Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Something Lost--A Moment for Nostalgia

I was reading a "professional" blog by a friend of mine, about a "No TV on Sunday" rule and what the kids did instead. She writes about the newish "Nature Deficit Disorder," the idea that kids today are so overscheduled that they simply don't spend time outside.

God, parents have changed since I was a kid.

Did parents actually kick their kids out of the house back then, or am I manufacturing a memory? It seems like we spent a lot of time outside, especially during summer break--the door would open and we'd be outside for hours. I lived on a block that had a lot of kids, and we'd play games that ranged across half a block of back yards. From the bottom of the block to our back yard, there were kids in every house and we'd have to define the limits for hide and seek: "From here down to the Cowan's yard. Bobby's big tree is Home Base. No hiding in playhouses or garages or. . .okay, you can't hide inside."

Kid world was full of rituals that got passed on as new kids entered the neighborhood. My family moved onto the block when I was six, and we left the summer after I turned nine. In those years, only one other family moved in or out, so the pack of kids was pretty stable and large.

How to choose who is "It."

One kid was the tapper, and would decide "one shoe" or "two shoe." We'd sit in a circle with our feet in the middle, and the tapper would tap (0r pound) one shoe per syllable.

My mother and your mother were hanging up clothes.
My mother hit your mother in the nose.
What color was the blood?

The owner of the foot the tapper landed on would select a color. Speed was important, so favorite colors were often chosen. For some reason, we never tried to stump the tapper with hard to spell colors, which would only have increased the randomness factor anyway.

B-l-u-e spells blue and you are Not It.

Two shoes was harder to game--you couldn't immediately tell if "blue" or "orange" would end up back on your own foot, thus freeing you from being It. But it took so much longer. Or maybe the tapper would just use the shorter, non-interactive chants.

Ink-a-bink, a bottle of ink
The cork fell out and you stink
Not because you're dirty
Not because you're clean
But because you kissed a la-dy
Behind a magazine.

Another advantage to the Two Shoe Tap was that by the time you were finished, all the available kids were usually present. Otherwise, one might show up in the middle of a Hide and Seek round, and of course you had to start a new one. New Kid was always It, which means the previous It would have to all in all the hiders.

Ollie, ollie income free/New Comer!

This sucked if you had a really great hiding place, unless you could sneak around and emerge o from somewhere else, in order to keep your hiding location secret. The New Comer had a to lean against the tree, cover his/her eyes and count. "A hundred fast, or fifty slow." I always counted to a hundred as fast as I could, using my fingers to keep track of ten batches of ten.

Of course, hiders didn't just wait to be found. Their goal was to get to Home Base before they were tagged by It. So the hiding place had to be one where you could keep an eye on It in order to make a break for safety, preferably while It was not between you and Home Base.

While I lived there, we had to create a rule to prevent Its from loitering around Home Base, just waiting to catch the dumb or unlucky. So a mandatory "run around the house" was instituted, although you could strategically run only half-way around and double back to catch the incoming hiders who might have expected you to be on the other side of the house.

When a hider made a break for Home, It could either tag the hider, or call out hider's name and then try to tag Home first. Once the first hider was tagged, the rest of the hiders tended to burst out all at once--because we saw we were safe from being It, or because we were so far away we only saw the other hiders coming out of hiding.

Kid game rules were intricate and strictly observed and enforced. Cheaters who counted to fifty fast, or who didn't run all the way around the house were not allowed to play, which was a harsh sentence, since there were never any other kids around--we were all of us hiding and seeking. Cheaters were lonely outcasts, leading a bleak ex-patriot life of isolation. It was better to fail to catch any hiders and be It twice in a row than to suffer the stigma of being a Cheater.

Games like this tended to fall apart around 6 p.m., as the voices of mothers lifted across the air. "Susie! Kristin! Supper!" "Dinner-time!" The voices of the mothers were pitched high and lilted from yard to yard. Each mother had her own tune and syncopation, so even if you couldn't distinguish the words, you recognized the source. One father, over on another street, had a whistle like a Morse code: short short short long, all the same pitch, that you could hear for blocks. Except for him, the callers were all mothers. Fathers only got involved if you didn't turn up fast enough, and that was the International Symbol for "Oh jeez, are YOU in trouble."

My kids have never had this kind of freedom. Almost all the yards on our block are fenced in, so there is no way to roam up and down the block like we used to. The world has changed as well, and the mothers work away from home now too, so neighborhoods are pretty dead during the day time.

When my parents bought their house, they went into the back yard and counted the swingsets in the back yards to confirm the high percentage of kids available. On the block my kids have grown up on, there was only one other swingset. Currently, there is only one other family with kids at home--we have two lovely gay couples, four houses where the kids are out of high school or even out of graduate school, two apartment buildings and two triplex rental units. The neighbors are all lovely and the diversity is wonderful.

Still, I miss my experience of a tribe of neighborhood kids on my own kids' behalf.

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