The playground at Tower Road Beach in Winnetka has a modern kind of merry-go-round that is simply a circular rubber track, six feet across, supported on four posts. Two of the posts are slightly higher than the others so the angled track begins to shift under your feet when you step on its six-inch-wide black surface. The girls and I played gingerly on this playground toy, sitting on the nubby track and shuffling our feet in the sand to get a spin, or trying to stand and keep our balance as it moved.
I had retired to a bench to watch the girls and flip through a magazine when a pack of three or four tween boys came over to play on the merry-go-round too. Their legs and bare torsos were muscular and brown from the sun and they looked like they had done nothing all summer but swim and run and yell. In the unspoken deference to the older kids' size, the girls stepped out of their way.
The boys jumped on the rubber circle, took a moment or two of experimental balancing to figure out its physics and wordlessly started a game where they ran in place, spinning the entire track like a revolving conveyor belt. When one lost his balance or his nerve, he would fly off into the soft sand. Their flying legs were nimble and they unconsciously jerked their arms like tightrope walkers to keep balance. They seemed to know secrets of gravity and equilibrium that the girls have not learned and that I have forgotten, if I'd ever known.
Mia and Nora watched off to the side, but it didn't take long for my fearless five-year old to jump back into the fray. She took her place on the line between two of the boys, nearly a head shorter than any of them. The line of kids, four boys and one little girl, started to walk, then accelerate into a trot, then into a run that was thrilling to watch. They stayed in place, their legs working furiously and I was laughing and shouting, "It's a hamster wheel!"
Nora didn't last long, a few strides before she fell on purpose, but after jumping off the side, she twisted back and dropped to her belly on the wheel again, a sudden obstacle on the treadmill that the boys had to leap over as they ran, or fall off to avoid her.
I was laughing, laughing and calling out, "Nora, no!" when she leaped back on. "You're road kill!" The boys did not complain, just took the added challenge as part of the game, while Nora screamed with delight at her trouble making, spinning at their feet, my little wrecking ball, scattering boys in her wake.