Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Playing after the flood

Yesterday’s Boston Globe carried an engaging op-ed piece by Julianna Baggott, a college writing instructor who suspects her late-teen students have little experience with spontaneous, non-electronic, outdoor play, having grown up amidst organized sports and video games. Knowing the Globe’s lead time, I suspect it’s just a coincidence that the essay ran on what felt to us like, if not the first day of spring, then at least the first day of potential spring. And my kids, though no strangers to video games, did in fact play spontaneously outside.

The weather had a lot of meaning for us yesterday. We arose in the pre-dawn darkness as usual, and because the past three days have been dominated by dark gray skies, steady rain and the most massive flooding in this area that I’ve seen in four decades, I imagined that another gray and rainy day lurked under the cover of pre-dawn darkness.

But I was wrong. When light filled the sky, it wasn’t the dull gray light of the past three days; it was sunlight. Thin, white clouds scudded across a pale blue sky. The rain was over. And while the remnants of the storm were still somewhat jaw-dropping to behold – our barnyard and west pastures still under water, a whitewater deluge rushing across our driveway in the two spots where it crosses the brook, and all over town orange safety cones and detour signs scattered amidst the roadways – the sunshine promised that we’d have at least this one day without more rain.

The kids felt the sun not only on their faces but in their bones. After school, Holly rolled out her two-wheeler for only the second time this season and asked if she could pedal it around. I pulled a lawn chair out onto the front step so that I could keep an eye on her. She fetched three favorite stuffed animals and had them take turns riding on her bike with her. The dog lay next to me on the sunny stoop. Tim and his friend Will invented a game of nerf baseball, smacking a soft round orb around with a padded bat, yelling, chasing each other, occasionally tackling. For once, they didn’t even ask to play computer games or video games. They knew they needed fresh air and sun.

The cows and sheep bravely crossed the flooded pasture to make their way to a dry hillside, and the floodwaters started receding. The kids admitted it was kind of exciting to have to trek along a trail through the woods to get to our car, which we’d moved to a cul-de-sac that backs onto our property just before the driveway became impassable.

So Julianna Baggott writing in the Globe is right; kids don’t play spontaneously outdoors the way they did in past generations. But once in a while, when the mood and the weather are right, a more primal instinct takes over and they give up all their usual distractions to bike or run and just be outside. My kids were like that today on what felt like the kickoff to spring, and it made me hope we have a lot more afternoons like that in the oncoming season, and that we still appreciate the warmth of the spring sun even when the floodwaters are just photos.

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