“Go out and play!” How many of you heard that exclamation from your parents growing up? On Saturday, parents all over the country scooted their offspring out the door at dawn and didn’t expect them back until dusk. They would finally round them up by opening the front door and screaming at the top of their lungs. “DINNER!” No cell phone or GPS needed. Every kid recognized the sound of their mom’s voice with in a five-mile radius. We spent the whole day playing outside away from our parents, and they got a break from us too. It was a win-win. In Philadelphia, where I grew up, we played all different games out in the streets, whether it was handball, Nerf® football, tag, or Army/Navy, which required roaming about the entire neighborhood trying to capture the other team. It was glorious! Oh, and after a long-sweaty day out in the heat, we ran home and got a nice, refreshing, cold drink…from the garden hose. Yep, I drank from a garden hose and lived to tell about it.
I’m not really sure what exactly happened as the generations have gone by. Why don’t kids go out and play anymore? It’s a different time they say. But is it really? One thing I do know, I live in a very safe neighborhood, with beautiful lawns to wrestle on, trees to climb and bushes to hide behind—but it’s like a ghost town. Kids aren’t playing catch, tag or football. Sports are boringly structured in organized play on school yards with coaches, refs and parents yelling from the sidelines. Phooey! What happened to pick-up games where you made up the rules as you went along? Where hiding a football under your shirt or spitting on a Wiffle ball was all fair play? Now you have to wonder, is it for the kids or the parents? “Why don’t you put my Johnny in? You know he’s the best player on the team.” Meanwhile, poor Johnny is on the sideline, palm in face, sulking down in embarrassment.
Have you heard the saying “Go play in traffic”? Well, we actually played in traffic. We tossed the Nerf and played full, four quarter football games with about 10 kids in the middle of the street. Granted, we stopped every five minutes to yell “CAR!!!” No different than the NFL with commercial breaks every five minutes for…CAR! These days, it’s not football unless it involves two joy sticks and a jolly photo of John Madden and a star player who will probably now be out for the season.
Some do blame these video games for the lack of outdoor adventure. Look, I grew up with the Atari 2600 with its awesome graphics (especially boxing), and still found time for a game of stickball with pals. Finding them was another story though. This would require actually knocking on doors, checking area parks, and yelling their names at the highest pitch humanly possible. There was no cell phone to call Timmy or Charlie on. You actually spent part of your free time finding your friends. And when you did knock on doors, parents would answer and say, “They are out there somewhere.” Image that. But we survived.
And, by the way (or btw for all you Millennials), these kids were really your friends, not some virtual friend, or one of your 500 Instagram friends. You know, like the one you met one time at some parent-organized picnic where they monitored your every move, and what kind of food you put in your mouth. “Johnny, spit out that chicken nugget right now! My son only eats non-GMO chickens, fed wholesome, organic, corn feed, and raised in the mountain ranges of Colorado, where the air is pure and the water is crystal clear.” What? Really? Give me a break! We grew up on BBQ hamburgers that tasted like lighter fluid and washed it down with Mountain Dew with plenty of high-fructose corn syrup and yummy Yellow Dye #5. Oh, and we endured.
They don’t make playgrounds the same anymore either. Where are the monkey bars? What’s that slide made out of…plastic? Where are the good ol’ metal slides that we loved burning ourselves on in 90 degree weather and stuck so hard to it that we would lose some skin on the way down. OUCH! And what’s with the foam padding everywhere? Back in the day, when we fell off the monkey bars it was all blacktop or cement to break your fall. You’d limp home trying not to cry for about 12 blocks (no Uber, sorry), with a scraped up knee, only to have your mom throw a Band Aid on it, tell you “You’re OK,” pat you on the behind and send you back out the door for more mayhem. These days it would be a trip to urgent care, antibiotic cream and a pamphlet on “How to Avoid Playground Injuries: What Parents and Kids Need to Know.” But, somehow we made it through just fine.
Coming from the East Coast, weather was a factor as kid too. But, that never stopped us. Rain, sleet, snow, we were in it all. And guess what? I never caught pneumonia and died. We would just add “tackle” to our football games when the blizzards hit. Our winter coats, hair, boots and gloves would be so matted with snow that our parents couldn’t recognize us. “Is that our kid?” “I don’t know dear; just stick him in the vestibule until he thaws.” And once I melted I was fine. Bring on the hot chocolate!
Yep, we built forts with real hammers and nails, climbed rooftops to retrieve lost balls and rode bikes downhill at top speed with no helmet.
Oh, and we drank from garden hoses and lived to tell about it!