Children at Play

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Last week I viewed a video on Facebook that prompted many to express concern and even sadness over the difference in what three generations said they did for fun as a child. The grandparents were from my generation, and I have to admit that sexagenarians (way to make older people sound edgy!) tend to look backward through rose-colored glasses. They spoke of picking blueberries and gardening, even encountering a bear while out adventuring. Even the middle generation, now adults the age of my children, recalled gathering friends to play games or build forts.

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My brothers and I in front of our home.

I thought about how I might answer and recalled my childhood. One of our many pastimes was joining other neighborhood kids on the playground at our school, right down the street. At the ripe old age of ten, we rode bikes a mile to the shopping center, or found a vacant house with a steep drive and dared each other to speed into the street from the carport. My knees stayed bloody and by the grace of God I avoided a head injury. We played kickball in our front yard until there was no grass between the base lines and we drank water from the hose on the side of the house.

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The four oldest – I’m on the right on Jim’s shouders.

We were mostly unsupervised and once my sister fell from the high slide at the school playground and broke her arm (my parents paid for her medical care…they didn’t consult a personal injury attorney, but that’s a subject for another day). We were barefoot, dirty, and dehydrated most of the summer and every one of us had “creeping eruption” at some point. I’m convinced that my dermatologist is buying a yacht with the money I’m spending with him for skin cancer treatment. Our home wasn’t air conditioned so we spent lots of time outside under trees, seeking shade in the hottest part of the day. Daddy worked nights so we were pretty much banned from the house unless it was dark or there was a thunderstorm. We played outside. ALL.THE.TIME. It was good for us and we had lots of fun. So, ask me now and I’ll recount those adventures as if they were magical.

But if you had asked me that question then?

When I was growing up there were three channels on our black and white television – the only electronic distraction around. Weekday children’s programming was limited to Captain Kangaroo and Romper Room. On Saturday mornings there were cartoons and on Sunday nights we looked forward to the Wonderful World of Disney. There was one television for the family of eight, so we gathered around it and had to agree on the program. I spent lots of Saturday afternoons watching science fiction, thanks to my older brothers. Peering through the cracks in my fingers, my hands covered my face in fear throughout the half hour programs – I will never forget “pod people”! Fifty years later I can tell you my mother loved to watch the Red Skelton Show on Tuesday night. I’m pretty sure that if you had asked me then “What is your favorite thing to do?” I would have answered “Watch TV.” No question or doubt in my mind.

Can I make a confession? I had an appointment with a new doctor recently and the nurse asked me about hobbies and interests. Do you know what my first thoughts were? Please don’t make me write it down for the world to see! I spend entirely too much time using electronic devices….texting, watching you tube videos, checking Facebook and binge watching Netflix. I’m working on that because I’ve realized it’s a distraction and a time thief. When I was a child, after the eleven o’clock news the stations signed off and there was no television overnight. Everything shut down and there was a sabbatical of sorts. It got quiet. I need that pause and so do our children. However….

I’m not so worried about how my grandchildren might answer that question – I’m pretty sure I know what they would say. But the truth is, I’ve been paying attention to them and no matter how they answer the question, I know the real answer. They are happiest when they are playing. Yes, they have tablets and when the Florida summer heat makes outdoor play unbearable or the doctor is running way behind and patience is running out, Mom hands them over.  And I think we all agree that there is already too much “mom guilt” so let’s just give each other some grace about that.  Each family must decide for itself how much screen time is appropriate without external judges weighing in.   What I know for sure is that they love to play, especially outside. I’m confident that fifty years from now my grandchildren will tell stories of water slides and trampolines, swimming pools and scavenger hunts. I hope that I am part of the stories that are being written on their hearts through the wonder of play.

Mom, send them outside.  Better yet…go outside with them and enjoy the magic of play, if only for a bit.

Phoebe and George go walking (2)

And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparking. ~ Shanti

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“The most memorable days usually end with the dirtiest clothes.” – Unknown

Swim

“I hope my children look back on today and see a mother who had time to play. There will be years for cleaning and cooking, for children grow up while we’re not looking.” – Unknown

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