Friday, July 01, 2005

Playing me for a fool

Another month, another 47,000 stories on local TV news about fireworks safety this 4th of July. Here in Arizona, the stories are extra entertaining, because in addition to the typical warnings about fireworks and brushfires, there are also annual cautions against shooting one's pistol in the air to celebrate.

The 19 Minutes staff has memories of a different sort of recreation from years past. They're (sort of) the subject of our July "Last Laughs" column in Northern Arizona's Mountain Living Magazine:

With a one-year old at home, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about “play” in recent days. Of course, for Sylvi, “playing” still consists of sticking inappropriate things in her mouth. In fact, the trick to keeping her from eating things is to pretend that adults love to eat them. The downside is that I have to consume things I wouldn’t normally include in my dinner plans, such as magazines, extension cords, and house plants.

But it won’t be long before she’s walking, and then running, and then perhaps throwing things and running after them. And then she’ll collect some friends and want to do some of her walking and running and throwing things with those friends.

The playing paradigm has changed since we were kids. In those days, station wagons were the size of small African republics, and the highlight of a typical elementary school day was talking your teacher into playing a film backwards through a projector. (Backwards! So that the smoke would appear to go... back down into the smokestack! Hilarious!) And when summer came along, you awaited the phone call from Darryl Feldman down the street, asking if you wanted to “play”, an activity that sometimes involved the throwing of Nerf-style items at improvised targets, or riding scooters around an unfinished basement in such a way that they left tire tracks on the floor.

My wife’s experience left out even the phone call. In her small Minnesota town, she simply looked out the window to see if her friend down the street was out in his tire swing.
Today, of course, she’d never get the chance. For starters, tires are all most likely emblazoned with a statement reading: “WARNING: THIS TIRE IS NOT MEANT AS A SWINGING DEVICE. FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY. IF PREGNANT OR BREAST-FEEDING, CONSULT A PHYSICIAN.”

But more to the point, “playing” has changed. Children today engage in something called “play dates”, sometimes scheduled two or three weeks in advance, as though the children were the First Lady. But such scheduling is apparently necessary, since these kids have to wedge their play amidst micro soccer practice, midget hockey, pee wee baseball, extremely little piano lessons, and buying tires.

And for a play date, I can only imagine parents have set up strict agendas:

2:30 Get out crayons and construction paper

2:35 Assign coloring subjects (“Farm”, “Airport”)

2:37 Argue over difference between Blue-Green and Green-Blue crayons

2:40 Put crayons away after demise of Green-Blue crayon
The closest I came to this regimented play concept in my own childhood was the (drinking) straw football league administered by Kenny Che, which consisted of six teams, each with its own schedule and logo. I remember his team was called the Hermit Crabs. I have no idea what my team was.

[An update from the 19 Minutes staff: The name "Human Hang Gliders" is sticking in Mitch's brain for some reason, but he may be confusing it with a deranged, fourth-grade playground game.]

So as Sylvi gets older, we’re going to see to it that she has plenty of aimless play time. If she wants to take up soccer, great. If she wants to build a fort out of old Barry White LPs, that’ll be okay, too. Hopefully, she’ll figure out that crayons are for drawing, not for eating.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check on dinner – I think the extension cord is almost done marinating.

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