Child Rearin'

Published on November 17th, 2015 | by Richard Black

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The Games Children Play

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See. This kid’s doing something stupid and he’s not even playing with another kid.

Kids play stupid games.  Yes play is important. It can be educational. It teaches children how to learn to interact with their environment and occasionally their peers. Games allow children to exercise their minds and their bodies. Yes. Yes. I get that. I really do.

There are however some exceptions. Let’s talk about “tag”. I imagine a psychologist or sociologist or someone else with a lot of letters after their name would say that the game of “tag” teaches children their limitations and provides them with a means to learn about fair play among much else. I would also put forth the idea that it teaches a group of children that there is a pecking order based upon physical prowess and that the fat kid is always the easiest to tag.

Social Darwinism aside “tag” also a pretty stupid game. There’s no end point. Assuming the kids maintained sufficient interest the game could theoretically be played for decades if everyone were kept fed and watered.

Of course “tag” does come to a conclusion but not because there’s a winner. No one really wins a game of “tag” but there are always lots of losers. I remember playing tag on the playground and really can’t recall a game didn’t end with an argument or tears or some combination of the two.

Now that my daughter is in kindergarten I’m revisiting the idiocies of play. Most of Darcy’s games seem to involve arguing with two or three of her friends about who gets to be the butterflies and who has to be the butterfly catcher.

The rules of the game are confusing. As far as I can tell no one wants to be the butterfly catcher but none of the kids want to hide if all of the other’s are seeking. The only conclusion I’ve arrived at is that children want to be with the crowd or, at the very least, have the crowd follow their instructions about “the right way to play”. I’m no history buff but I’m pretty sure this is how the Nazi party really got rolling in Germany back in the 1930’s

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A typical playground in the 1980s.

When I was a lad in elementary school I played stupid games. It was a simpler time when a trip to the playground could easily end in a broken limb, a concussion or a few lost teeth. One of the things I’m truly thankful for is that school recess is more thoroughly supervised and playgrounds are now covered in a springy material that’s much less conducive to bodily injury than poured concrete or asphalt.

Back in my day, a phrase I always associated with the elderly, jungle gyms were anchored in cement or gravel to provide the unlucky or physically challenged with something hard and unpleasant to land upon. The school had a merry-go-round, also on gravel, hurling the unwary or incautious off into the distance and providing them with an unsolicited lesson in centripetal force. Those of us who survived graduated to the larger playground on the other side of the school with a bigger field to accommodate bigger kids and more opportunities for injury.

In third grade my friends and I discovered swing sets. We’d been aware of them for a while but had missed their potential for self harm and a vector of disease. I wish that I could write that the simple pleasure of swinging back and forth, the delightful terror and hitch in my gut as I tested the bonds of gravity, was enough of an experience with which to content myself. It wasn’t.

Simply swinging wasn’t enough of a thrill. To up the ante some idiot, an idiot who may or may not have been me, decided that someone should run between ten or twelve kids on swings to see who could make it through without incurring a visit to the ER.

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A vector for disease and personal harm.

When we tired of causing each other semi-intentional physical harm we started spitting at each other…also while swinging. There was no point scale but landing a giant loogey in someone’s mouth was generally considered to be the goal. Occasionally we’d combine running the gamut with spitting on the runner and generally returned to class with giant bruises and covered in phlegm.

I spent the bulk of fourth grade playing “let’s chase each other around the playground and kick each other in the balls.” As an elementary school boy there’s really nothing funnier than kicking, or watching another kid, get kicked in the balls. This is a game, I feel compelled to note, that most men play in some variation well into their mid thirties.

When we weren’t contributing to our future sterility, incontinence and erectile dysfunction we were learning how to curse. The “F” word was taboo back then. Simply thinking about it could prompt a beating.

We weren’t all that choosy when it came to cursing. “Fuck you, you fucking fuck” was a common if less than nuanced curse often heard during recess. What we lacked in sophistication we made up in intensity. We had no idea what the term meant. We simply knew that it was “bad”; something to be whispered in the halls or polite company and shrieked at the top of our lungs during every other opportunity.

Of course the games changed in both cruelty and intensity as we grew older. “Punch Richard Hard in the Head” was always a crowd pleaser in Middle School. “Let’s Call Him a “Fag”” was also pretty popular. “His Hand Were Cold When He Touched My Tits” and “He Kisses Like He’s Having a Seizure” were other favorites once I began dating.

Fortunately Darcy hasn’t discovered those particular injustices quite yet. I’d even had the hubris to believe that, by having a daughter, I’d dodge most of the idiotic grotesqueries I’d encountered as a boy. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

Women’s rights activists have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to equal pay and many other important issues but they’ve made great strides in achieving parity among the sexes when it comes to the stupid games children play.

A few days ago I was picking up my daughter from school. It was a warm autumn day. The failing sun filtered through the last few oak leaves and cast the grounds in a deep golden light. A few women and I were giving our children a chance to run around a bit before heading home when we all distinctly heard my daughter say “Let’s play the licking game!”

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Sure he looks cute now but imagine that he’s chasing your daughter around the school yard with his tongue.

Our heads spun collectively around as if we were marionettes and we proceeded to watch our little girls race around the front of the school for the sole purpose of licking each other with their tongues. As far as I could tell the game of “lick” was a lot like “tag” aside from the obvious differences and the fact that the winner was the child who went home without influenza.

As the saying goes “people who play stupid games win stupid prizes”. I should know. Somewhere close to the end of when I was playing “let’s spit on each other while we’re on the swings” a bunch of my friends, and I, caught a nasty bout of pneumonia. “Kick Me in the Balls” came to an abrupt end when my buddy Jimmy ruptured a testicle. I’m not saying his inability to father children was a result of the game but it probably didn’t help.

“Lick” most likely won’t result in double pneumonia or infertility for my daughter and there’s really quite a lot more to be concerned about in the coming years and months. I hear that “I HATE YOU DADDY” will become a favorite once puberty sets in. “Darcy is a Bitch Who Called Me a Bitch” is another I anticipate that might lead to my incarceration or, at the very least, my first stroke. That’s really the tip of the proverbial iceberg however when it comes to adolescence.

“Let’s Dry Hump in the back of a 1997 Chevy Until We Chafe” will inevitably take place and probably more than a few times. With any luck Darcy will choose to play “I’ll Have a Beer” instead of “Meth is GREAT!!!” and “Let’s Have Sex With a Condom” instead of “I’ll Take STD’s For Five Hundred Alex”.

The scenarios are somewhat endless and, quite frankly, more than a little terrifying. I recently heard that more than sixty percent of the kids in a local high school have been playing “Let’s Try Heroin!!!”. Seriously heroin? When I was in high school I was worried about “Is this Bag Cut With Oregano?” or “That’s Really Just a Cold Sore on My Vagina”.

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Meet Ernest, 28, years old and a lifetime smoker.

Children and teens aren’t immune to playing stupid games. We play them as adults too.

“These Cigarettes Won’t Give Me Cancer” is becoming ever more popular. “Let’s Have a Threesome” has come into vogue. “Do What I Say and Not what I Do” is another idiocy parents are fond of playing with their children. The stupid games that we as adults play is, fortunately, beyond the scope of this piece.

I like to believe that Darcy will play responsibly. I like to believe that I’m teaching her how to make wise choices while still providing her with, at least some modicum, of individuality. That is the crux of parenting I suppose and one of the many tightropes we, as parents, walk. “Think for Yourself” I tell my daughter when, in the same breath I ask her play “Listen to Every Word I Say.”

It’s really a wonder more of us aren’t incredibly fucked up and a testament to the resilience of children that there aren’t more sociopaths in the world.

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