On nice days, the options were endless. If you were alone, you could ride your bike, play stoop ball (with a Spaldeen of course), practice flipping baseball cards, or if you were feeling cruel, use a magnifying glass to torment insects. If there were other kids around, some kind of game would be organized, not by the parents who seem to be involved in everything their kids do these days, but by the kids. We decided what to play, chose up sides, shared equipment, and if a dispute arose, we settled the matter using time-tested neighborhood methods like eeney-meeney-miney-moe or showing "odds or evens" fingers.
On rainy days the challenge was greater. Typical activities might include reading comics (see 10/14/08 post: Ten Cent Fantasy), setting up mock battles with your toy cowboys and Indians or soldiers (yes, plenty of violent imagery here, and for you environmentalists, they were made of good old lead). Making great things with an Erector set was another constructive pastime, but I didn't have the really good set with all the extra parts and the small motor for powering whatever you built, like a windmill or Ferris wheel.
Feeling bored one day, I decided to set up an indoor archery range. (If life was a video, there would have been a "freeze frame" here and the narrator's voice would cut in and say: "Bad idea Jim.") I had a bow and arrows, but to have the target far away enough for a decent shot, I had to open the doors to three adjoining rooms to get the distance I needed. Needless to say I did this upstairs out of view of my unsuspecting mother. I had a cardboard box full of newspaper on which I had drawn a target, and placed at the far end of my parents' bedroom. Crossing through the hallway and into the farthest corner of my bedroom, I took my archer's stance and let my first arrow fly.
My aim was off a little and the arrow embedded deeply into one of the drawers of my parents' wooden dresser. Again, if this was a video with a sound track, the Dragnet theme would play: "Dum de dum dum." I knew I was dead, and contrived to cover my tracks. I filled the hole with quick-drying wood putty, and since it did not match the mahogany color of the dresser, used a brown crayon to remedy the problem. Now who would ever know anything had happened! My parents weren't stupid people (this could be argued given that they produced a child who came up with the idea of indoor archery) but amazingly nothing was ever said about the matter. I guess compared to my nearly burning the house down on another occasion (see 10/20/08 post), this episode was classified under "acceptable losses."
We played with imagination, passion, and most of all a sense of fun. It seems to me that today, every play activity needs to have a purpose. Parents anxiously scan the description of the toy they are about to buy to see what "cognitive skills" will be enhanced in their child from playing with it. Toys are recalled every day because they are not "child safe". Oh my God, are they too loud, too sharp, flame retardant, free from lead paint, made from nontoxic materials, have no small parts that can be swallowed.....what the hell's left!
Guess what Mom and Dad: your kid could decide to brain his brother with that "child safe" toy at any time and there's nothing you can do to prevent it. Here's an idea...unclench a little. Let your kids have some fun. Take reasonable precautions, but don't try to insulate them from every possible harm that can come to them...its just not possible, and if you you keep trying, you'll turn them into little neurotics just like you.
This is Doctor Jim, signing off.
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