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Over the course of our 26 years of parenting, we have purchased many gifts. Some were meaningful but most were fads—slap bracelets and pogs, anyone?—destined for the bottom of a closet or an eventual trip to Goodwill. As a parent, you want to be able to create a memory, bring something into your children's lives that will have a lasting impression and one Christmas we did just that. When the kids were ten, eight and five, Hope came up with the idea that we purchase a trampoline for them for Christmas. It was a lot of work to purchase it and hide it from them for the weeks leading up to Christmas day, but as we gathered with our adult neighbors at midnight Christmas Eve, pooling our manual resources to put it together while everyone’s kids slept, it was clear this was going to be a hit.
We set it up in the front yard and, after they were directed to look outside Christmas morning, they screamed, ran out the door and didn't quit bouncing until lunch. The best thing about that purchase was it was never ignored from that point forward. We moved it to its permanent location on the side yard after a couple of days, established some rules—always with the rules—and, before the age of panic and litigation, we left them to test the limits of their imagination and cardiovascular stamina. No one ever got hurt although I do not know how that happened short of the Angel of the Trampoline working overtime. One day I was summoned to the side of the house so they could show me a new trick that had every kid in the neighborhood laughing so hard they were crying. When I saw William bounce Jordan so high he passed the soffits on the house, I had to add another rule about launching your brother into space, even though Jordan was laughing just as hard as everyone else. And I was concerned when they started running the sprinkler under the trampoline and wrestling, but, after monitoring things for a while, they seemed to be having too much fun to stop it.
All three kids enjoyed the trampoline in their own ways. William and Jordan used it as a battleground with their friends, bouncing each other, inventing games and one upping each other with tricks. Laura and her friends used it no less although their games involved holding hands, forming a bouncing circle and singing whatever new boy band song was popular that week. It was always nice to look into the yard and see them engaged and having fun outside.
The trampoline was more than a vehicle for bouncing and laughing, however. The kids spent many afternoons on their back, staring at the sky, dreaming and sharing secrets, enjoying a quiet place with friends away from the house. Laughing at the pictures in the afternoon clouds or picking out the constellations against a night sky. There were a few overnight sleepovers and at least one attempt to set up a tent on the wobbly surface. And there were counseling sessions, serious talks about life and girls and whatever else is going on in a kids life that calls for some one-on-one time with a parent.
There did come a time when the trampoline activity dwindled and there were long stretches when no one paid it much attention. The kids were busier and engaged in a lot of extra-curricular activities away from the house. Hope and I eventually decided to get rid of it so we passed it on to another family with young kids, hoping it brought them as much joy as it brought us. And for a few weeks after it vacated its spot in the backyard, friends were disappointed that we had packed it up, akin to getting rid of a family pet. We apologized but understood their dismay. It was time to move on from our bouncy phase but the memories of The Greatest Gift remain clear, even today.