Last night, my boys along with almost a dozen neighborhood kids, played a game of kick ball in our front yard. They weren't keeping score. Some kids kept floating from one team to the other. They laughed. They ran loopy around the bases just to see if they could make it or tag the other out. They SCREAMED like animals and worked up a sweat. When I took a jug of water and ice and plastic cups out for a break they greedily gulped and burped and slopped water all over the place. Then? Went right back to playing. They played until the mosquitoes brought dusk on in, and everyone had to go home.
I watched and hooted and hollered with them, caught between the moment at hand and memories of my own.
In my old neighborhood, none of us had too big a yard to play in, so we gathered in the parking lot beside Bethel Lutheran Church. The pastor's kids were our friends. Not all the kids in the neighborhood attended the church, but the lot was THE place to play. There was always a game of kick ball, base ball, base runner, freeze tag. We roller skated on that lot until our feet blistered. We rode our bikes in circles until we got dizzy. In the winter we'd make forts out of the plowed snow. The window wells would somehow catch toads after heavy rains, and Pastor would open the church so we could go to the basement level, crawl on through the windows, and grab up those toads and have races with them until we set them free.
We moved out of that neighborhood when I was 11, and I left the innocence of my childhood there. It was that "Stand By Me" age, when Summer lasted forever, no one went inside until the street lights came on, and your friends saw you FAR more than your family.
People lament that "those days are gone" and "kids don't play like they used to".
Watching my boys, and the kids on our street, my heart swelled so big with a feeling of nostalgia and gratitude for them to have these memories, these moments. Nights like last night are the stuff childhood is MADE OF.
We encountered this neighborhood from loss. We lost our house, and were forced to relocate. When we picked this duplex, we choose it because it had central air conditioning and a huge basement for a play room. We had NO IDEA this cul de sac was CRAWLING with families with children the same age or around the same age as our boys. We simply didn't know that an unfortunate financial turn in our lives would give to our sons something money can NOT buy. Our old neighborhood wasn't as safe. There weren't kids around. I'd have NEVER set my sons out to play four houses over in our old neighborhood. EVER. It was a bad end of town. On this street, there is little traffic. Families are in great abundance. Parents know the other children. Swingsets don't belong to any one family -- they are free rein for anyone if they're a kid.
I am so happy for my boys this Summer. They have spent 95% of it outdoors riding bikes, playing ball, wrestling in the yard, playing with the hose and squirt guns and silly kid pools with crappy water that gets dumped every other day for being nasty. There has been almost NO computer time, and very little video game play. (Rainy days excluded) They have friends every other house up and down the street.... just like I did when I was little.
I had friends in every direction when I was little. If one person left to visit grandma for the day? There was someone else to do something with.
As a mother I couldn't be more content to see the way they play. Kids today may very well be spoiled with gadgets and TV and things we NEVER dreamed of when I was small, but the heart of a child still beats for adventure and play -- honest to goodness, roll in the dirt, pick up a bug, skin your knee, PLAY. Technology can't breed being a kid out of children. Parents can LET it happen, but the Lost Boys of Neverland aren't gone. They just need the room to come out and crow.