My brothers and I spent the bulk of the 70s and 80s playing outside. In another city 10 minutes away, the Mister did, too. Back then, as kids, our options were limited–and blessedly so. There were video games, but Pong’s allure faded fast. Besides, the two players and three siblings debate never ended well. I was able to call rank only so many times. Before cable took hold in the 80s there was OnTV and channels 2, 4, 7, 11, and 13. Unless it was 7:00am, your odds of finding a cartoon were slim. So I rode my rainbow bike with the banana seat, my bum bouncing atop the cartoon sun and clouds with each makeshift jump or potted dirt path in the fields behind the neighborhood. I stopped every dozen yards to hitch up my tube top; it was yellow, to match my dolphin shorts.
And we swam. I swam in the kidney bean pool in our backyard, taking running leaps into the deep end and closing my eyes to JAWS because despite the impossibility, I couldn’t quite shake the fear that a giant great white shark was going to swim around the corner of the bean. The Mister swam with his brother and sister at the community pool, taking breaks to skateboard or ride bikes without protective gear in site.
September brought the end of summer, the beginning of a new school year, and all of us, no matter where we lived, smiled for our school pictures with tousled hair and skin dark as carbon from hours in the sun. It was a great time to be a kid.
Every time a birthday or holiday rolls around, I struggle to tell people what to buy for the boys because like their parents, they spend the bulk of their time outdoors.
It’s harder to do that now. There’s cable, and 24 hour cartoons. Video games as far as the eyes can see, even on phones. Phones! We have phones the size of a deck of cards where we can read books, play games, and twitter. We twitter.
Much of the time the boys are out there by choice. We have basic cable, which means no 24 hour cartoon network. It can be boring inside, especially since we don’t let Mikey play Wii very much. Only here and there as a treat. He was playing it more often over the summer, but we noticed he was getting overly competitive, getting far too upset on the rare occasions when he lost. Crying and throwing a fit when you lose at fake tennis? Lame. Finding both boys in a choke-hold because they are imitating a scene from one of the super hero games? Unacceptable. Wii goes bye-bye.
As much as we like the boys to play outside, I have a confession. I really, really hate the park. I make any kind of excuse to avoid going. I always have an eye for a kid with the plague. I worry about needles and animal poop in the sand box. I bring a book, but can’t get comfortable enough to take my eyes off them for a second, convinced a kidnapper is lurking behind a crepe myrtle. I don’t need to explain the bathroom situation.
So we spend most of our time in the backyard, and the Mister takes them to the park if I have to run errands on the weekend. Right now, Nicholas loves to dig and move dirt around. He can do it for hours, which I don’t understand. Really, he is moving dirt. That’s all. Sometimes he pretends he is a paleontologist, and sometimes he sets up elaborate Star Wars battles, but a lot of the time he just moves dirt from one hole to another or flings handfuls in the air, laughing at the way it arcs and falls.
When Mikey is involved, they are playing sports. Basketball, football, soccer, it really depends on the season. Right now they go back and forth between baseball and tennis, tennis being the favorite. Since Nicholas is still working on his hand-eye coordination, they play feet away from each other, which takes tennis and devolves it into a fast paced and intense game of dodge ball.
They love it. And, like most boys, the best part is when one of them gets clocked in the head.
[Those three pots of dying ferns are our attempt to keep the dogs from digging out that planter. For five years we have planted bushes, plants, and small trees to no avail. The dogs love to dig up the dirt and lay on the cool earth beneath, as you can see from the dirt on the concrete and Buster hovering in the background. I think we are going to build around the planter with stone or brick, but if anyone has any other suggestions, we are all ears.]