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The Jumps

04/30/2009 05:00PM, Published by Super Admin, Categories: In Print




“The jumps!” I cannot overstate how important those two words have been to my boys and their neighborhood buddies. The question, “Dad, can we go down to the jumps?” was always asked with such a breathless excitement that bordered on hyperventilation. I often said “yes,” partly out of fear that a “no” would cause them to black out.

The jumps were a series of...well, dirt bicycle jumps dug out of a vacant lot behind our housing development. There were ramps, bumps, grooved turns, small dips and some outright craters. It looked as if a giant mutant mole passed through, followed by a backhoe, making it all the more impressive to realize that it was created entirely with shovels wielded by kids who would otherwise find it difficult to put their dishes away. 

The lot of jumps was a wide, open space, bristling with wild grass and star thistle that an occasional jackrabbit will still startle up from. One edge of the lot is lined with a narrow grove of oaks and through them dawdles a small, lethargic creek that is home to frogs, ducks and beavers. It is far from being a wild land though – homes peer down from a small ridge above the trees. An office complex sprouts from another low hillside. And the back of the lot is bordered by railroad tracks where, sometimes, a rumbling locomotive would let out a blast on its horn, further validating to the boys that the jumps were in fact a good place to be.  

And they were. The jumps represented a relic of something now nearly extinct in much of Suburbia: unstructured, unsupervised play. There was no entry fee, no waiver to sign and no time limit for how long they could stay  (provided that all their homework was done). The only rules were those the visitors made themselves. There were no coaches at the jumps, no team to make, nobody to impress other than each other. Occasionally we parents wandered down to watch, and unable to help ourselves we dispensed the usual admonishments of “be careful” and “slow down.” But the words carried less authority and conviction than at home, because really, the jumps were not our place. The jumps belonged to them.   

Ah, but recently a bulldozer came in and flattened down the jumps. I’m sure it was the landowner, understandably worried about liability in an age when a restaurant can get sued for serving a hot cup of coffee. I don’t know who owns the land but it doesn’t matter. The day the jumps were laid low, every kid in our neighborhood wore a look like someone had just licked all the red off their sucker.

There’s talk about building the jumps back up again and I haven’t discouraged it. Places like the jumps are more than just where kids can go to show off to one another; they are places to learn that Mom and Dad don’t always have to be there to set the rules, settle a disagreement or pick them up after a fall. As a result, our kids possibly start developing a sense of independence, or self-reliance. Our kids can be tough, if we let them be.

In fact, while lawyers and other killjoys will probably disagree, I hope the kids do build the jumps back up again. I hope before long they’re back out in the fresh air, pedaling like crazy through that empty expanse toward ramps that send them soaring. Maybe I shouldn’t because I’m the adult and I should know better. But I think the world needs places like the jumps, where a kid can still have some good free fun. Besides, perseverance is another good thing to learn, so where better to learn, than a place like the jumps?

Catch Tom on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1.

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