Call them lazy summer days if you want but I remember them as passionate, magical and busy.
The days when the whole block was our backyard. Children seemed to tumble in and out of each other’s houses on my block. And boy, did we have things to do.
Sprinklers to run under, pools to wade in, games to play, lemonade to sell and homes to build. Give us a cardboard box and stand back.
We built the coolest clubhouses ever. We threw our whole lives into the construction. Because we knew we would live there forever—or at least a week.
And then, the switch was thrown and the clubhouse was yesterday. It was left to fend against nature until we returned a week later under parental mandate to “Get rid of that soggy mess.”
This is not to say my childhood was better than that of my sons. Being a kid is never as smooth as we want to remember: There are always the emerging alliances, the neighborhood territories and the tears of defending your sister against your supposed best friends.
Still, what I want for my boys is for them to have that same summer playing passion. You don’t get that all-consuming physical and mental passion by beating another video game level. And you don’t get it when you stay indoors.
A recent study of kids from 1981 to 1997 found kids are spending less time outdoors, while it also found being outside actually helps a child develop observation skills, creativity and agility.
My boys have had their share of outdoor moments—beautiful summer nights catching fireflies, flashlight tag, a backyard clubhouse, gardening that turned into mud fights and playing board games on the porch by candlelight.
Was any of that passionate or just pleasant?
Then, the game came along.
When my older boy was 12, his older cousin told him about Assassins. My first reaction was, “This will not happen. This is too violent.” But as it was described to me, I realized this had passion potential all over it.
Assassins is just one big water fight, taking place everywhere and anywhere. Everyone gets a name, a secret target, and the order to shoot your target with a water pistol, out in the open. Once hit, you are out, or in the language of Assassins, dead. The shooter acquires the target of his target.
This continues until there is one victor.
Yes, it was wrapped in the violent language that 12-year-old boys too often embrace, but it was harmless. My husband and I spent time trying to talk my boy into another name for the game. But he was adamant. “No one will want to play a game called Summer Water Fun, Mom.”
And he had already proposed it to friends in his sixth-grade class. They were thrilled. Kids wanted in.
Before it got further than talk, I approached the school’s principal.
The principal said, as she should, she would never condone anything so violent. But, on the side, she said, “It sounds like fun. I love that they are taking this so seriously.”
And as one mother put it, “There was magic in the air.” The kids were plotting. There was intrigue. And the summer held promise.
But the game was never afoot.
One parent, who saw my son’s flier, called me. Don’t you love when parents, claiming to be creating a less violent and better world for their children, choose to assault you with words? Boy, did he yell. He had points and worries that I certainly understood, such as: How could we allow our children to talk of violence and death? Why weren’t we teaching children violence was wrong?
Good points. Lost a bit amidst his top-of-the-lungs volume and his threats as in: He would call the police, write letters to the local papers and call a town meeting. A pastor’s husband, he told me the full force of his wife’s church would go against us.
His threats didn’t bother me. And while my first instinct was to fight back, I remembered an old saying, “Never get in a fight with a pig. You’ll both get dirty and the pig will be happy.”
An extended water fight is one thing, dragging children through a drawn-out public battle is another. The children were vulnerable—particularly my son and this man’s son, who would have been painted as the spoiler by the other children.
So, we took what to me seemed the only course—we called off the game. Still, it never left us.
And this summer, my boy decided to try again.
Four years later, the game is now called Summer Water Fun. And while all the 16-year-old participants in the game appear more like adults than kids, it proves only that looks are deceiving.
These budding adults are playing their hearts out and my younger boy and his friends are living through it. There are plans, meetings, a Web site and magic.
The morning the game kicked off, I was sent out first to make sure the coast was clear before my big, hulking, dear giant of a boy ran out, did a 360-degree turn and dove into the car.
And while Matt won the first round, my favorite moment came from Lucas, who called at 7:15 a.m. trapped inside the 7-Eleven. “I just need to know, are super-soakers OK to use?” Diving for the front seat of his dad’s car, Lucas was taken out.
Another round of the game is being organized and somehow, magic and passion is in the air.