09/25/2012 11:12 am ET Updated Nov 25, 2012

Bittersweet Nostalgia

Looking back on my younger years, I realize the importance of the playground. While that may sound silly, it serves as a symbol of my childhood and the abundance of carefree, simple times that are becoming more and more scarce as I grow older.

As a child, there is only so much freedom allotted to you, usually in the form of barely extended bedtimes and a slice of cake before dinner. But at the playground, you could roam as you pleased, feeling like the world was at your fingertips. Well, at least that's how I felt swinging (probably way too high) and touching the nearby tree with the tip of my foot, or going down the slide backwards because it was "way more fun than going forwards." All of this happened under my mother's watchful eye, of course, but at the time I felt totally independent.

Like the mall is to teenagers, the 500 sq ft of mulch and metal contraptions was the hub of my prepubescent social interactions. In elementary school, during our (grossly under-appreciated, speaking as an exhausted teen) recess, the playground was the epicenter of fun. In second grade, we would play endless amounts of four-square on the pavement. In fifth grade, we would race towards the very top of the jungle gym to claim our territory and just "chill," because we were obviously way too old for games. The playgrounds never change, but the people do, and this simultaneous standstill and evolution is what makes them so special.

The catalyst to this reflection was a recent visit to my local park. This park contained my favorite playground as a child, from the abundance of swings to the slide that seemed as tall as Mt. Everest. There was also a guarantee that I would run into someone I knew while I was there, which made for never-ending fun. While riding my bike past the playground, I came to a screeching halt. I saw something out of the corner of my eye -- or rather, I didn't see something. My eyes widened in horror as they met what looked like the aftermath of a tornado. Slides were toppled over, jungle gyms were in pieces, and everything was covered in a layer of dirt. A sign indicated that the playground was being torn down and replaced.

I suddenly felt strangely possessive over the now scrap metal. How could they tear down my park? Of course, it wasn't the actual equipment I was concerned about; it was all the memories I made there. I felt like I should have gotten a phone call saying "Hey, we're about to destroy a piece of your childhood. We just wanted to let you know." I'm a senior in high school preparing to go off to college next fall, and I can already feel the finality settling in. Last first day of school, last pep rally, last homecoming dance... the list seems to grow each day.

When it seems like everything is ending, it's hard to imagine your world -- your life -- continuing on without you. But, at that moment, I realized that no matter if I'm 50 miles away or 500 miles away next year, my town will keep going. While my generation may be moving on to bigger and better things. With the new playground comes a whole new group of kids. Kids who have yet to make the memories, or the mistakes, I have; kids who think that if they swing high enough, they can touch the clouds. Kids who will someday understand the sentimental value of a little plot of land filled with toys.