Faith Gong: The pod swing

The pod swing hangs from a beam in our living room like some overripe fruit in a tropical rain forest. It is tear-shaped, made of durable lime green fabric with electric blue trim. You enter the swing through a narrow opening in the fabric; when you settle onto the round, electric blue cushion inside, you are surrounded by lime green on all sides, encased like a pupa in a chrysalis.

The pod swing was not an intentional act of interior decorating. I never cast a critical eye on our living room and said, “You know, what this place really needs is a pod swing.” We purchased the swing on the advice of our son’s physical therapist; it’s supposed to give him practice in “not feeling in control.”

At 16 months old, our son is a delightfully chubby bundle of joy and health, but he had a rocky start to life. When your infant is hospitalized twice in his first three months for “failure to thrive” and for a life-threatening respiratory infection, he attracts a lot of attention from pediatric specialists. And if you put anyone under a microscope, you’re going to find something: Our son has been remarkably healthy for the past year, but he qualified for physical therapy when he was diagnosed with mild torticollis. It sounds like a pasta dish, but our son’s torticollis means that his neck is a little tight on one side. (Upon diagnosis, I was tempted to say, “Join the club, kiddo.”)

In any event, I’m extremely grateful for his wonderful physical therapist: In addition to helping us address his torticollis so that it doesn’t restrict his range of motion, she’s also working with him to develop his gross motor skills. It seems that when it comes to developmentally appropriate gross motor activities, like walking, our son may be a little…unmotivated.

He can walk just fine, but he’s an excellent crawler. At the moment, his preferred approach to movement is to walk a couple of feet, sit down, clap for himself, and then crawl to his destination. I get it; it’s as if he’s thinking, There, I did the hard thing that makes them happy, now I’m going to do it the easy way!

I suspect that a large factor may also be that anytime he takes a step, he’s immediately surrounded by four big sisters who clap and cheer for the least effort. What baby wouldn’t want to rest on his laurels?

When I discussed this with his therapist, she asked how much experience he’d had in swings. The answer is: Very little, especially when compared to his older siblings at the same age. We got rid of our indoor, rocking baby swing after our fourth child outgrew it. And as soon as our son emerged from his early health crises and was old enough to sit in a playground swing, the COVID-19 pandemic kept us away from playgrounds for much of the spring and summer.  We have a saucer swing under the treehouse in our yard, but it’s not in use during the winter – and here in Vermont it’s winter half the year. Our poor little guy has been swing-deprived for his entire existence.

As I was explaining all of this to his therapist during our virtual session, she looked behind me and noticed the three exposed wooden beams that cross our living room ceiling. A few days later, she emailed me a link to the pod swing.

One possibility for our son’s lack of interest in full-time walking may be that he likes to be in control, and walking requires a certain willingness to take falls. Apparently the sensation of swinging, during which one is not in control, can help toddlers gain confidence with risk taking.

Honestly, hearing that my fifth child and only boy may not be a risk-taker was hardly bad news. He likes to be in control of himself? Great! He can crawl until he’s five if it saves me some sleepless nights during his teenage years.

But it turns out that swinging has a whole slew of developmental benefits, including improved coordination, balance, core strength, vestibular awareness, focus, and even mood boosting. So we bought the swing and installed it in our living room.

My 13-year-old daughter is fascinated with house styles and interior design. She’s constantly dreaming about the kind of home she’ll live in when she leaves us, and how she’ll decorate it. The other day, as she was studying a list of design styles (Tuscan, Bohemian, Rustic, etc.) she asked which style our house was decorated in. Glancing at the living room, with the bins of Playmobil and MagnaTiles in the corner, Lego-and-clay table against one wall, baskets of children’s books next to every seat, and the pod swing hanging from the ceiling, I said, ‘Um…the ‘Lots-of-Kids Style?’”

It’s not going to win us any House Beautiful photo spreads, but the pod swing has been a huge hit with our son — and with his sisters. That’s been the most surprising — and alarming — aspect of the pod swing: We bought it for gently swinging a 24-pound toddler; we didn’t count on its appeal to his four larger and more raucous siblings.

Those beams in our living room ceiling? We’re not quite certain whether they’re weight-bearing or merely decorative. Before hanging the swing from one of them, my husband got up on a ladder and hung from the beam with all his weight. It held, so it should be able to support the weight of the swing.

Still, when the swing really gets going, the black strap that tethers it around the beam makes a horrible creaking noise that sounds like…well, like the sound of me trying to explain to my husband why the ceiling caved in. Every time I hear it, I race into the living room and stare fixedly at that beam. Did it move just then, or was that a trick of the light?

My children think this is hilarious. They never seem to tire of bringing me running to the living room by shouting, “Mommy, I think the beam’s wiggling!” or “The beam just fell!”

Like any good parent, I have set rules, drawn boundaries, and made logical appeals: An indoor swing in our living room is not for horsing around, but for gentle swinging and stationary reading. Should the beam come loose, we will use all the money in their puppy savings to pay for the ceiling damage, plus the medical fees for any head trauma.

Like any good kids, they obey — until they forget. The other day, I overheard them using the pod swing like an amusement park ride: “Please keep arms and legs inside the swing at all times! Failure to follow these instructions may result in serious injury or even death!”

We bought this pod swing so that my son could experience not being in control, but I’m starting to wonder who’s getting more experience: Him, or me?

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, five children, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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