Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"Summer Games--Red Light, Green Light"

            A game of “Red Light, Green Light” often began with only a few of us scrambling from driveway to “Light”. The call, “green light” accompanied with the varied pause and then the shouted, “red light!” acted like the siren’s call, luring kids from throughout the neighborhood to dash with breakneck speed at the target. It never took long for the game to disintegrate into an endless argument on who got caught in movement by the “Light.” Before chaos descended, the game morphed into “Freeze Tag” or “Statues.” Both games shifted tension into uncontrollable bursts of laughter as bodies and faces contorted into hilarious positions.
            I loved “Statues” because one of the older boys would grab my wrists and spin me mercilessly. The world blurred into the muted colors of dusk as I tried to focus on something. Upon release, I’d soar through the hot summer air, capture a pose in midflight, and freeze into position once I bounced to a halt. Everyone wanted their turn to spin and throw me because of my pixie body and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” good humor.
            As an adult, I’ve come to believe in the value of play. Not being on a team, coached and hemmed in by adults, but unfettered play within a diverse pack of kids that created its own hierarchy and rules. I didn’t get shuttled to and from structured soccer practices. I didn’t spend hours in lessons after school under more adult supervision. I know my mother listened to our games. I remember seeing her outline through the screen door when she snuck a peek at our antics. However, parental presence stayed in the background and the shadows through most of our evening play, emerging only when there was blood spilled or bones broken. All the fussing and fighting that came about as we struggled with pecking order? We accomplished this without adult input or supervision. This autonomy in play, I believe, is the greatest loss for the generations that followed my own.

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"Summer Games--Mother May I"

            By three o’clock each day, the temperature climbed to triple digits, bubbling the street and immobilizing all. Birds searched out bird baths, backyard ponds, or lazy sprinklers to find relief from summer’s relentless broil. In our neighborhood, the kids retreated into our home during the hottest part of the day. We pulled out worn decks of cards and played War or Concentration. Clue and Scrabble filled many hot afternoons. Sometimes, we stretched out limp and liquid on blankets under the sycamore out back, transistors tuned to KTSA, and Mom’s colorful Tupperware glasses topped with cherry Kool-Aid sitting within easy reach. The slightest whiff of a breeze tickled against our skin, carrying a hint of evening’s promised respite from our Texas humidity. Often the Wiggle Worm chased us madly around the yard, or we dared fate with the Slip-n-Slide. Everyone scattered by dinner time with pledges to regroup at seven after the temperature eased from boil to simmer.
            Early evenings found everyone back in our front yard, a melting pot of kids united for the purpose of enjoying evening entertainment. The eldest kids rock-paper-scissored to determine the first leader, and then preformed a second round to establish the game. When “Mother, May I?” rang out, I always danced with pleasure for this contest didn’t rely on physical prowess to win! My slight stature hindered me in many games we played, but in this activity I stood equal to my taller, brawnier, and older peers.
            All of us lined up at the edge of our driveway, facing the leader—“Mother,” who stood across the wide lawn in the palm tree’s shadow. One by one, “Mother” called a name and instructions in a sing-song, “Kelllll—leeeee, give me three giant steps!”
            The expected response in order to move forward? “Mother, may I?”
            Sometimes “Mother” granted the request. One by one the players edged closer with giant steps, scissor cuts, baby steps, or frog leaps. Sometimes, “Mother” denied movement, or kept changing the instructions in an effort to confuse us into forgetting our polite, “Mother, may I?” If you forgot the question, the penalty meant returning to the driveway and starting all over again. The goal, of course, was to reach “Mother” and take control of the game. I learned through the years to keep my movements exact, my voice small, and to creep slowly forward while others diverted “Mother’s” attention with heated debate or bold coup attempts.  Once I sidled close enough to “Mother” to take flight, I tagged my way to victory. Usually, we’d while away the early evening toiling at this game until nightfall provided the cover and coolness we needed for hide-n-seek.

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, June 15, 2015

"Summer Games--Crack the Whip"

            The line snakes across the front yard, slithering slowly at first. The leader picks up speed, tugging the line left, pulling suddenly to the right, wrapping quickly into a tight circle and then yanking forward at a full run. Little feet push to keep up the mad pace, fingers painfully vised hand-to-hand, fighting to stay clasped. A whip to the right and feet leave the ground, the last three in line somersaulting into a jumbled dog pile. The leader, powered by an adrenaline rush, darts now. She spins to the second in line, grasps with both of her hands, and twists. She uses her momentum to crack her whip one more time. The tail breaks off with explosive yelps as the leader laps the yard in victory.

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman