It’s that time of year again: playset season. The time when millions of parents get ready to shell out thousands of dollars for small-scale backyard jungle gyms for their beloved children.
For years I’d managed to successfully avert this requirement of suburban family life. And then, one day something happened.
I can’t even blame my kids. They never badgered me or complained. I’m not even sure they wanted a playset. No. I wanted one.
Whenever we were outside in the backyard my kids wandered around aimlessly, invariably returning inside to the couch. I wanted to shoo them back outside and shout, “Go play!” But with what? We didn’t have a pool or swings or even a paved driveway to draw on. I decided for my own sanity and their survival we needed a playset.
Visions of summer days whiled away on a swingset or in the attached fort with children’s laughter floating by on a balmy breeze, danced in my head. But I wanted one thing to be perfectly clear. If I was going to take out a second mortgage to finance a playset, my kids were going to have to live on it—literally.
The playset we eyed-up had a house-like enclosure and a picnic table and was practically as big as my house. It was certainly a suitable dwelling for two smallish people. They could come inside for the winter but not until then. And if we ran some electric wiring and plumbing to the fort, I might not ever have to see them again.
But as with most fantasies, once realized, the facts on the ground don’t quite match the vision, and so it was with the playset.
My research on playsets commenced well before spring because I thought if we bought in the off-season, we might be able to get a reasonable price. I was mistaken. There are no reasonable prices when it comes to playsets. I don’t know if the hardware is solid gold or if the structure is made of rare, endangered wood, but bargains are not to be had. So I considered an option a friend suggested: used playsets. One could get a whole playset for half the price. That had my name written all over it.
Unfortunately, it did not have my husband’s name written on it. He was against the whole playset idea from the beginning—it would damage his grass. If, however, I was going to insist he acknowledge he has children and that they require toys, then he determined he would need a deluxe model worthy of being placed atop his pristine lawn.
Still, I continued in my search for pre-owned models, convinced I could satisfy us both. And I was successful in finding a used playset in relatively good condition large enough for two school-age kids. It even had a rock wall. But the best part was it only cost about a thousand bucks. Victory was mine.
Then my husband pointed out the playset was somewhere outside the tri-state area, and we didn’t have a vehicle large enough to transport it even if we did want to take the half-day drive to go get it. I nodded silently. I understood. And with a heavy heart, I gave up on my used playset search.
For those who have never had the experience of shopping for a playset, it’s quite a daunting task. There are many makes and models and heights and configurations to choose from, and all the actual playthings are extra. I suppose you could buy a fairly cheap wooden frame, but all your children would be able to do is stare at it wistfully because it would be nothing more than an oversized sawhorse.
I continued to comparison shop online for weeks until the day finally came when I spotted my dream swing set. It had everything I’d imagined. The only problem was I couldn’t afford it. Over the course of the following weeks, I visited the playset several times, hoping to happen upon a sale. Then, mid-summer, it finally happened. The company had what constituted a storewide sale in playset circles: free gangplank weekend. I was sold.
Free gangplank weekend was a huge coup for me, and I breathed a sigh of relief that the hunting and agonizing and planning was over. Then the sales guy hit me with the bill. Just under $2,000. And it was FREE gangplank weekend!
The playset has been bought and paid for, delivered and erected in our yard for almost a year, but it hasn’t been played with much. Or maybe I should say it hasn’t been played with as much as $2,000 would warrant. We haven’t made our money back on it yet, but a few items have been worth their price. The swings and trapeze bar. That’s really all you need. Take it from someone whose been burned.
The kids still wander aimlessly about the backyard, ignoring the one component, the most expensive one, for which they lobbied so vehemently, the fort. It sits empty except for the birds and the squirrels. But maybe if we installed a TV in there…