My wife and I pulled our loungers onto the grass to catch a few rays of sun on a recent winter afternoon.
We’d come back from a long walk to the beach and our three children were still out front. They were pulling feathers from the Pampa grass.
This is the great outdoors and they’re playing in it. Or at least it is our version of the great outdoors in a garden in a pine forest on the coast of Argentina.
We spoke about other things, my wife and I, but we both knew that this was what we wanted for our children: the joy of playing outdoors. The joy of playing thought-up games that can extend all afternoon and until dinnertime, even with the temperatures dropping on a winter day.
This was our childhood, allowed to wander, explore and make up games with kids from around the neighborhood.
And so my friends and I ran amok, learned about life and got into trouble. We were chased out of a cemetery by guards who in our heads were not really human. We played elevator tag in office buildings on the way home from fifth grade, a half-hour walk extended beyond an hour and into a riot of fun and the danger of getting caught. So we grew and learned and figured out how to play it safe, i.e. how not get caught. And how to own up and apologize, and get out buckets of hot soapy water to clean the thirty-something’s BMW of the orange juice and smatters left over from our pegging it from close range on Church Lane in West LA. They’d never stop, we’d always told ourselves. Now one had, and so we learned to reserve our oranges for the RTD bus. The drivers couldn’t abandon their passengers. And if they got out, we’d bare-ass them.
Oh such fun – and what little shits we were.
But that was only for a time because then getting into trouble and showing off, well, it wasn’t necessary anymore. Books beckoned. So did sport and surfing and, well, soon enough girls as our hormones flared.
Surfing, music, writing, art – those became our expressions, whether of beauty or angst.
Is there a moral here? I don’t know.
What I do know is that my three children, all under the age of 12, are growing up and will face those same temptations. Get in trouble? Bean cars with oranges? Shoplift?
Yep, these things will happen. It’s very much a passage of rites and a way of discovery, and I guess as parents we should understand and embrace this, and help them along. Or just let them learn as we did?
I don’t know, really.
But as these thoughts came to mind, I looked over at my 11-year-old daughter who after a few minutes of playing with the Pampa grass feathers with her siblings is now heading indoors. My face sinks. Does she no longer want to play outside? Is she already too old that she can only be entertained by a computer or TV screen and the pursuit of more screens like in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? She has asked us for a cell phone with WhatsApp because, well, email is way too slow.
I get up and go to ask her – and now her brother and sister – why they’re playing inside, why they have given up on the great wonders of the outdoors after so brief a time.
“Oh,” the eldest says, “it’s that we’re making a map for our game.”
“We’re going to be explorers,” says her nine-year-old brother.
“And Indians!” says the six-year-old.
So off they go and I return to sitting outside and watching and listening to the chatter, the banter and the yelps of the three explorers (and Indians) who are climbing the trees in the back of our garden in a pine forest that really isn’t a backyard but a wild haunt and the realm of adventure. And so the hours pass and the sun dips lower behind the forest where the three explores feel the winter cold, smell the pine and keep a lookout for bandits that could invade, pillage and plunder our home, for they are still in the age of wonder and far, thank god, from the boredom of the high-tech sedentary life. And not yet into the pranks that got me into trouble as a kid.