IT WAS JUST A FEW YEARS AGO that a young father went to the store to buy a trampoline. A trampoline! That wonderful round thing that stands in the corner of almost every Estonian yard. I got a big box from the store, went home, and started to put the new attraction together. The neighbor just stared and smiled – fathers and their silly challenges! It’s true the trampoline fell apart a few times, but finally it was ready. The exciting assembly process attracted not only our own children, but the neighbors too.
And this was my first lesson – when you buy a trampoline, it doesn’t just belong to your children, but all the children within a certain radius.
Unfortunately, not all of the children were good ones. One of the visitors to our new trampoline was an 11-year-old boy from a troubled family. Later I heard that his mother was struggling with alcoholism and his father was in jail. Already at age 11, the young man smoked. Which meant that there was a rather unwelcome guest in our yard who would use our family trampoline, smoking and jumping at the same time. He enjoyed it, but our daughters were terrified. I went outside and told the character that it wasn’t his trampoline and he had to leave. The young man thought otherwise. He decided to show off his English language skills instead.
“Fak ju, asshoo!” was his response.
I laughed and answered back: “I can see that you already know a little English and are a very intelligent boy. Maybe one day you could be the foreign minister of Estonia!”
The boy didn’t know what to say, but finally he left. Later, I heard about two local boys who had robbed an ice cream stand. I couldn’t help but think that he was one of them.
My second lesson – someone always starts crying.
Most trampolines have nets that keep the children from falling, but they still get hurt anyway, because there are usually four or five of them on there at the same time. When the bigger kids jump higher and the smaller ones topple, someone always starts crying. We of course had a firm rule that only two or three could jump at a time, but older kids like to grab attention by doing tricks, which invites even more attention from other kids in the neighborhood, who don’t follow our rules. Then someone is already crying again. Sadly, this someone is usually six-year-old Maria Petrone, for whom this is still her trampoline, the one her father bought and put together.
For Estonian children though, no one actually owns trampolines. They are as universal as playgrounds.
It’s very easy to understand why Estonian children love trampolines, but at the same time life has shown that even while trampolines give children plenty of joy, they can cause problems and dangerous situations too.
A few years ago, I sent my nephew in New Jersey a trampoline for his birthday. The boy was very grateful and happy, but my brother started to worry. What would happen if something happened to one of his kids on the trampoline? Would his insurance cover it? How interesting, I thought, that the Estonians I know never seemed to worry about it.
This post first appeared in Estonian on the Parim Aeg family blog.