Jumping for joy


It was thirty-six years ago this month that my parents, six siblings and I arrived in Colorado by station wagon from Minnesota in search of a new life, one that might keep my parents' rocky marriage together. I was a preteen and pretty excited -- and scared -- about the new venture. The house my parents purchased in advance wasn't yet ready, so we stayed a week or so in one of the log cabin motels dotting the highway of the tiny mountain town we'd call home.

Across the highway from our cabin was the motel office, and outside the office was the motel's coin-operated trampoline. The trampoline itself wasn't operated by coin; it was the length of the jumper's turn that was dictated by quarter. For 25 cents, a kid could jump to his or her heart's content ... for about three minutes. Then the timer would ding and the next one up would plop in his or her quarter and jump for joy. Bouncing past the bell would result in jeers from the others in line; when there were no other kids in line, the motel owner or his progeny (not much older than my siblings and me) would come outside and menacingly enforce the rules.

Despite the limited access to quarters for a family with seven kids -- and a fear of the crabby motel owner and his kids -- it was the beginning of my love affair with the "tramp," as the trampoline became affectionately called by those lucky enough to become well acquainted with it. When our time at the cabin was up, we reluctantly bid farewell to the motel tramp ... and rejoiced upon seeing the tramp nestled in the ground in the backyard of our new neighbor.

It took us a while in our new digs to feel comfortable enough with our neighbor -- a family of five that included three awesomely hip teens that made me shrink in their presence -- to knock on their sliding door and ask for permission to jump. It was okay to do so, our new friends living near the tramp house assured us, as long as the resident teens weren't jumping themselves. For several months, my siblings and I encouraged our friends to do the asking, as we were the new kids in town and figured we were less likely to get a "yes" from the tramp owners.

We soon learned that regardless of who initiated the request, permission flowed freely and the neighboring tramp was ours to enjoy for hours on end. My new friend and I bonded as we bounced, competing against one another in seat wars, back wars, games of add-on. We'd acquiesce to the older siblings when they showed up -- including our older sisters who had become best buds as well -- as they were much more fluent in trampe-eze. Even my older sister, just as new to the sport as I was, had quickly become a pro, flying through the air with the greatest of ease, performing front flips, back flips, swan dives and one-and-a-halfs.

I longed to be as good as the older kids. I'd peek out the window and watch the resident teens expertly enjoy their trampoline, then put some of their moves into play when it was my turn. Little by little I mastered the front flip, back flip, swan dive and, finally, after a few terrifying turns, the satisfying slam of my stomach on the mat when I successfully managed the derring-do of a one-and-a-half. Double flips soon followed. Never before had I felt so in command of graceful moves, a graceful body.

In hopes of maintaining neighborly relations, my dad eventually purchased a trampoline for our own yard. No longer would seven rug rats be knocking on the neighbor's sliding door, begging to jump. We were thrilled to have our own tramp, but it wasn't the same. It was new and stiff and didn't bounce as easily and as high as the in-ground beauty next door. But we and our friends jumped ferociously, purposefully in hopes of breaking it in, all the while doing our best to ignore the screaming and crying and fighting we could hear through the windows, evidence that it was Mom and Dad's marriage that had been broken, irreparably.

After the divorce, my dad got custody of the tramp. Custody of the kids was a far less desirable affair for him, so with few kids in residence and even fewer visiting, the tramp was never fully broken in. It was eventually sold, and we kids moved on, grew up, never dared to look back.

Except that the lure of the tramp couldn't be forgotten. Luckily Jim -- who also had frequented the coin-operated trampoline in town, long before I ever knew him -- fondly recalled the joy of jumping as much as I did. So together we purchased a trampoline for our daughters.

The girls and their friends spent many a summer day bouncing away and several summer nights attempting sleepovers on the tramp, usually ending in mid-night scrambles into the house because of scary neighborhood noises or dampness from the dew soaking their sleeping bags.

My daughters had their own versions of bouncing bliss that included front flips, seat wars, add-on and a game I never really understood dubbed the Uncle David Game, concocted during an extended visit from my brother. The girls never mastered the swan dive or the one-and-a-half -- at least not that I ever saw. Not because they weren't capable but because I had become an overprotective mom and although I wanted them to experience the incomparable joy of jumping, I worried endlessly that one poorly executed flip would break their neck resulting in certain death or at least paralysis, so I limited the tricks they were allowed.

I myself wasn't allowed to do much jumping on the new tramp either, not out of fear of a broken neck but out of fear of how my bladder may perform, battered and bruised as it had become by three pregnancies in rapid succession. So I'd jump carefully only now and then, do a few knees, seats, backs, a stomach here and there. Sometimes I'd even engage in a seat war with the girls.

But never again did I do a flip -- front, back or otherwise. Never again have I felt as in command of graceful moves, a graceful body as I did thirty-six summers ago when I very first mastered the tramp.

Today's question:

When have you felt the most graceful?