Some time ago, I saw a comedian talking about how going outside to play is utterly frightening once you reach adulthood.
Something along the lines of ‘Imagine how scary it would be to wake up in the morning and leave your house on foot, without keys, money, identification, or a cell phone.’
I rarely do that. And when I do, I call it gardening.
But we did that all the time as kids, didn’t we?
From about age nine to twelve, I lived in a small town, and I mean to tell you, on good weather days, I woke up, got dressed, ate breakfast, and spent the entire day outside. I knew it was time to come home when one of two things happened, either my father whistled loud enough to wake the dead >Woo-oo-ooooot!< or the street lights came on.
Sometimes we’d ride our bikes to the park, the pool, or the movies as a group, but there were plenty of times I was on my own — to the library, to the soda shop, to my father’s office, to the baby dress shop — just a little girl on a bicycle, or sometimes on foot. Many times, I left the house making one of those dotted lines all around Robin Hood’s barn just knocking on doors to see who could come out to play.
I cannot begin to explain how much fun we had in doing things that are terrifying.
We walked on train tracks for miles!
We knocked on doors and asked for odd jobs!
We sometimes did those odd jobs in exchange for sweets made by people we didn’t know
— and we ate those sweets in those strangers’ homes!
We drank from garden hoses, and not just our own!
We shared food and cans of soda with dirty fingers and mouths!
We made mud pies and got absolutely filthy!
We played in the streets and in, OMG! alleys!
We roamed abandoned buildings!
We jumped from trees, roofs, and bridges!
We picked fruits and ate them straight from the source!
We cut through cornfields and slid under barbed wire!
Adults knew of us, then. They sometimes knew our names, or who are parents were, or where we lived. In turn, we knew which adults would never give us odd jobs, wouldn’t let us cut through their yards, and would call the police if they saw us so much as sniff one of their honeysuckles.
No one stole your bike because everyone knew which bike belonged to whom.
When a horn honked, it was because the neighborhood Great Dane had stopped traffic by napping in the middle of a warm patch of asphalt. We all had to work together to push her out of the way.
No one called social services because we were unsupervised.
Truth: Warm childhood days in a small town were idyllic.
Old people like me are fond of talking about how we used to go outside to play. We remember this time when adventure was only limited by daylight, when ideas and resources were pooled, and yes, when the world seemed kinder, safer, and far more generous.
My kids have all played outside, but not with the same fearless wonder we recall. I only have one child like that.
She I could really benefit from a tracking device on her body, but other than that, I’m delighted.
When I played in the snow over the weekend, between the hibiscus and the fountain grass, I was building a corridor with fallen branches, when my daughter asked me, “What are you doing?!?”
They stood over me, confused.
I thought it was perfectly obvious that I was building a lair for the snow queen and her beast…
It’s something I just don’t do often enough — not enough of the kind of play that uses all of me — how ’bout you?