The trampoline girls

Reflecting on a summer friendship and the life lessons it taught me

Swara Tewari, Features editor

Okay, look. I was only in it for the trampoline. At first.


The entire spring of 2010, my sister, neighbor and I had enviously watched the girls across the street jump on their trampoline. We could hear them, laughing and yelling in their backyard. We spent months ducking behind trees, watching the tops of their heads bob up and down over the top of the fence, as they jumped to their hearts’ content. We called them the trampoline girls.


That summer, we crafted endless schemes with one goal in mind: get to the trampoline. The three of us tried “coincidentally” meeting the girls, but they rarely left their house. We only saw glimpses of them through the windows of their home, and of course, their bobbing heads. We were so desperate to meet them that we even pretended to be Girl Scouts to introduce ourselves to them. We made it halfway up to their front door with our purchased Girl Scout cookie boxes before we lost our nerve and scattered.


Then, a few weeks later, we saw a golden opportunity, when another girl who lived in the neighborhood mentioned that she had met them. She told us the little she knew: they lived across the street. They were homeschooled. They were five sisters and a little brother. They went to church every Sunday. Oh, and they had a trampoline. By the end of the day, we had convinced the girl to introduce us to them.


The next day, we all followed the girl up to the trampoline girls’ front door. We stood back as she rang the doorbell and held our breaths. This was it. After a long, muffled silence, the door swung open. A middle-aged woman stood there, a phone pressed to her ear.


“Can I help you?” she asked, hurriedly looking over us.


After we had introduced ourselves, the woman hung up the phone and called her daughters outside. They all curiously crowded into the doorway around their mother. Awkward introductions were exchanged. We asked them if they would like to play with us, and they all looked to their mother.


“Please? Only for half an hour,” they begged.


After a hesitant pause, their mom agreed, warning them to not leave the front yard. The awkwardness lingered for a while but slowly it dissipated as we chased each other around, playing some version of tag. At the end of the half hour, the girls all dutifully said goodbye and went back inside but told us to come back the next day.


We went back the next day, and then the day after that. On the third day, they invited us to their trampoline. We eagerly said yes and followed them into their backyard. There wasn’t much to see, just overgrown weeds, a ragged hammock stretching between two scraggly trees and a cracked sandbox. But then there it was. The trampoline. I still remember kicking off my flip flops and finally crawling on, then launching into the air.


After a few days, the trampoline’s initial charm began to wear off. But we did spend the rest of the summer of 2010 with the trampoline girls. After a few weeks, their mom started to allow them out for longer periods of time and we spent the long summer days playing endless games. Pretend skits, cops and robbers and hide-and-seek. They were always ecstatic when we invited them out to play, almost as if they were afraid that we wouldn’t come knocking at their door the next day. But we always went back.


I remember the first Sunday we knocked at their door. They cracked open the door and explained in hushed voices that Sunday was “the Lord’s Day” and playing was forbidden. When we asked them about it the next day, they all just shrugged and repeated, “It’s just a rule.” That was the first thing I didn’t understand about them. I’ve always questioned and challenged every rule my parents lay out for me, so I was baffled by their complete obedience.


The differences between us were evident. When their mom called them inside, they would all run back inside, calling goodbye over their shoulders. When my mom called me and my sister inside, we would yell back, “15 more minutes.”


One day, my sister and I told them that we were going to mall later in the evening and they all exchanged baffled expressions.


“What’s a mall?” they asked. My sister, neighbor and I were shocked. We spent the next hour trying to explain what a mall is. Another time, when we invited them over to our house to watch a Disney movie, they all immediately shook their heads.


“We’re only allowed to watch religious documentaries,” they replied.


The gaps in their knowledge of the outside world ranged from not recognizing Hello Kitty to not knowing who Michelle Obama was. They were hopelessly ignorant about pop culture, politics and cultural issues. Their happy, single-family home, filled with sisters, spring cleaning and trampolines was all they knew, but there was a whole world out there that they knew nothing about. Though they may be sheltered from it, one day, they will have to learn to navigate it.


I was always surprised by how happy they seemed in their own small world. I suppose there is comfort in familiarity and routine, but I couldn’t and still can’t imagine living such a sheltered life, oblivious to the real world. The trampoline girls’ ignorance made me understand how important knowledge and truth are. It made me realize that as citizens of the world, we all have some responsibility to be educated on current events and modern culture. The trampoline girls’ happiness never seemed like true happiness to me, but rather a naive, state of blissfulness.


At the end of that summer, the trampoline girls moved away. Their family bought a farm up in Idaho, where all their cousins and aunts and uncles live. On the last day of summer, they all piled into the moving truck and after hugs and goodbyes, they drove away, leaving us waving on the curb. It was a momentous goodbye, almost like it marked the end of a part of our lives. The next day, school restarted and I was busy again, studying and working and learning. But every once in a while, I would look at their empty house, the driveway buried under autumn leaves, and I could almost hear their phantom yells and see the mirage of five girls jumping on a trampoline.


The trampoline girls have faded from my memory over time. We received a few letters from them, addressed from some small town in Idaho. They talked about their horses, cousins and their farm, then asked about how we were doing. But eventually, even the rare letters stopped coming. Now, when I look back at that blissful, carefree summer, I think of how ignorant the trampoline girls were. How ignorant I was as well, compared to now.


Now, I’m a journalist. It’s my job to seek the truth and tell the stories of my community, to shatter misconceptions and fallacies. I’ve learned the importance of being aware of the world around us and staying in touch with reality. And I hope the trampoline girls have learned that too.