The Swing Set
Imagine a swing … but for babies. I assume that’s roughly how the baby swing was invented, and for that breakthrough my fellow depleted child rearers and I feel both gratitude and dull stabbing impulses on this cold summer afternoon; we swing back and forth between those feelings.
No such ambivalence for our offspring, who would be shocked to learn that pushing a child-filled rubber harness over and over might register as anything less than amazing. For the diapered set, the pair of baby swings at Bernal Heights Playground represents the finest 20 square feet in all of San Francisco. Aspirants stream in, ferried or trailed by parents and nannies who proceed to navigate one of the city’s most complex markets.
To the untrained eye, the grown-ups here might look like playground grown-ups anywhere, interchangeable in our tolerance for mind-numbing kid stuff. But we dwell in an officially special realm. Last year, Redfin crunched its numbers and declared the north slope of Bernal Heights the “hottest neighborhood” in the country. Homes in this historically working-class and bohemian enclave routinely sell for several hundred thousand over asking. Acquisition, however reluctant, is in the air. The baby swings are a real estate story within a real estate story.
“The swings are full but if we’re patient one might be free soon. Should we try to be patient?” a bearded dad offers. The solemn redhead before him stares into the middle distance.
Among lesser bylaws regarding the praise of children’s debatable cuteness and the forgiveness of their assorted leakages, parents know the most sacrosanct of all: Thou shalt grant thy child sufficient swing time as to ensure happiness but no more, because that baby in the onesie has been waiting for like six minutes.
“Clem, do you want to let this little girl … ”
“Oh, no hurry, Maya just … ”
“Tyler, sweetie, ha ha, remember what we said about pushing … ”
Our ritualistic assurances that all is mellow sit atop an uneasy zone of covetousness, tears, mucus, bigheartedness, and genteel rapaciousness. I’ve got a good view of it here on the yogurt-oiled, raisin-smeared bench directly adjacent to this pageantry. My 2-year-old wants another go, and per the simple physics of toddlers and baby swings, one cannot take up residence in the other without a middleman. So we parents become realtors.
“Shall we try the slide?” a mom near me asks two swingers, possibly siblings. “The slide? The swing will be here later! Shall we try the slide?”
The cajoling works and the swings are quickly refilled by a lump of a baby and a jarringly handsome 2-year-old. Waiting in the wings are more children and their attendant grown-ups, blearily alert for the next vacancies.
Location location location and bedtime. By 5:30 the wind is up and the playground squeals have taken on a weary top note; the searching for shoes in the sand begins, the laying out of terms to have shoes returned to feet. There are always deals to be found at the end of the day. An inexplicably bonneted toddler whimpers her case and the offer is accepted, late hour be damned. For two glorious minutes the child swings freely, propelled by the invisible hand — her mother’s, pushing from behind, checking her phone with the other.