See, saw, Marjory Daw,
Jack shall have a new master,
He only gets a penny a day,
Because he can’t work any faster.
I used to sing this nursery song to my youngest baby when I gently pushed him on the swing at the park. Even though I felt sorry for Jack because of his unfair wages, the song has an excellent back and forth rhythm to it, just perfect for the swift little arc of a baby swing. I would also sing “Jack and Jill,” “Ride a Cock Horse,” and “The Grand Old Duke of York.” If you are a baby, swinging can make you feel stupefied with sleepiness, or excited and thrilled, depending on the time of day. Mama is close, Mama is far, up in the air and down! You zoom backwards away from Mama, and you rush back towards her very fast, perhaps getting a little tickle on your chubby legs every time. It’s almost as good as peek-a-boo.
I would push my babies in the swing until my arms were falling out of my sockets and I was getting sleepy myself, because swinging is one of life’s simple joys and wonderful for you at any age, especially if the swing hangs from a beautiful old tree.
My favorite old swing from childhood hung from a sycamore tree in my grandparents’ yard next to the James River in Virginia. My parents probably rocked me in their arms on that swing when I was a baby, just as I rocked my own first baby, Nicholas, there later.
You spend years pushing your child on the swing, and one day, he is big enough to power a swing on his own. Perhaps he flops on the swing on his tummy and pushes with his toes. Perhaps he hangs underneath, building up his iron cross muscles for the 2022 Olympic gymnastics competition.
Eventually, he learns to pump, in his own time and on his own schedule. Then he can go just as high as he wants. Toes out, lean back, stretch and reach, swoop to the top, tuck your legs, lean forward, fall, repeat, and repeat again and again. Up in the air and down, again and again, until he’s worn out.
Even after your child learns to be a champion pumper, though, he still wants to be pushed sometimes because he can go even higher that way.
“Hang on tight!” you yell when giving a push.
My husband recently taught my youngest to jump off the swing mid-flight. I could have done without that. I didn’t tell him how much I loved doing just that myself, and how much higher I was when I jumped off, nor that I did it as recently as last year in the playground, age 49, at the top of the little arc. My legs aren’t as springy as they used to be, and I landed with a huge jolt. I decided that that should probably be the last swing jump for me….maybe. The fact is I have never outgrown swinging.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, The Swing, from A Child’s Book of Verses, recaptures the fun of a tree swing for me. A child swings so high she can peer at the countryside on the other side of the garden wall.
photo by Coral Woodbury
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside-
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown-
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
This poem celebrates the changing perspective which swinging gives you. First, you are looking down at all the twigs and acorns in the little bare patch in the grass, and the next moment you are looking past luscious green leaves, as you stare into the distant reaches. I will never, never tire of swinging as high as I can, stretching my toes to reach the clouds, just as I did when I was a girl, as I rush forward in a huge swoop, hanging at the very top of the arc like Peter Pan about to rise off towards the second star to the right, before the moment of stillness is abruptly broken with a thrilling and stomach-dropping plunge backwards into a controlled fall.
Throughout my childhood and all the way until I was grown up, I never got tired of leaning back and swinging forward with all my might on that wonderful swing by the James River, trying to touch the big sycamore leaves with the tips of my shoes, the rusty old chains creaking a little as I tested their strength to my utmost. I think it was the sensation of flying, falling, and being caught which I loved so much. It reminded me of the fun of greeting my father when he got home from work at the end of the day. He would grab me in his big strong hands and toss me into the air overhead. My mother probably laughed nervously when she saw this, just as I did when my husband tossed our three children when they were small. It’s a little scary for a parent watching their child fly forward and away on a swing, too, but we shouldn’t let our fear for their safety prevent them from having the wholesome kind of fun we loved when we were little.
My family is now lucky enough to have a swing in a huge old oak tree in a little yard next to a beautiful bay in New England. This is a swing with a view. The ropes are very long, and as I go back and forth, squealing a little bit if my husband is pushing me high, I can see islands, shore, birds, rocks, buoys, and boats. Every time my grown children are home, they swing, too. It is a joy to share the fun of swinging with the whole family.
I loved swinging when I was little; I have passed it on to my children, and I will love it all my life, until I am too old or dizzy to hold on to the ropes any more. If you have a strong old tree in your yard, share the fun of the best toy in the world with your children throughout their lives, from babyhood to adulthood, and put up a swing.
Read John Vivian’s wonderful how-to article, Swing into Fall with a Tree Swing in Mother Earth News. Take note of the safety rules. I noticed we flout some of them when we use our swing.
Beth Curtin is a portrait artist who primarily works in artists’ colored pencils out of her studio in a mill building in southern New England. She also enjoys crafts such as knitting, sewing, crocheting, hand spinning, toy making, and formerly, making Waldorf dolls. Her blog, Acorn Pies emphasizes the joys of art, nature, and outdoor play and publishes craft and toy making tutorials. In addition to her portrait work, she is currently creating a series of hand-colored lino prints of children at play. These lino prints and Beth’s crafts are available online in her etsy store. Beth is married to Bill Curtin, a professor at Brown University, and they have three children, two grown and one in elementary school. Learning and creativity figure large in the life of Beth’s family.