By Dan Haag
Labor Day marks the symbolic end of the summer season as children head back to school.
It’s a mixed bag of emotions for kids as they reflect on the adventures that packed their summer and transition back to being students.
It can also be difficult for parents and they handle the myriad emotions in different ways, such as throwing themselves into work or driving slowly by kids lined up at school bus stops to point and laugh.
Based on personal experience, summer is a dangerous time and kids are better off returning to the safety of a classroom rather then spending further time tempting fate in the great outdoors.
As a young boy, my summer was a full-contact sport. Every day was as likely to end in a visit to the ER as it was chasing fireflies. The best summer days were spent roaming the countryside looking for new and interesting ways to hurt myself.
Some injuries sustained in the name of summer fun included a sprained ankle from riding flattened cardboard boxes off a friends’ roof and lacerations on my arms and legs from a round of “let’s see who can roll down this hill the fastest.”
There’s also the five minutes I lost after a fall during the championship game of “Tree-Top Football,” and multiple burns on hands, fingers and face from using burning sticks as swords to spar with friends in a game we called “King Arthur.”
And let’s not forget the friendly rock fight my family had while hiking that resulted in a large and rather bloody head wound for my sister.
But all of these pale in comparison to one fateful evening at a Minnesota campground near the town of Bemidji (go ahead, say “Bemidji.” It’s just a fun word).
We finished setting up camp and I tagged along with my dad to buy firewood. I was maybe six or seven. There had been some discussion earlier about not having a campfire as my parents were justifiably concerned there might be a repeat of the “Great Firewalking Incident” of the summer before that resulted in a pair of my sneakers being horribly melted. They relented after my sister and I made a rather compelling argument that without a campfire, there could be no s’mores.
The campground had a large, sprawling playground complete with row upon row of swing sets.
I somehow convinced my dad to let me stay and play while he got the firewood, and though I could see the trepidation in his eyes, he agreed. I immediately ran for the swing sets and lined up for my turn. Kids in the late 70’s had an obsession with swinging as high as they could and then jumping off, arms and legs flailing as they attempted to reach high orbit. It was a beautiful thing to behold and I’d been eager to give it a try.
However, I quickly grew bored standing in line and wandered off to examine a nearby mound of dirt and poke it with a stick.
The next thing I knew I was airborne, pinwheeling through the sky to an extremely hard landing about 10 feet away. The sensation was not unlike viewing the jumbled footage of a documentary film crew running for their lives from a lion: lots of screaming and distorted images until the camera comes to rest silently on the grass pointed at the sky.
I had inadvertently wandered behind the swing set and been launched through the air by another kids’ back-swing
Like most kids who get hurt, I lay there quietly stunned for a few seconds and took inventory. Finding everything still attached, I started to wail as loudly as I could.
Next thing I knew dad was standing over me, likely counting how many more lives this particular cat had left.
He stood me up, dusted me off and plucked a few pieces of bloody gravel from my forehead.
“Don’t walk behind the swings,” he admonished.
I sniffled and nodded.
He picked up the firewood he’d dropped, led me to a nearby picnic table and told me to wait while he got some water.
The moment he left, I got bored again and wandered back to the swing set, still hoping for a turn. Careful not to walk behind, I went to the front where the view was better.
I barely heard “Look out, kid!” before I was launched into the air for the second time in the space of 10 minutes.
I flew high into the humid summer sky like a majestic, game-winning Reggie Jackson home-run. Spinning in midair, I saw my dad dashing towards me, the water he’d collected to clean out my first set of scrapes sloshing furiously.
My trajectory deposited me on top of a family picnic, arms and legs akimbo. They screamed and scattered, obviously not used to the sight of a bloody child landing in their midst.
Dad gathered me up, brushing grass, blood, and potato salad off my face and clothes while apologizing to the traumatized picnickers.
“But I didn’t walk BEHIND the swings!” I wailed, spitting out wet clods of dirt. A mix of emotions crossed dad’s face: relief that I was still alive and confusion as to how he could have sired such a moron.
Thankfully, I survived that summer evening’s battering. I even got extra s’mores out of it. Totally worth the price of concussion.
The lesson is as true now as it was then: when you see a parent smiling as their kids board a school bus, it’s not from happiness at seeing them go, but from relief they made it through another summer in one piece.
Plus, the long school year gives parents ample time to brush up on their First Aid skills for next summer.