The Five-Oh

Walking across the parking lot to my car on the day before my 50th birthday, i heard them before i saw them.  Squeals.  Hoots and hollers.  The sound of the chains on the swing set squeaking as the older children pumped skyward in canvas slings.  Giggles, laughs and squawks.

“Child Development Center”.  What was called a “Day Care” when my children were small.  Before that?  We called them “baby sitters” before “newspeak” demanded higher purpose.

Doesn’t matter what you call it.  It’s the sound of a village taking care of children.

There’s one just across the street from my office, and i am occasional sent tripping down memory lane when i hear those sounds.  The happy sounds of small humans in the throes of unstructured play.  Outside.

In the winter, i am delighted to see them in their Eskimo coats, bundled up, and soaking in the distant, ineffective sun.  They go out after lunch every day, and again at the end of the day.  So long as it’s not pissing rain or ice.  And they play.  Without adults coaching, controlling the field, or telling them where to go and what to do.  Gently kicking them back into play when they go out-of-bounds.  Certainly referring the occasional fight.

On the bikes with Studley after work last week, i was quite surprised to see a little kid, maybe three years old, standing in his back yard.  As we cruised along the bikeway, he was poking at the bark on a tree, and pulling leaves.  Deeply ensconced in the mechanics of being a small child. Whatever he was doing, it was pretty important.  Dad was in a lawn chair about thirty yards away.  Reading a book.  NOT entertaining him.

Something i rarely see anymore.

Every day, i spot dozens of minivans with children lashed into the back seat, watching videos on the on-board entertainment systems.  i swear at the traffic jam near the soccer fields, as parents rush home from work, feed their kids on the fly, and cart them off to recreational practices.

But i’m still astonished to see a child at play.

Growing up?  The neighborhood was lousy with suburban yard urchins. We were kicked outside after breakfast, fed lunch on the picnic table, expected to be home for dinner when the Dads arrived home, launched out til twilight, when we were called home for the night.  Repeat until Labor Day.

We played.  Army.  Kickball, whiffleball, softball, football.  Climbed trees and swiped apples.  Ate green apples until we got “the trots”.  Built forts.  Fought.  Bullied and got bullied.  Created imaginary adult scenarios with suitcases full of Barbie dolls, who were insidiously destroying our natural body images. Complex games of “Private Investigator”, complete with dossiers on the neighbors.

i love hearing those happy squeals from the little critters as they push trikes and scooters around the yard.  It’s nice to hear them playing, even for an hour a day. Even inside a fence at the baby sitters a day care a child development center.

We’ve robbed our children.  Swiped something very important from them in the name of “good parenting”.  In the millions of ways we’ve fucked them over?  i believe this is among the worst….

pic that could have been from my childhood found here

Post-script:  Wrote a rough draft of this at my desk this morning. At the ripened age of 50 years and three days.  The nostalgia.  The glimmers of wisdom that have come with age.  Feeling ancient.  Absent-mindedly rubbing my hand across my chin, i encountered yet another unmistakable sign of age — one of those fucking chin whiskers, with the constitution of steel, that spring up over-night.  Stroking my granny-spike with annoyance, i then encountered  something else.  Something fresh.  Bringing the unmistakable sign of greasy youth.  A grape-sized subcutaneous zit, about to erupt right next to that fucking chin hair.  [sigh]