The Quest for a Child-Friendly Backyard

For most of Daniel’s life, the backyard had been verboten:  Between the precariously placed dismantled parts of a donated playset, the nasty weeds with sticker-burrs, the out-of-control ivy, the loose tree limbs of the biggest tree, the missing fence planks due to rot, and the awful mosquitoes that hunt in the early morning and early evening (when the summer temperature is most tolerable, dagnabit!)…

You get the picture.

But as Daniel rapidly approaches his third birthday this September, I realized that, on the weekends at home, Daniel could easily look at videos on the Nick Jr website for hours on end.  To counteract this sedentary behavior, I had found local indoor play areas (the soft play areas in the Irving Mall and the Galleria Mall; the JumpZone in Southlake, and the tried-and-true McDonald’s PlayPlace), as well as municipal playgrounds and water park.

However, I realized that being able to play outside while at home was important, too, as I remembered how fit my siblings and I were when we lived in Guam (a beach being only one mile away from home will do that), but then became TV-sucking couch potatoes when we moved to Texas because we didn’t know our neighbors and our backyard was relegated to the vegetable gardens and dog lot.

So my summer uber-project was to tackle the problem of the not-for-children backyard.  I fixed the fence by replacing the two missing planks.  The sprinkler guy fixed some broken sprinkler heads, and I started to mow with the lawn mower on its highest setting: both encouraged the growth of grass while choking out the weeds (including the burrs) — the backyard lawn actually looks like a lawn now.

I pruned the trees the best I could without killing myself or exacerbating my stupid acrophobia.

Then the Summer I session started, and I put the backyard project on hold a bit.  But once I turned in my grades on July 9,  I turned to the problem of the dismantled old playset.

As mentioned in my previous post, I tackled this problem as best as I could.  But once I took stock of what reclaimed lumber I had that were still in good condition, I realized that the handyman was right — it would be easier just to start from scratch.  (And I never did hear from him or his Big Boss again after that consultation visit.)

So… I bit the bullet, headed to the local Lowe’s, and asked the advice from one of the staff in Contractor Services.  That’s when Damien walked me over to the playset area — it’s a HUGE aisle end-cap in the lumber area, stocked with enormous but neatly packed and flat boxes of wood playset components in the Swing N Slide brand.  The whole set-up reminded me of the warehouse area of an Ikea, with all of those neat, white rectangular boxes that can stack easily on top of each other.

Given my budget, the size of my backyard, and the age of the child, Damien selected the Playful Chalet Kit, the Swing Beam Kit, and 8-foot Cool Wave Slide.  After he rung up my purchases ($624, including tax), he contacted a local father-and-son handyman team that he personally knew while I was still at Lowe’s, arranging them to pick up and deliver the boxes for me.

After personally meeting with them at the local Starbucks to go over what work I wanted and to agree on the labor cost, they headed over to Lowe’s to pick up the boxes, and I headed to the daycare to pick up Daniel.  They delivered the materials on the evening of the 19th of July, and they arrived the morning of the 20th to put the playset together.

It took them all day, and they were done by 5pm, whereupon I paid them not only the agreed-upon $265, but also an added amount to round the number up to $300.  I was home the entire time they put the playset together, and, observing them from afar, I could tell that they were careful and deliberate, always mindful for whom the playset was for — not me, but a little boy, whom they met the previous evening.

Here’s the backyard space before the playset:

A Cleared Area between the Tree and Shed

Here’s the same area after the playset was put together:

Daniel's First Encounter with the New Playset

Since then, I’ve raised the swings by eight additional chain links and converted the area under the tower into a covered sandbox.

So what happened to the components of the old, Rainbow playset that Technogypsy gave me?

Since that playset was a free gift, I posted this past Wednesday the components to the local Freecycle group here in Irving (as well as post on Facebook), to give the parts to anyone who needed them.  I had LOTS of nibbles, but most of the parts — the reclaimed lumber, the slide, the ladder — went to one local guy who was building a mega-clubhouse for his three kids out of whatever parts he can find.

The swings and toy telescope went to a grandmother for her grandkids, but she didn’t get the 13-foot swing beam yesterday because her son showed up in a sedan instead of a truck.  I have no idea of she still wants this monster of a part.

What’s left for the playset is a short set of monkey bars, of which the hardware and instructions I ordered online.  I think I can put this together myself, given my rudimentary carpentry skills but knowledgeable enough that a chop saw would be mighty handy (but I don’t own one).  I plan to use the various 2×4’s and 4×4’s from home improvement projects of yore, to cut back the lumber purchase cost.

With the backyard mostly cleared, I could now see what is left to do as I wait for the early August shipment of the monkey bars:  deal with the mosquito problem.  The three times Daniel has been in the backyard this week, I’ve had to douse him and myself in DEET-laden Off! spray, lest we get eaten alive by the nasty buggers.

After doing research online about home mosquito control, I did a walk-around the backyard for any standing water (or places where standing water can happen).  Nada.  But I noticed that I had a lot of monster piles of yard litter behind the shed, along the fence line, yard litter that can easily have pockets of water in it, somewhere in its heaving heaps of yuck.

Oh dear Lord.

Yes, that needs to be dealt with (as well as the nearly knee-high grass in the municipal access area just outside the back fence line).  All I can think of is renting a truck, dressing in as close to a hazmat suit as I can, hauling the stuff out, and depositing the mess at the local city dump.

I have NO IDEA what’s in and under all that stuff.  Since I actually disturbed a nest of what looked like yellow jacket wasps when I moved one of the old playset parts from the fence it was leaning on, I am bracing myself for the worse.  Yes, I am seriously considering hiring someone to help me, like a local teenager.  If anything, if there’s something DEAD in there — and I don’t mean the plant matter — I won’t be alone to remove the body.

>-p

But once all that is done. the backyard should be a fun and safe place for kids to play and adults to hang out.  Since Daniel’s been part of a playgroup since he was a baby and have attended other kids’ houses, it would be nice to be able to return the hospitality.

To be continued!

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