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Saturday Stories #17 Picture Prompt: Boy on Swing
Rediscover a love for fiction, because stories can change the world
These fiction stories are unedited, unfiltered, and written in 15-25 minutes. Please be aware that they may contain intense material related to emotional healing, trauma recovery, and redirected fears.
Written February 8, 2013 at Berkeley Creative Living Center Creative Writing Group
It was cold outside. But my mom wouldn’t let me come in. She said I needed to run around and play outside like a normal kid. But I didn’t want to go out so she bribed me with a sucker. I choose cherry. It would turn my tongue bright red, just like the cough drops I was eating like candy last week when I was sick. And so, I went out to my swing. It was lonely out there. There were lots of homes in the trailer park we lived in, but no trees. It was one of those days that come on the heels of an especially warm day that melts the snow. But then in comes the cold turning the bit that is left into dirty white mounds. My legs are cold, the wind whips right through my blue sweatpants. I couldn’t find my boots so I’m wearing my dad’s. They’re clunky and too big. They are heavy. I don’t swing on the swing because they might slide off my feet. So instead I sit on the swing and spin. My gloves are also big and my hands feel small and cold inside them. Oh, I just want to go inside, where it’s warm where I can play video games. It’s not fair. Obviously, none of the other kids have mothers who make them “play” outside. I bet she just wants me out of her hair.
That’s what she said, “go outside, get out of my hair.”
What does that even mean? I’m not in her hair. I never touched her hair. I asked her once and she said, “don’t talk back.” I was just asking a question, but she thought I was trying to be smart. I was smart, I couldn’t help that. Most parents wanted their kids to be smart. So, what was wrong with my folks?
What she really was saying was that she didn’t want me around. And when I thought of this my throat got tight and my face got hot. But I couldn’t let her see that so I ran outside my boots making loud thudding noises. I slammed the door behind me. I ran to the swing. It was my swing. I hated if I happened to find another kid on it, but that was rare. I wished my dad would come home from work. Then he’d say she had to let me in. It was too cold to make me stay outside.
This story was written from a picture prompt of a National Geographic photograph of a boy about age nine sitting on a swing on a winter day with a lollipop in his mouth. I have since lost the photograph, but reading the story brought it vividly back to my mind. There are a few places I could tap into as far as insights, the first being the memories from my own childhood and times when I knew my mom was upset and stressed and I felt a lack of connection. Times when she told me to go outside and she needed time to think or a break.
As someone who doesn’t have outside kids I can’t speak from the point of view of a parent who’s experienced the stressors of raising kids. I can only give my opinion, which is that parenting seems very difficult and I can see needing a break and telling a kid to go out and play even though it’s freezing out. I really sympathize, especially with parents who are committed to keeping their kids off of or limiting the use of screens and devises. The picture used for the prompt was probably from the 70s or 80s before screens were as common and before phones were devices that contained whole movies that could be viewed. While I wrote this from the perspective of the kid and tapped into my own painful feelings of not being tended to or getting on my mom’s nerves, I sympathize with parents who know that their kids need exercise and time outdoors and how challenging that might be when neighborhoods don’t feel safe and their isn’t a culture of children playing with each other across yards and streets the way they did in the 80s.
Another view that I bring to this story is that of having inside kids. From that experience I can tap into both sides of this situation. There are times when I am tired of being multiple and it’s just too much to have so many people talking at once. It’s hard going to the store and hearing the younger ones beg for toys that we can’t afford and don’t have space for. I feel sad and sometimes give in, when what they really need is quality time and time to play with that lego kit that we bought them for our birthday, but didn’t touch so wrapped it up again for Christmas with a promise to let them put it together and now it’s March and we still haven’t given them any time out in the real live world. We have banished them to their place in the inner world. A place that is nice with a swing and books, but isn’t the same as letting them come out and color or take up space in our life on the outside.
I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s hard having them around, but at the same time that doesn’t mean I don’t love them and am not glad they are part of my life. Even though when I get back in touch with them they are scared and sad and it will take time to rebuild trust. I feel their emotions, the intensity of the sorrow and rage. The intensity of the feeling of not belonging, of being out in the cold, of being appeased with a lollipop rather than being listened to and cared for in a way that is meaningful and in relationship. Their feelings trickle into where I can feel them like a shadow. That fear of rejection and abandonment making me choose to work or to go for a walk or call a crisis line, rather than call a friend when I need to talk, when I really need to talk about some that’s hurting more than a little.
Yet, together we are learning, we are growing. We are repairing the ruptures and taking steps to form an internal community. We are tentatively learning that we do have friends in the here and now, who we can be honest with when things are hard. We can tell them that we are many and that our kids are struggling and they will show compassion and many of them will understand because they too have inside kids. So even though we don’t always come in from the cold, even when it’s safe to do so, we are slowly getting the knowledge that maybe we can take a risk. Maybe there is someone like the dad in the story who will say, “let them in, it’s too cold out there.” Maybe that person is on the inside and can tell those of us who spend too much time working and writing and going to groups to get off the computer and give the kids a chance to do that Lego set. Maybe that person is in the form of our service dog who nudges and then barks and then shreds something to get our attention. Maybe it can be me learning from writing this story to prioritize taking care of all of us.
If you wish to continue the story in your own creative writing or prose you can answer the following questions for fiction to continue the story or answer the questions for prose that can be used as journal prompts, for essays, or poetry.
Find a picture online or in a magazine that sparks an emotion. Write a scene/story based on what’s happening in the picture.
Write this story from the mother’s point of view.
Continue the story with the dad arriving home
Write about a time when you felt alone or rejected
Write a poem about the cold returning after a warm spring day
Write an essay about the differences in how kids are raised today verses in the 80s