It's Summertime: Let Your Kids Play
By Jane Byers Goodwin on May 27, 2012
Summertime sure has changed since dinosaurs ruled the earth I was a kid.
In the summer, I would leave the house right after breakfast and I wouldn’t return until Mom called us to lunch. (Each neighborhood mom had a distinctive lunchtime call. Nobody ever got confused until the people with the parrot moved in across the street. Stupid parrot quickly learned to mimic every mom on the block, and we kids were constantly running into the house asking “What do you want?” and the answer would be “Why are you here? I didn’t call you!”) No normal kid stayed in the house in the summertime. We stayed outside as long as we could see. Our parents didn't play with us every moment; who wanted an adult with us? That would have been creepy, and the poor kid whose mom or dad insisted on joining us would have been humiliated. I would have had to run home and tell my mom if an adult decided to play with us kids.
All the moms knew that if any of us chose to behave poorly, anywhere in the neighborhood, the MomPolice would instantly put a stop to it and notify the wrong-doer’s mother. Every mom was everybody’s mom. The village kept us civilized.
After lunch, at which every kid on the block was served the same thing – “take it or leave it” – we were all off again, riding our bikes all over the neighborhood, climbing trees, playing kickball in Becky’s back yard – the biggest back yard on the block. We played there even when Becky wasn’t home; all back yards were open source back then. There was only one back yard forbidden to the children, and we steered clear of it. Old Man Pryor wasn't nice.
We came back home again only when it started to get dark; we ate a late supper, took a much-needed bath, watched The Beverly Hillbillies, and went to bed. All the summer tomorrows promised to be just as exciting as the first day! The only difference was the half-hour sitcom. Or an hour, on Bonanza night.
Some summer days we spent every waking hour at the public pool, coming home for lunch only because the pool closed for an hour. On those days, we were ravenous at lunchtime. We were hungry before lunchtime, too, but back then, people ate at designated times, not constantly.
Were we fat? Nope, although there was always one fat kid with an overprotective mother who thought stuffing her child with food every time she was near enough to reach his mouth was healthy and loving. The other kids made fun of her; the other mothers covered their mouths discretely when her name came up, and the other dads laughed out loud at her and pitied her child. We pitied him, too, but mostly we fought over who was stuck with him on our team because he couldn't run, hit the ball, or ride his bike very far without pulling over, puffing, and resting.
Were we afraid of strangers? Nope. We were just cautious, not scared. We were warned about taking rides or candy from strangers, but a stranger would have to be insane to try and kidnap one of us; the screaming and tattling would have begun before his foot hit the accelerator. Remember when Colin grabbed the kid in Kindergarten Cop? Remember what happened to the child molester in the novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?” Yeah, I’m all for it. Get him, ladies! Yell, kids! Painful death is far too good for people who are mean to children. As for danger from somebody's family member. . . did I mention that adults were not welcome when we were playing? Any grownup who tried to join us or "enter in" or "have a talk" with any of us would have been scorned, mocked, and fled from immediately.
Nowadays, kids are rarely allowed to leave the confines of the house, let alone their own yard. Kids on bikes are watched all the way up the block and all the way back. Go AROUND the block? Heaven forbid. These rules make sense for tiny children, but for 5th graders? Oh please. I know 12-year-olds who have never once in their entire lives done anything in their own back yards without at least one adult watching every move.
Kids in summer, nowadays, watch a lot of television and play a lot of video games and do a lot of computer surfing. The trees are too small to climb even if each one didn’t have a little fence around it. Other people’s back yards are private property.
Your kid wants to play ball? He’s put in a structured program run by adults. Your kid wants to play outside? He’ll get DIRTY, and wouldn’t you rather watch a DVD, and here, have some cake. Kid wants to go someplace? You drive him. And he watches tv in the minivan instead of looking out the window. It's almost as if parents today don't want their kids to learn to think, dream, and imagine. They just want their kids within earshot, eyesight, and penned in.
Nowadays, if kids are playing in a barn and one of them yells, “Hey, kids, let’s do a SHOW!” the other kids will leave the barn to watch TV. They know of nothing else.
I know there are real dangers out there, dangers that were always there but which seem magnified these days. Our kids need to be taught to protect themselves and each other. But parents, let your kids fly free and occasionally out of sight on their bikes, and let them navigate their own neighborhoods, and let them get filthy and hungry and turn off the damn television set. Make them wait until mealtime to eat, and encourage them to get thirsty before they drink. There are exceptions, sure; who doesn't love cookies?
Give your kids an empty bottle and tell them to fill it with lightning bugs. Send the kids out in the yard to find four-leaf-clovers. Have them hang clean wet towels on the clothesline. Let them rollerskate and the devil take the bruises. A kid without playtime bruises and cuts and scabs and dirt ingrained in the fingernails is a kid who doesn’t know how to play.
I know! Give them some CHORES to do! Oh, the humanity!
Send them to Steve Spangler’s website to sign up for the experiment of the week.
Help them do that experiment. Make it a family affair. There’s even a link for special summer activities for kids over there right now.
Whatever your kids do this summer, try to have them do it outdoors whenever possible. Item: rain will not harm your children. If you have white carpeting and children, you deserve to take the inevitable fall. (White carpeting in a house with children? Poor kids.)
Just a few thoughts from an empty nest mommy who misses her bicycling days almost as much as she misses her kids. I did not have white carpeting, but muddy footprints show up on green pretty darn clearly. Who cares?
It's just stuff. Stuff can be cleaned. And if it can't, you've got a memory. I myself have several memories of good times with Big Red Cola and magic markers on my pale grey carpet. Just looking at the stains makes me smile.
Pristine is for hospital operating rooms. Homes should have memories. Kids should be filthy when the sun goes down. Bicycles aren't supposed to be shiny and clean all the time. Knees and elbows should be scabby and covered with band-aids. Jeans should be dirty, and all of the pockets should be filled with cool rocks and "stuff."
There are way too many kids these days who don't know how to play. They've never been allowed to. Shame on their parents. A kid who doesn't have what it takes to keep himself entertained at all times was unheard of just a few years ago. Now, such a kid is an exception. Sad. Shameful and sad.
I understand that parents want to make sure their kids are safe at all times. What parent doesn't? But parents, you're going too far, and you're creating fat little blobs of bored offspring who haven't got a clue how to be a kid. Stop it. Stop it at once! (Well, it worked for Mom. . . .)
"Don't be content with being average. Average is as close to the bottom as it is to the top."
Jane blogs as "Mamacita" at Scheiss Weekly, hitting the fan like nobody can.