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Saying a Bittersweet Goodbye to Our Big Inflatable Water Slide

Every spring my husband pleads with me to dispose of items that are clogging up our tiny shed. (What he’s making room for in there no one knows, but in the interest of keeping him happy, I play along.)

This year, just weeks after our youngest son turned 11, the thing my husband most wanted gone from the premises was our big inflatable water slide. The Little Tikes Rocky Mountain River Race, complete with its climbing wall, dual slides, and wading pool, had been with us for years. And our tikes, at 16, 12, and 11, are no longer little.

Neither is this colorful contraption. Even when it wasn’t blown up to its full eight-and-a-half-foot glory, this behemoth bouncer and its accompanying generator and plastic tubes, took up plenty of space. Still, I adored it and all the memories that floated to the forefront of my mind with the flick of the switch that whooshed to life.

This intrepid inflatable was the trusty centerpiece at many a backyard birthday party. It withstood raucous end-of-the-school-year celebrations and was my go-to activity on hazy afternoons when too much work prevented me from taking everyone to the pool.

Once assembled, it allowed me to lifeguard in the shade, clicking away on my laptop amid giggles and cheers from wet, happy faces. I felt like my “fun mom” stock rose by at least 10 percent just by owning the slide.

Outgrowing the Water Slide

But while I’m being candid, I must admit, I wasn’t the one who lugged it from one sunny patch of the backyard to the next to ensure it dried completely before sunset. Nor was I the one who spent 30 minutes rolling it around the lawn, squeezing out every bit of air before wrestling it back into its storage bag to prevent errant squirrels and chipmunks from munching their way through the plastic. My husband handled all that. So, it’s no wonder he wasn’t eager to spend another season with it.

Reluctantly, I agreed that maybe it was time to let it go. We set it up so I could snap some photos for the listing I’d post to an online community marketplace, and the boys could enjoy one last hurrah. Of course, our 16-year-old knew better than to give it a go, but our other two immediately ran and tackled the climbing wall as if they were auditioning for ‘American Ninja Warrior.’ In that moment, I realized they’d definitely outgrown it. But had I?

My husband and I went back and forth on the selling price—him believing it was utterly valueless, me carrying on as if it were made of gold. We met somewhere in the middle and within minutes I had two interested buyers. Part of me was thrilled as I thought, “Ha! See, this is a hot item!” but the other part thought, “Wait, am I really ready to say goodbye?”

Making New Memories

For me, this waterslide represented a time in my sons’ lives before they were face down in their phones, an era when I could present bowls of popcorn and juice boxes on a picnic table and be hailed a hero—as opposed to now when I’m considered as villainous as Kylo Ren for allowing our ice cream supplies to dwindle down to single-scoop levels.

But when our buyer, a dad with his 4-year-old son, came to pick it up, I watched as the little boy cartwheeled across our lawn in excitement–and I knew selling it was the right move.

Letting go of the waterslide isn’t the end of backyard togetherness. Instead, it’s the beginning of making new memories.

With cash in hand, my husband and I decided to swap elements: water for fire. We’re going to take the money from the sale of our slide and put it toward a firepit where the boys can hopefully hang out with us or their friends for years to come. I’m finally ready to move forward, and if I find myself in need of consolation, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of s’mores to do the trick.

Liz Alterman

Liz Alterman’s work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and more.