Chicken Poop and Pirates

Barn - Close Up

Chicken poop and pirates. That’s what this old barn was full of.  The chicken poop was real; the pirates were pure imagination as were endless games my brothers, sister, and I created in our neighbor’s barn.  We played Hide ‘n’ Seek (our own “bad guys” version) behind towers of forgotten hay bales.  We fought for territory on the top of those straw towers in ferocious battles of King of the Mountain.  We picked through dusty buckets of doorknobs, fishing gear, and horse tack, wondering if we might discover a special use for all this neglected, awesome stuff.  Most awesome of all, was the day we found a litter of kittens.  Wild and cute as could be, they were the one thing my neighbor showed no hesitation in giving us, something my mom and dad never quite forgave him for.

This childhood “playground” came to mind during a recent week when I saw three different moms cajoled by their offspring (one of them a toddler) into giving up their cell phones so that the kids could keep themselves entertained.  “I’m bored,” they all whined. Not every of these three mom’s gave in, nor is it necessarily bad to let kids play video games, but the situations made me wonder – what playgrounds and imaginative games fill a child’s life today?

The barn was only one place of wonder in my childhood. The fence in our backyard transformed into a sprawling highway; the wood planks on the top were just the right width for our Hot Wheels.   The garden, in early spring, looked like a cemetery about to happen from all the crater sized holes we dug.  My big brother expedited for worms, while the rest of us tried to trick one another with booby traps.  Only my mother ever managed to actually fall into one of them.  (Boy was she mad!)

We were CIA spies.  From the corner of our yard, we listened in on as one set of neighbors robustly argued about things that didn’t make sense to us.  From my bedroom, we watched our other neighbor’s TV through the window, making up our own dialogue for the pictures we saw on the screen.  They must have caught on though, because every Sunday night, just when Bonanza was getting started, the blind soundly closed. Bummer!

We rode bikes and played in the park.  One of my grandmother’s friends let my sister and me build a fort on the lot across from her house. It was so cool, because a trickle of a creek ran next to it, and we could spy on my grandma from there.  We picked carrots from the garden, washed them with the garden hose and devoured them as if candy. In the winter, we rallied the neighborhood and threw snowballs at each other from the tops of forts left behind by snowplows.

Only a snippet of my childhood games, they might seem an unfair comparison of the playtime of children today.  After all, I grew up in a small town and in a time believed now to be safer than today. (Although, in the days of Ted Bundy and beginning of the drug dealing era, no one was really safe.)  Roaming on bikes or playing in a big barn isn’t an option for many kids today, especially in the cities, but this still doesn’t mean video games and TV should be the only options.

And I’m sure they are not.  Hopefully, every kid finds their home, whether an apartment or a 3,000 foot spread, a place full of wonder.  I think of my friend E.  She and her husband are raising three children in the confines of a 3 bedroom condo.  They are committed to staying within their budget.   How I admire that commitment and how marvelous to watch how invested they are in their children.  Their tiny home is a wonderland of crayons, legos, Star Wars toys, dolls, sewing projects, laughter and closeness.  Now, that’s the stuff that childhood and well-adjusted adults are made of.

I imagine the single whiff of a crayon or play dough will send E.’s  kids back to warm memories. It’s my hope that my own kids will think past episodes of Barney and Full House to times of dress up and building castles out of paper bags.  Or to times of playing restaurant and charging us to eat the meal that I had prepared. Or to the several weeks in which a giant cardboard box served as a make believe car.  Or to a house full of kittens, gold fish, and guinea pigs.  Probably, way too much TV time was in the mix as well, but as my girls are now adults, and I watch them tackle craft projects and experiment with cooking and just plain enjoy life and people, I’m thinking that those hours of play are paying off.

In stark contrast to these kinds of childhood memories, I think of Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Pedestrian”.  You can google and find it on line.  It’s eerie to me that the a story penned in 1951, so nearly describes the world we engage in, in 2013.  I wonder if you are as chilled as I am to read of Bradbury’s world in which all the people (except one deviant) are lulled to passivity by their television screens? Maybe we think we keep our kids safe and happy by parking them in front of a TV or computer screen, but I think that the more we engage merely with electronic gadgets,  the less compassionate and vested we are in real life and real people.  Could this be getting close to the root cause of many of our current social ills?

What are your thoughts?  And by all means, share your favorite childhood past-times or those of your kids.  Most of all … play on!

at play



Random Thoughts About Stopping Evil

It’s been a rough week for America.  After the Boston Marathon Bombing, one thing resonates through most of our discussions: how can we stop something like this from happening again?  In American-speak that usually translates into “What can we regulate now?”

So, I ask the question: What would we regulate?  Pot smoking? (I wish we would – I live in Washington State if you are thinking, “But it already is”).  Religion? (Many are trying.)  Back packs in public? How about boxing? Pursuing a college education? Pressure cookers?

I’m not trying to make light of the situation. It’s just that  I wonder at the American answer to everything which so often boils down to “Let’s make a new law.”  Somehow we convince ourselves that another law on the books means that we are a safer people; that evil can’t touch us now. I’m all for laws, but when you are a society with a world view that has morphed into Moral Relativism rather than Moral Absolutes, there will never be enough laws.

We compound the problem by adhering to a mantra of “diversity and tolerance” that ends up meaning anything but tolerance.  We work so hard to make sure that everyone and every idea is accepted, but then try to regulate anything that seems potentially harmful.  How confusing is that? Especially when we foolishly believe that right and wrong is in the eye of the beholder.

We’ve become a nation which believes in everything, which means we believe in nothing.  This should sound familiar to those who watched Life of PiWhat a profound truth was spoken when Pi’s doubting father admonishes, “Believing in everything at the same time is the same thing as believing nothing at all.”  What a sadly, apt description of America right now. And what a challenge we’ve created for ourselves in having to face the evils that many insist don’t exist.

What makes a society work best, then?  I think back to an idea practiced in America at its beginning and tagged as the “Principle of Self-Government”  by two elderly ladies who penned their thought-provoking Red Books.  This one of their seven principles occurs to me over and over and is something I try to drive home to my students. Here’s how I paraphrase it:

Take responsibility for your own life and actions.  Care about others.  Then take responsibility for your family.  Care about them.  Be a responsible local citizen.  Care about others.  Give back.  Care about others. Do this and you will find yourself a trusted and reliable citizen who helps make a positive difference in the world.

The thing that struck me most in Verna Hall and Rosalie Slater’s Principle Approach is what happens when people refuse to take responsibility for themselves and their families.  Other people have to step in.  The man who won’t mow his lawn and allows noxious weeds to take over, becomes subject to the neighbors who are eventually forced to create a regulation that forces him to do so or he faces reprimand of some kind.  At this point his personal choice are infringing on others … this equals a lack of responsibility.

Don’t we see this everywhere?  The more entitled people become, the more their undisciplined kids, rude behavior, slothful work habits , etc. affect others. That’s why we keep making laws; individuals refuse to act responsibly.

Thankfully, not everyone in our country lacks an attitude of personal responsibility.  How poignantly this was proved by heroic people in Boston, who ran toward the bombs – toward danger – toward evil, instantly ready to help and care for others.  That, to me, is what being an American is about.

We must accept that there is evil in the world.  We must also realize that evil cares nothing about our entitlements or personal rights.  Evil is only defeated when citizens act as citizens; when we get out of our bubble of self-focus and contribute willingly to the society we are apart of, at every level, at all times. Thank you, Boston, for reminding us how it’s done.

Railroad Bridge

Dear Barb

Dear Barb, I’m sorry … I’m not even sure that is your name.  It’s been a long time ago that we stood in front of that abortion clinic.  I was in my early 20’s, eager, determined to change the world.  My friends and I had … Continue reading Dear Barb