As I watch my son roll down a 50-60 degree decline, onto the tarmac at the bottom, I am reminded of the games we used to play when I was a child. Things were different then. Or were they??
True, we didn’t have video game systems – but we did spend time at the arcade. True, we only got 3 channels on the television up until I was in about grade 4 – but once mom went to work so she could pay for cable, well then we got 13 channels! True, cartoons were only shown early on Saturday or Sunday mornings – except for The Flintstones; they were on every day at lunch. True, there weren’t any “kids’ networks” to monopolize our viewing time – but we did schedule our homework around the ABC After School Special on Wednesday afternoons, The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights and Sonny & Cher, The Hudson Brothers and Carol Burnett.
We played tag, both the frozen and regular varieties. We played hide & seek. We played Cowboys & Indians. We played badminton, frisbee and touch football. We played marbles (we usually called them alleys). We played Red Rover and British Bulldog. We played baseball or 21-up. We played on snow-hills and in vacant lots, we hiked across town to “Duck’s Pond,” we climbed trees and tried to swing on vines and once we discovered that those vines weren’t the same kind Tarzan swung from we brought rope with us. We hung upside down from the swings and walked from one end of the teeter-totter to the other. We tried desperately to swing so high and fast that we’d be able to go all the way around the top bar (someone had seen someone else do it one time, don’t you know). We rode our bikes, no hands, with the front wheel turned backwards. Standing. Downhill. We rode double and triple (and we didn’t have helmets). We skipped rope, although I never did manage to get more than two jumps in on double-dutch. We swam every day as soon as the weather permitted.
I grew up in a small town, huge backyard, empty fields across the street and next to us, trees for climbing right outside my door, pathways from the edge of our property right down to the lake. The lake was home to the main town park, complete with climbing apparatuses, swings, teeter-totters, merry-go-rounds and fast metal slides. BoyGenius is growing up in a “town” with roughly 80,000 more inhabitants than mine had. There are no vacant lots or empty fields nearby, unless you count the baseball or soccer fields at his school. We have pathways from almost the edge of our property right down to the lake. There are playgrounds along the way but these days you are hard-pressed to find a merry-go-round or a teeter-totter. The school playground is bordered by a small forested area – most of the neighbourhood kids play in there on a daily basis. BG loves to climb trees and the baseball backstop; heck, he’ll climb walls if he can get a foothold. He’ll swim in any body of water that holds enough volume to cover him. He hasn’t quite mastered my technique when jumping off the swings (the one that totally gives you the feeling of flying), but he’s trying. He brings vines home from the forest, hoping to find a way to attach them to trees so he can swing from one to another, like Indiana Jones.
So it would seem that our childhood pastimes are not completely divergent although there are some marked differences. BoyGenius and his friends play tag; sometimes it’s just like what we played and sometimes it’s just a little bit different in that they play it in the forest, combine it with hide & seek and call it manhunt or mantracker. They will play regular hide & seek as well. The frozen tag they play can be a bit different as well – one version is called graveyard and doesn’t involve any running around … no movement at all, actually. Cowboys & Indians – well, you’re not allowed to play that anymore are you? I haven’t seen anyone playing marbles in at least 20 years. Neither Red Rover nor British Bulldog are allowed in schoolyards anymore so none of the kids today even know about them. If there are ever snow-hills in the schoolyard the children are not allowed on them. Pick-up football or baseball games have been replaced by organized soccer and t-ball. We don’t let our kids bike all over town or slosh around in duck ponds in hopes of catching tadpoles or snapping turtles. That’s if you could even find a duck pond these days.
As I watch my son roll down that steep hill, I remember doing the same. I remember the feeling and I remember that I loved it. I know that I will have to work with him to perfect his mid-swing takeoff, and work on his landing so he doesn’t break his arm again. And I know that he shares my love of that completely dizzy feeling you get from turning and spinning, arms straight out, in a wide-open field until you can’t even keep yourself upright and fall flat to stare up at the cloud-spinning sky above.
Do you see memories of your own youth in the games your children play?