As a young girl around my house I may have claimed that I was bored. Sitting in that boredom, undistracted by the screens of iphones, computers, tablets and TV, bloomed a child’s true imagination and invention. Cardboard boxes became rocket ships and time machines. Cops and Robbers were chased on neighbourhood streets. Cat’s Cradle was played with four hands and knotted yarn on my back deck, and Truth or Dare was quietly played in my basement. There were mud pies constructed in my father’s garden, secret forts made out of couch pillows and bed sheets on the family room floor, and private morse code messages were passed between neighbourhood bedroom windows with flashlights.
Back then I had no planned playdates and very few programs to attend on weekends. I was a little girl playing indoors or outdoors and my parents had no idea where I was at any given time. It suited them just fine. Looking back, my childhood was marked not by time spent alone on any computer screen, phone, or buttoned console. Not by the splitting and sectioning of weekends into hours of planned programming or playdates. I had no parent texts to check in on me, nor any phone calls to tell me to come home. I had an unrestrained and spontaneous youth, with the free rein to explore my surroundings and the entire neighbourhood as my playground, limited only by the buzz of the fluorescent street lights that called me home. It would be a great gift to my own children to be able to give them a small piece of what I remember:
Mid-June and the scent of the soil’s fresh earth lingers in the afternoon air. The temperature is rising, and I’m walking arm in arm with friends as the heat of the afternoon’s Sun warms our youthful skin. Backpacks in tow, we leisurely make our way home from school, walking without parents of course, hearts buoyant and fluttering with excitement as we finish yet another week of fourth grade, one step closer to tasting the sweetness of Summer. Stealing through long, soft grass, we swiftly make our way home, with very little barriers or wooden fencing between backyards, which once they become erected, will eventually quadrant the community feel of our neighbourhood into individual units of space. My front door ajar, its rusty-hinged screen squeaks open and slams shut, announcing my arrival, and my Mother welcomes me home. I drop my gear, stop long enough to grab a peach from the fridge and exit out the kitchen back sliding door, jumping over my Father’s gooseberry bush in a hasty effort to sooner arrive at my best friend’s house nearby.
It is the weekend and there’s not much to do. Weekends are slow. Beautifully slow. No juggling of kids programs or schedules. No dividing and conquering of parents as it is now, with Moms and Dads rarely seeing each other, each of them in separate cars shuttling children to their respective activities. Instead, at nine-years of age, my Mom and Dad are grabbing a book to read on the front porch, and they’ll sit and stretch out the evening light in aluminum lawn chairs with colourful webbed backs that have faded in the Sun from years of exposure.
It’s just me and my best friend. She has an above ground pool in her backyard where hours could be spent with us playing “Marco Polo”. I have an empty double garage, clean and ready to be used as theatre space. Inside we will line up chairs for parents and paying neighbours to watch the latest live children’s performance of “Jack and the Beanstalk”, or we will use it as a safe shelter to watch summer lightning storms streak wildly across the sky. Mature birch trees beckon us to use them as substitutes for a third friend in a game of double dutch. Oscillating sprinklers on front lawns invite us to bravely run through them with bare feet and unleashed dogs. We will join the gathering crowd of children on our street, collecting coiled loops of green yard hose in anticipation of a friendly water fight, or set up water balloons across enemy lines. Then we’ll mark our front walks with dusty chalk pictures and hopscotch boards, gaps between sidewalk slabs showing signs of where younger children poked and prodded at small ant tunnels below. We will play Tag with the boys, undeniably knowing that we have the strength and speed in our legs to catch them, but secretly wishing that they catch us instead. Then afterward, we will sit lazily on the blue and white metal swing set in the backyard, pumping our legs high on the broken plastic seat, our hands marked by rust as we hold tight against the metal chain-linked handles.
As the afternoon fades into early evening, we will count cartwheels in the freshly cut backyard, with our active legs bruised and slightly grass-stained underneath our knee-length argyle socks. Then we’ll arrange a street-wide game of Hide n’ Seek, gathering friends to meet at the local playground, and the two of us will huddle up together, quietly giggling with our staticky hair and bent knees inside the big orange tube slide. When the game is done, we will take a trip to the local convenience store, spare change jingling in our back pockets for a candy treat, our faces flushed as we run sprints through alleyways en route to our destination. When the buzz of the street lights announces the anticipated arrival of dusk, we know it’s time to make our way home, but not before taking our Big Wheels down a daringly steep pathway, our feet releasing from the pedals as we joyfully let the gravity, the beauty, and the freedom of our childhood take hold.