Not just a blast from the past
When I was six and my brother three, my Dad surprised us one holiday with a trampoline. As a child, my parents’ rules about trampoline jumping were simple but firm. No more than four children jumping at a time, and when performing stunts, like front and back flips, everyone except “the performer” sat on the blue mat covering the springs. These were back in the days before safety nets, so if a child requested “spotting” we’d spread our own bodies around the edge of the trampoline as a human shield. My mother couldn’t see the trampoline in the backyard from her position in the kitchen or the upstairs of our house, so we were expected to behave. Mostly, we did.
From being an ideal spot for calmly playing dolls to a rowdy slippery arena when we turned the rotating sprinkler on during hot days, the trampoline got used for creative play as much it did for exercise. We’d hide under, resting in its cool shade, run in circles round and round the black mesh or lift up the protective mat to try to count the metal springs. As we got older our acrobatic tricks got more sophisticated. My best trick was a back flip, which drew “ohs” of appreciation among my girlfriends. When my peak jumping days were behind me, the trampoline was an ideal spot for spreading a beach towel and doing homework in my bikini.
Other than the incident when my cousin split his lips on one of the metal springs (by that point our protective mat had disintegrated), we never had any significant mishaps as a result of our jumping antics. When my brother, younger but more agile, took to climbing out of his window to jump from the porch roof down onto the trampoline, my parents didn’t flinch. In fact, they applauded his dare-devil spirit and encouraged me to try the same. Later on, during his high school years, when they realized he had used the same method to sneak out of at night, they were notably less impressed.
Even after my early positive trampoline experiences never did I believe that I’d be the proud, albeit cautious, owner of my own trampoline. For starters, when Anna and Oliver were babies we lived in an apartment. Our neighbors complained about the noise the children made pushing their toys on our uncarpeted floor. There was no place for a trampoline, even a small, single jumper. Later, when we moved to a house with a yard, trampolines got a bad rap among the Czech mothers in the neighborhood. Whenever the topic came up, I always found a neighbor who claimed they’d just seen a kid in Motol with a broken arm due to a trampoline accident. The most dramatic accident I’d seen in the emergency care waiting rooms was a Czech parent carrying a boy who’d broken his leg skiing, but I kept silent.
Although already an Olympic sport since 2000, trampoline jumping (rated by CNN as one of the top ten strangest sports) has of late become a hip and health-conscious way to get into shape. Since Oliver was a baby, trampolines in addition to, or instead of, jungle gyms have become mainstream features on the properties of garden restaurants, outdoor aquatic centers and pensions across the Czech Republic. Children can often jump for free at pensions and restaurants, while aquatic centers and sports complexes offer jump experiences for a small fee, usually 30 CZK for 10 minutes, or longer rentals for more. Some facilities have in ground trampolines making the functional, but aesthetically unappealing safety net option unnecessary.
Indoor play centers like Beckiland at Zličín in Prague offer multiple trampolines for free jumping (after paying the play center entrance fee) while the sokol on Kampa island in downtown Prague provides a range of structured courses in the acrobatic sport of trampoline jumping for both children and adults, with competitive options and year-round training as often as four times a week. Websites like kudy z nudy (escape from boredom) regularly list trampoline jumping options around the country, encouraging families to put aside their hand-held devices and catch a bounce.
One by one our neighbors changed their tunes on trampolines. By the end of the summer when we returned from the US three families had newly purchased trampolines. Another neighbor’s teenage daughter had signed up for regular lessons at Kampa. Our kids were eager to have their own trampoline, too, especially after jumping all summer with cousins on a trampoline in my parents’ backyard. Although Radek and I had agreed to purchase one before the trampoline-buying craze had struck, the mid-range version we’d selected had been backordered until September. While the children rotated through the neighborhood gardens, trying to outdo one another with their latest jump tricks, I wondered if it was really necessary for us to add another trampoline to the batch. Radek also had his reservations. But we’d promised.
After waiting four months from our order-date in late May, our trampoline finally arrived two weeks ago. It came in two boxes as long as I was tall. Oliver and Samuel spent the first afternoon sitting in the lid of one of the boxes and pretending to row to America. They had never seen such a long box and were enchanted by the possibilities. The trampoline itself took a back seat. However, once Radek had successfully installed the trampoline and safety net and firmly stated our “two at a time” rule, the children were delighted. They nicely took turns trying it out, except for Samuel who wanted to be jumping at all times. Each day for a week, they raced out of the car to the side yard to get first dibs on bouncing. As I’d imagined, before long they drug toys and accessories to the trampoline and were using it as a prop for their imaginative play as much as they were for jumping.
On the last lovely summer night last week when temperatures soared, Anna spent a solid hour before dark out on the trampoline practicing her front flip over and over. Exhausted, she begged to go to sleep even before her bedtime. When I later put the boys down around nine o’clock, the wind kicked up and I saw the flowers on the terrace tossing and turning in the sudden, fierce gusts. The high winds continued for several minutes while the temperature rapidly dropped and rain pelted down. I stayed upstairs with the boys who were worried about the noisy wind, while Radek went outside to check the garden for damage. He came in with a frown a moment later and told me we had a little problem. I have been married to him long enough to know that his idea of a “little problem” means big trouble.
The trampoline was gone, he declared. It had been lifted by the wind, carried over the back fence and landed 20 meters away in the rosehip bushes on the property behind us. In disbelief, I followed him to the terrace where we shone a flashlight into the driving rain. Sure enough, there was our brand-new trampoline turned upside down. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Anna said it best the following morning when we told her that the trampoline had blown away. After her initial distress, she went outside to see it with her own eyes. When she came inside she simply said, “Don’t they sell things to keep it down in the ground? You’d better buy them next time. That should fix our problem.” Per Anna’s suggestion, we discovered we could buy anchors to affix the trampoline like staking a tent. We hadn’t bought them originally because we’d never imagined the possibility of such a mishap.
The trampoline is currently sitting in the side yard, poles and safety net piled on top, a broken reminder of our brief jumping glory. But there is hope. We’ve found someone who’ll remake the safety poles since the company doesn’t offer them as a replacement part, and we’ve bought new replacement padding at Hornbach. Although my parents couldn’t believe the story, they also are having a hard time understanding our reluctance to put the trampoline back into operation without the safety net. While a safety net isn’t necessarily going to keep my kids safe, nor is jumping without one certain to cause harm. Still, Radek and I are holding our ground and keeping jumping off-limits for now. We’ve already had enough excitement.
In the meantime, the kids are practicing their aerobatic tricks on the ground while their anticipation for the real trampoline builds. I’m secretly limbering my muscles while they’re away at school, hoping that before too long I can show them a flip or two of my own.