me tell you about MY jungle gym.”

I’d then gather the children around and explain that while they get to climb around on luxurious plastic tubes and properly sanded wooden beams, we veterans of the 70′s had to navigate thin metal pipes, sharp bolts, and railroad ties that could double as cheese graters.

And we didn’t have smooth little rounded bolts either. The metal piping we climbed on was held together by sharp hexagonal bolts that were pre-soaked in tetanus.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s a picture of my third grade class.

Meadowbrook Elementary - 3rd Grade - Mrs. Turner's Class

Meadowbrook Elementary - 3rd Grade - Mrs. Turner's Class

And if we fell? Do you think we landed on soft recycled rubber or sand? Heck no. We landed on concrete, baby! If we were lucky we’d have blacktop to break our fall because it was more malleable in the heat. I honestly remember feeling relieved if I stumbled on blacktop instead of concrete. How sick is that?

One of the most popular playground contraptions kids flocked to was a circular metal wheel with deathgrip handles that spun children like DNA samples until they suffered cerebral hemorrhages.


Kids would pile onto this creaking, uneven, metal death plate and then three or four other kids would grab the sides and run in circles to spin it faster, faster, and faster.

Sadly, third graders were oblivious to the laws of momentum and the disc would end up spinning faster than their little legs could handle. Even as our eyesight faded in and out, we watched in horror as blurry little figures disappeared from sight and either got wedged beneath the spinning skin scraper or cast off into a nearby tree.

Once the merry-go-round came to a rest we’d all jump off and try to run in a straight line. Kids were running head first into fences, knocking themselves unconscious on tree limbs, tripping over fallen comrades, or puking off to the side, all while other kids were begging to be next.

Blades of Fury
Today’s school grounds are mowed on weekends when the masses aren’t at play. Back in my era? I vividly remember playing football in a field of milk thistles while an industrial lawn tractor pulled a few dozen unshielded rotating blades nearby. Stones and dirt clods could be heard ricocheting off the metal yet we were allowed to play amongst the shrapnel.

One day while playing football I remember hearing my friend Jimmy scream out in pain as blood poured from his face. A rock had been launched from the blades and smacked him square in the nose…breaking it. I helped him to the office and by the time we got there, he was completely covered in blood. The nurse took him into one of the many playground triage rooms and quietly uttered, “You need to be careful out there while they’re mowing.”

Stupid Jimmy.

Stairway to Vertigo
Anyone else remember the super tall slide? The one that everyone revered but few dared to experience? You’d walk up a set of thin metal steps two stories high until you reached a narrow platform with knee-high railings.

If you dared to look down you’d see itty bitty children scurrying around like ants on the concrete below.

Assuming you overcame the sudden onslaught of vertigo, you’d settle in for a nice long ride…on a jointed slide…where the sheets of metal were obviously tacked on upside down.

Every four feet you’d feel a nice sting in your buttocks as you slid over creased metal edges. You had two choices…leap to your death or go home with welts and tetanus.

tiresWheels of Dysentery
Not everything they gave us to play on was made of metal. For those who sought a more forgiving activity, the school administrators had buried huge recycled tires about a foot into the ground.

This way, pools of stagnant water could accumulate and attract worms and bacteria. Rotting bugs and the smell of pee would help finish off the pleasant aroma.

Kids would try to wedge themselves in the tires which ultimately resulted in them falling into the smelly toxic waste below. Ivan Bauer…I can’t believe I remember his name…he loved playing in the tires. Nice kid. And his mom made killer popcorn balls. But man did he stink.

It’s Time to Recognize
Enjoy your frilly little playgrounds, kind children of the new millennium, but never forget those who slid and climbed before you. For we, the hardened men and women of the 70′s, endured concussions, broken bones, and skin grafts all in the quest for playground safety.

When they fall, it's like Plinko.

The next time you slide in comfort, the next time you go to bed without smelling like Bactine, and the next time you notice that cinders aren’t embedded in your kneecaps…remember who helped make this possible. Remember the children of the 70′s.

We await your thanks. We await your salute.

You sissies.

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McSolved! — Telling Dad Blog
November 12, 2010 at 8:07 pm

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda September 23, 2009 at 10:23 pm

OMG Greg, I was rolling through this whole post. We have a playground out back with barely any wood chips, mostly hard packed dirt, and I just took my son to the ER for a foot contusion this weekend when he fell off the monkey bars. This was a repeat performance for him. Same thing happened at school last December. We've also been to playgrounds with the scary go round. Two summers ago, I took the kids to my favorite childhood playground of all time while visiting family. There's a HUGE metal slide. Now I feel like I need to do a post with pics LOL.
.-= Amanda´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday – Blongoball! =-.


Eric September 24, 2009 at 12:51 am

Excellent Post..

I agree.. It's not a real playground unless bones can be broken..

I broke an arm on the wheels.. And a collar bone on the slide. But not "on" the slide, the bars on the bottom that were above ground that went out five feet from the ladder to balance the slide from falling over. It was the perfect playground obstacle for running kids.
.-= Eric´s last blog ..Weekend Wrap Up – In the form of a Haiku =-.


Lisa September 24, 2009 at 2:44 am


Us children of the 80's didn't have it so easy, you know? Remember the metal chains on the swing? Some kid got hit in the FACE with one of those once. Chipped his front tooth. Poor kid. Another kid fell off one of those jungle gym things, and busted his head open. Ouch.

George Carlin had a bit about this, it was hilarious. But yours was pretty good, too. ;o)

Also, I MISS MERRY GO ROUNDS! I think they've been banned. =(
.-= Lisa´s last blog ..How often do you change? =-.


Lisa September 24, 2009 at 2:44 am

Also, cheese grater slide photoshop ftmfw.
.-= Lisa´s last blog ..How often do you change? =-.


Beccie September 24, 2009 at 2:52 am

Dare I bring up bikes?


Mrs. Telling Dad September 24, 2009 at 3:09 am

LOL, Beccie I love you!
.-= Mrs. Telling Dad´s last blog ..Being Diagnosed as "Old" =-.


Mr. Blonde September 24, 2009 at 3:30 am

You forgot the tether ball (ie: contusion sphere). Let's see Manny or Dora take one of those hits to the temple. Those wimps couldn't hang with us for a second!
.-= Mr. Blonde´s last blog ..Boatboy and Momma on the carnival slide =-.


Marianna @ Green Mam September 24, 2009 at 3:49 am

OMG that was hilarious! And so true. While I am a child of the 80s, we still had similar playgrounds in place. So many kids broke arms and legs after falling from that darn Thunderdome sphere.
.-= Marianna @ Green Mama's Pad´s last blog ..I Count for My EARTH Campaign =-.


Telling Dad September 24, 2009 at 3:52 am

@Amanda – A supporting post with pics sounds like a great idea! :) Feel blessed that he just had a foot bruise. 30 years ago he'd be on crutches.

@Eric – Thank you so much for the comment! Sounds as though you are the perfect example for accentuating playground hazards! I never broke any bones but I'm stunned that I didn't.

@Lisa – I wish I could take credit for that but it's a pic that has made its rounds on the 'net. It was just too perfect not to pilfer.

@Beccie – Shut it. ;)

@Mrs. Telling Dad – You too.

@Mr. Blonde – I ALMOST added the tether ball but it got slashed in my editing. This post was even longer at one point. And I agree…let's take these wimps back to old school playgrounds.

@Marianna – I know that the children of the 80's experienced just as much danger on the playgrounds but I docked them points for having the worst music of any decade in history.


Shannon September 24, 2009 at 3:58 am

Ok we must've grown up at the same time. I played on all of that! I can't tell you how many times the big mean 8th graders would come spin us kindergartners on the merry go round of death and one or all of us would go flying off of it as they laughed their devilish laughs. Probably 80 percent of my class had a broken arm wither from the swings or merry go round or monkey bars or jungle gym by the end of the year!
.-= Shannon´s last blog ..What's Your Forte? LIVE GIVEAWAY! (CLOSED) =-.


Not So Average Mama September 24, 2009 at 4:07 am

I totally remember being carried off the playground in the 3rd grade on a stretcher! I had fallen off the one that the kids had to be rescued by chopper. You forgot to mention the dangers of Square Dancing for a school presentation…or was it only my school that offered Square Dancing and Break Dancing (yea, I can do a mean running man!). My poor little shoulder was dislocated in the 4th or 5th grade while Square Dancing!
.-= Not So Average Mama´s last blog ..We Are Americans People… =-.


Gena Morris September 24, 2009 at 5:07 am

LMAO I love it! Seriously how did we EVER survive!
.-= Gena Morris´s last blog ..I am still a woman! =-.


Bridgette September 24, 2009 at 5:37 am

So, which one are you in that 3rd grade class photo?!? LOL!
.-= Bridgette´s last blog ..Disposer Care plus Bleach Alternative: Review and Giveaway =-.


Heather September 24, 2009 at 7:46 am

I remember those merry -go-rounds! There was one in particular when we lived on a military base and let me tell you, military built play equipment is like no other play equipment in existence. If you didn't go flying off it you were left clinging for dear life as your tears flew off and smacked those who did fall off. *shudder* thanks, I think it's time for therapy now…..
.-= Heather´s last blog ..Little Burgundy Opening – a shoe saga =-.


Leah Rubin September 24, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Wow, your class was tough. Was that your teacher in the middle? She could be my twin. (…wait for it… BWAH-HA-HA!!!)
.-= Leah Rubin´s last blog ..And The Award Goes To… =-.


Leah Rubin September 24, 2009 at 4:46 pm

And I also meant to say that this was really clever and creative, and you do a great job!
.-= Leah Rubin´s last blog ..And The Award Goes To… =-.


Brandy September 24, 2009 at 4:46 pm

I hear ya Greg. I tell my kids constantly how lucky they are when that claim the plastic slide is too hot. Although I am an 80s child we had those old school play grounds. AAHHHH Memories lol…Blisters, bruises, concussions…..Wasn't childhood GREAT!!!!


Maria September 24, 2009 at 5:20 pm

I read this one too late at night, my laughing just woke my DH! I thought the craziest stories about kids surviving the 70s had to do with babies being put to sleep in drawers and riding without car seats. btw, I know its late when I had to look at the slide a few times thinking wtf??


Christy September 25, 2009 at 3:39 am

I'm wondering how many of those photos were taken at our local park playground. The toys I played on as a child are STILL there and my kids love them, death traps and all.


Sarah September 25, 2009 at 4:08 am

Those tires? We were in the NE so they were awesome mosquito hatcheries too. When they weren't full of tadpoles anyway. Our playground had a huge painted circle on the blacktop specifically designed for dodge ball – now there was a rite of passage. Little whiners! They don't have a clue what real play is!


Melinda September 25, 2009 at 7:52 am

I remember all of these too well. Our tall slide was shaped like a Rocket and actually had 3 floors.


Lori September 28, 2009 at 9:12 am

This was awesome! I remember the tires so well. I had a friend during 3rd grade recess get stuck in the tire. It was wintertime and her coat was so big. I remember the bell rang and everyone left her. I also had a classmate who on the monkey bars hanging upside down and fell ont he concrete and her two front teeth went threw her lips. That was the day I stopped using monkey bars. Great post Greg!!!!!


tami September 29, 2009 at 12:43 am

I agree kids are whimps now a days lol. This was funny as hell!
.-= tami´s last blog ..The Pink Party! =-.


Jenny September 30, 2009 at 12:05 pm

I wish I had a merry-go-round like that in my backyard. I don't know who'd love it more, me or my husband (not to mention our two-year-old).

A girl at my elementary school decided to stand up on top of the really high monkey bars and try to jump and grab onto a much lower bar that was a couple yards away. She didn't make it. She stood up and we looked at her broken forearm and it was sort of U-shaped. Nasty! I was a cowardly gymnastics class dropout and never did any of that.


Ann Douglas October 1, 2009 at 5:53 am

I remember going home with a bleeding mouth after an accident at recess in public school. I guess I was one of the lucky ones….
.-= Ann Douglas´s last blog ..The Parenting Community Will Hold Your Company Accountable if You Pull a Stunt Like Nestle Family =-.


Karen Hartzell, Grac October 2, 2009 at 4:04 am

I remember being on a metal slide so high my wood clog fell off (yeah it was the 70's and they were cool) and the wood sole split when it hit the ground. Prob not very good if it was a skull. Glad I never fell of it.

Oh and my dad made the coolest carousel from old rocking horses and a merry go round like the one above. I wish I still had it for my kids. It was fast!


JoAnne August 12, 2011 at 8:00 am

We had parallel bars and single bars the girls would do “cherry drops” from. I was never dumb enough to try to do that – I was sure to land on my head. We also had tetherball, which to this day I still don’t understand. Try getting hit with one of those while walking by!


Katie September 2, 2011 at 4:15 pm

In the 80s, instead of oversized tires, our school playgrounds had large concrete drainage pipes (for lack of a better explanation) – yes, those ones that the city installs under driveways to aid the flow of water in road-side ditches. Mostly, they were booby-trapped with fire ant piles and wasp nests inside. Great way for a kindergartener to find herself stripped naked in an unlit, damp oven of a public restroom with half-stranger swatting the swarms of ants from her skin. Today’s kids don’t know what they’re missing!


Hattie September 14, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Brilliant. Although you must know, we children of the 90′s still dealt with all of that. Probably because my school was built in the 70′s and they saw no need to change the playgrounds until two years ago. Now I look at them and wonder how the children learn survival of the fittest.


Melissa September 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Oh goodness, this applies to children of the 80s as well! I distinctly remember a terrifying teeter totter that was made of old railroad ties and rebar. You needed at least 6 kids on each end to get it to work, and inevitably, someone would jump off sending the other side crashing down where feet were likely to be crushed, or at the very least, skin would be removed from shins. Even better was when someone would attempt to jump off, not be quick enough, and end up getting caught in the leg, flipped over backwards, and launched several yards. Usually into the electric fence that ran along one side of the playground. I kid you not. There were horses in the pen, and what do 10 year old girls loooooove? Horses. Try to pet the pretty horses? Get electrocuted. Ahh, memories.


Karajeanne November 21, 2011 at 9:15 am

Just thought you’d enjoy some more adulations, I spent longer than I’m willing to admit reading posts to my husband while simultaneously dismissing my children and agreeing to purchase every toy that crossed the television screen. The payoff was sublime though, I haven’t heard my husband snort laugh in weeks…Thanks


Charity January 9, 2012 at 12:19 am

I went to a Catholic grade school, St. Agnes – or more fitting, the school with the “Darwin’s Experiment” playground. The merry-go-round collapsed and crushed a girls’ leg, a kid nearly lost an eye from a rock concealed in a snowball, my brother suffered a concussion when he fell on the ice, my friend Lisa tried the infamous “leap from the swing” and broke BOTH of her arms and I lost my grip on the pipe “plinko” and broke my nose. Had to love recess :)


Dana June 23, 2012 at 4:37 pm

So, I was just doing the dishes thinking “why do I feel like I’ve been crying?” and then I remembered, I found your blog! And whilst reading this post on the perils of recess back in the day, I literally laughed until I cried and could no longer see the screen. So, had to say thanks. My hubs and I often discuss the overall wussiness of kids today. I hope I find you’ve also written on the mental fortitude we had to go to school where we got…gasp…grades! None of this “developing” crap. You just got an F, then were sent out to recess to risk life and limb. And we LIKED it! :) Thanks for your funny!


anita June 30, 2012 at 1:00 am

Thanks for this trip down this particular California memory lane. Still remember the dreaded Jungle Gym. Still got the lump from falling and fetching up against one of the bottom pipes. Metal. Southern California Hot.


Wombat Central July 7, 2012 at 7:52 am

When you started talking about slides, all I could think of was the ones that had the scary ladder then seemed like it went up to the sky. And the searing hot metal. So glad you included those! Oh, the good old days, eh?


Pamela November 7, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Best post I’ve read in a while…I’m a child of the 80′s but growing up in Houston, Texas…I know exactly how it feels to burn your legs to a crisp in the summer time on the baking sheet slides and monkey bars…but my all time favorite was the super tall slide. I just took the pain and made it down. Thanks for the memories.


Evelyn Johnson September 14, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I have read several of your blogs, seen your videos – You make me smile, you make me laugh… and my 14 year old son shared a chair with me to read & watch you. That is worth a pile. thanks. ev


Carrie June 18, 2014 at 12:42 pm

I found your blog while looking for a picture of what we called the arm breaker (Scary-go-round to you). I borrowed your picture and shared your post on facebook as somebody had shared this article:
Love your voice, great writing, I sense we are about the same age. I too just want to run out onto all those “playgrounds” of today; each one smoother than a Ken doll with their rounded edges & padded ground and start a rousing game of doge ball! Not that we’d be allowed to keep score…sigh :)


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