Michelle gets to say that now, because as of yesterday afternoon, the Obama girls have a place to go: Their own backyard playset, not much different from a whole lot of other backyard playsets in America…except that when you’re on the swings you can wave to that guy in the Oval Office.
The whole thing looks lovely and even cozy – there’s a tree house (which will probably be protected by a very bored Secret Service guy, but still, cozy) – and a tire swing and a climbing rope, climbing ladder, climbing this, climbing that. And if my kids were the most famous children in America, I’d want them to stick around my backyard, too.
But since anything the Obamas do tends to set trends (think: J Crew), I do have one little worry: This playset is about as generic as they come. And playgrounds are generic enough already.
Ever since the ‘70s when the legal world cast its eye on playgrounds and saw cash in them there broken arms, playground equipment makers have been dumbing down their offerings to the point where it’s harder to find a merry-go-round than a needle in a sandbox.
“Climbing structures” go so high and no higher. Slides are stunted. Horsie swings seem to have ridden off into the sunset. It’s not that I’m all for shards of glass under the twisty slide. But there is something to be said for a jungle gym that is taller than dad — a playground with the slightest frisson of risk. And there’s even something to be said for a playground full of stuff you can really go wild with. Boards, blocks, beams, an old pair of boots…
Okay. It’s hard to make a really compelling case for a junk heap on the White House lawn. But let me try.
Ah, there’s nothing like a Dane.
Sorry. Anyway – the Danes did think to add a playground minder to make sure the kids didn’t hammer directly into their playmates. But otherwise, the kids were free to make things: Forts, scooters, sleek modern furniture. And because the options were so endless and varied, these playgrounds attracted a wider range of kids than the simple climbing structures do today. (My youngest, age 10, is already through with the cookie-cutter plastic equipment found in our neighborhood.)
Today, adventure playgrounds are thriving in, of all places, Japan – a country that looked at itself mired in (ahem!) recession and realized: The only way to get out of this is by raising children who are inventive, resourceful, and able to work together as a team. In other words: Kids who think outside the box.
Even if that box is a lovely, all-wood, pre-fab tree house.
Surely the Obama girls will have some creative time in their new digs. They can invent games up there and read and dream. But if some day you see an old tire on the White House lawn, and some plywood and hammers and a rubber boot or two, don’t be alarmed. Think of it as a creativity stimulus bill.