A Bat, a Ball, and a Jelly Jar
A Bat, Ball and a Jelly Jar
A Bat, Ball and a Jelly Jar
It’s no secret that we’ve become a race of techno-heads, determined to keep ourselves saturated in all things techno. Through a steady diet of media saturated influences we have been conditioned to train our eyes on the horizon to be the first to own the latest Flat Screen TV, Cell phone, or computer amazing enough to bang the gong.
Sadly, in the wake of technology’s lure lay the carcasses of decade upon decade of abandoned family living. From board games, to dinner at 5:30, and coloring books (made of real paper), we turned our backs on simplicity, trading it in on glitz.
I can’t remember the last time I saw my own neighborhood kids in a boisterous game of stickball, or Dodge Ball, or even Tag. It’s rare to see a kid outdoors, “playing”.
One of my nephews was visiting me one summer. That was an experience. I had become exhausted with seeing him with a video game control held tight in his fists, so I told him to go out and play. What was I thinking? (!)
“Outside?” ,he asked...rather loudly. That lovable, smiling face of his gave way to snarling fangs in an instant.
In my day (the days of clay tablets) if I was told to go out and play I would have made a new exit getting out of the house before my mother could change her mind, or find another chore for me to do. This 9 year old child gave me the strangest look and asked, “Play what?”
“Why do you want to make me go outside?” He was shooting rapid fire questions at me.
“What did I do wrong. . . I’m sorry, Auntie”, he implored me.
“There’s nothing outside but heat”.
I was stunned by his behavior. He was just short of a meltdown. I was determined that this bright kid was going to go out and sweat and play before he went back home to his parents.
He clearly had not been allowed to exercise his imagination. He’d only been trained to turn on the TV, or play video games.
I had a plan. I gave him a jelly jar; a bouncing ball and a baseball bat that I hadn’t used since my soft ball days. I told him that those three items would have kept me busy for days, probably the whole summer vacation.
Nowadays, schools have banned most contact sports, and/ or recess games. Tag was thought to be predatory and might lead to girls being touched in the wrong way. Dodge Ball was dismissed because it was dangerous and could cause less aggressive children to become targeted and hurt.
If you go to an elementary level school that actually still has recess, if you can find one, you’ll find children walking aimlessly about the school campus like robots in designer jeans.
There’s really nothing for the children to do, short of playing basketball, and with basketball after teams are picked the rest of the kids are left to watch, great exercise there.
The lack of healthy activity leads to cliques and separations. It is natural for children of this age to cling to one another for support and acceptance, without regard to race or gender. Sadly, they are being retrained to do just the opposite of what is natural.
What happened to the days when children couldn’t wait to get home from school, change into their play clothes to meet their buddies for a few hours of play time before homework? Of course, the preponderance of pedophiles and child predators in our midst has done a lot to destroy a child’s sense of safety, but, that’s when the diligence of parents should kick in. We can’t allow them to destroy our children’s early days; it’s the only time in our lives that we have pure freedom to grow emotionally, letting our imagination run free.
Adulthood, is tough enough, children need to know the innocence, creativity and healthy benefit of playing out of doors.
I sat at my desk so I could keep the nephew in sight. He sat on the curb, forlorn and with his back to me. I think I actually saw wisps of steam wafting from his ears. He was livid.
Periodically, he’d turn back and look at me, just to remind me he was mad. I was not moved. “You want a fudgesicle?” I yelled out to him.
“It’s too hot for ice cream. It’ll just melt” He said.
“Suit yourself, sweetie,” I giggle to him.
I saw his lips moving, I’m sure he was cussing me under his breath.
As if by magic, . . .and against all the nephews expectations . . . the sky had opened up and out of nowhere here comes a chubby little sweaty haired, red faced kid with his baseball glove tucked under his arm, and his filthy fingers clutching the last few bites of a cheese sandwich. He yells back to a couple of other boys pulling up the rear, “Yep, guys, it’s a bat”.
“Hey, kid. You wanna play. Were down a few, but we got anuff ta play.”
Before he let the nephew answer he zeroed in on the jelly jar, and with all the excitement he could muster he said, “Sa-weet. What cha gonna do with that jar kid? “
“CanIuseitforaminute.” (in one breath)
“Just what we needed,”
“Come on guys . . . we got us a jar”.
With that he grabs the jar and tells the nephew to come with them. Before he could ask, I stood in the window and yelled for him to go ahead as long as he stayed on the street.
“Oh, he will Miss. We’re only going to the mailbox by the big tree right there”, as he pointed his stubby, dirt encrusted forefinger toward the mailbox about 15 feet away.
The kid adds, “Besides, he’ll be okay. I’ll watch ‘em forya”.
Somehow I knew he would take control.
They took off on their mission, five sweaty little boys. They got to the mailbox and quickly formed a huddle the NFL would have envied. It got quiet and then all of a sudden there was a loud burst of enthusiasm and a loud, “I got ‘em.”
“Put the lid on,. . . hurry up”
“Okay, okay. I said I got ‘em.
“Holy cow, look at that”. . . Hey, that was the nephew. He sounded like he was having fun. Well, clutch my pearls, fun.
After an afternoon of baseball and laughter my nephew dragged his tired body into the house by his collar and mustered enough energy to wash his face and hands for dinner.
I’d never heard him so chatty, ever. He was proud to share with me that he had become one of “the guys”, and they had plans for the following day.
I couldn’t believe this was the same boy, who just a few hours earlier, didn’t even know how to play without a game control to lead the way, the same kid who was just short of spitting fire – he was so mad at me.
I sat his plate on the table in front of him and he gobbled it like it was his last meal. I told him that he had worked up that appetite from playing.
“I know, Auntie. I know”.
I washed dishes while he ate.
It was killing me to know what they’d put in the jar, but I knew it was probably a guy thing. I had to ask.
“Hon, what did you guys put into the jar?”
There was dead silence. I thought, well, maybe he didn’t want to share until I heard the subtle, serene sound of his quiet snores emanating from his face plastered into the side of the hot dog bun on his plate. He still had a fork full of potato salad in his had that didn’t quite make it to his mouth.
I took off his dirt covered clothes and put him to bed. The poor thing was so tired that he never even stirred.
It reminded me so much of my own son. I used to peel him from his dinner plate, too. My son would play until he passed out, literally. He thoroughly knew how to enjoy his outdoor play.
It’s been 15 years since my own son picked up his rod and reel for a day on the bank of the local river, but when he was very young I made it my mission for him to have all of the adventures I had, like catching snakes and frogs, going to the river’s edge and catching pollywogs in a jar and watching them grow into frogs.
I’m so glad to know that my children were able to enjoy nature first hand, not just through pictures in a book. If parents can plant the seed of curiosity early enough, and foster it creatively, that child will maintain his curious nature. Maybe he will even be less inclined to pick up a remote control, or a game control.
Give your child my fail proof playtime trio, a baseball bat, a clean jelly jar and a bouncing ball. I guarantee a day of fun and imagination.
What was the bouncing ball for, you might ask? The new friend could be a girl. Some girls like to play “Bottle Cap”, or “Four-Square”, the bouncing ball is perfect for a girl.