Tuesday, March 2, 2021

In My Backyard

 


The other day as I was waiting for the release of classes, I observed several young boys playing together on the playground. Sitting there, my mind was teleported back to a place in time that I remember the neighborhood kids playing together in my back yard.

 photo by Joao Rafael
I was raised in a certain part of the city, closest to the river and therefore our back yard was not exactly flat, grassy, and without thorns. Regardless of what small obstacles we faced, we always found a way to make things fun and enjoyable. We would pretend my back yard was a fortress and castle we had to defend against the bad guys. It was an army war zone where children would find the perfect shaped stick to become our Luger pistol or machine gun with which to annihilate the enemy. There were about 12 kids playing and so we had a come up with two teams to portray the bad guys and the good guys, then after a while, we would switch sides. It was no big deal to disagree as to which side one would play or who died with the make-believe bullets because when someone told you, “bang you’re dead”, you knew you were down until the next match started. All fun with no seriousness but a lot of laughter, and no one ever verbalized that it was a silly game that was not real. It was real as could be for a moment in time, as we transformed into a certain well-liked character.

Moms knew when it was time to come home!

Then like most parents did back then, we would hear someone’s mom call out loud that it was time to come wash up as it was getting close to dinner time and the oh so dreaded bath time. Well maybe it just applied to me because my bath would be to do a quick one under the outdoor water hose with a bar of soap that was perpetually there to use, and when finished I would let my mom know to bring me some dry clothes. She was very close by as the kitchen was right inside the door I would enter through.  Immediately, I would smell the aroma of fresh corn bread, beans, and tortillas.  All fresh and all from scratch. We didn’t have enough money to buy food in cans or packages, but it was all delicious.  Since all of us were poor, no one knew much about alternative choices. We didn’t know any difference, so we didn’t feel like we lost anything.

In today’s world, kids playing has changed from mostly outdoors to mostly indoors. From learning about bugs and spiders, to learning about apps and online entertainment. From active soldiers to inactive “couch potatoes” in a world that seems to have lost a sense of life and all that the outdoors has to offer. Not saying that learning electronics is bad, it just seems to me that the rough and tough has been taken out of games for boys and the damsel in distress is now actually not in distress any longer but is more so uncharacterized.  Gender identity has been lost and a neutral perspective of one other gained. Talking, laughing out loud, and tackling the enemy has been replaced by inanimate keystrokes. This isn’t teaching, engaging and enjoying the company of others. This is replacing people with machines. Things that cannot love back, will never prepare us or touch us, or cry with us or around us. They don’t step on prickly burrs and ask for help to take the stickers out; there is no gratitude nor the sharing of a rarely acquired candy bar. Only a button push to turn it on or turn it off. 

This isn’t kids living out their imaginations, nor is it emotionally healthy. In fact, maybe it’s no life at all. Our young men seem to have shelved their honor, their word, and all the things that forge character so that now they have no idea what being a man is supposed to be like. In all fairness though, it’s not like one day they knew these things and woke up one morning and decided “I am going to shed my honor and what my word means.” In fact, in my time, boys spoke truth, not as compared to a lie, but to verbalize something they liked or not, what came out of our mouths was pretty black and white. I mean we weren’t like angels or demons, and I’m not saying we didn’t ever lie but when  put in a child’s world, it was a little white fib. The point being that this generation of young men are only living out what they know and were taught No more and no less. Keep in mind that this is the world they operate out of.

Like I said, electronics are good and helpful when needed and we all should learn how to take advantage of them. What I would encourage in addition to, is the use of a back yard, the local empty lot, or even a local playground. Let kids play in their own version of their heroes, their knights, and yes if they want to be clowns, then let them. I miss my back yard; I mean really miss it. Not for the rough and shoddy ground it was but for the things I learned instinctively: there were no black kids, no white kids, and certainly no Hispanic kids because I learned we all laughed the same, liked the same things, and we did not see any difference in our skin color.  When we split up into teams, we were only separated by the shirts from the skins. No color, no preferences, no exclusions…just kids playing together in my back yard.