Play Dates

Like most Baby Boomers, from the time school let out at the beginning of summer until I trudged the seven blocks back to school after Labor Day with my shiny new school supplies and my book bag left over from the previous year or handed down from my sister, I played outside.

After a breakfast of Frosted Flakes with bananas on top (as a wink and a nod towards actual nutrition), I put on my pedal pushers and my sleeveless plaid blouse, considered – then rejected – my flip-flops (then called thongs), and ran outside barefoot to my back patio.

“Eee-ah-kee, Kathy,” I yelled at the top of my lungs. This was my way of contacting my best neighborhood friend and inviting her to come out and play.

“Eee-ah-kee,” she would respond, and be over at my house in a heartbeat.

I don’t know what eee-ah-kee means or from whence it originated. We are not American Indian. It just became our cry for fellowship. There was, by the way, no need to holler, as my childhood friend was just a quick scamper past our garage and through Mrs. Benda’s garden. But holler, we did.

And play, we did. Games that called for imagination. Riding our bikes. Playing tag. Spying on the neighbors to the south. Playing with our Barbie dolls. Writing and performing plays in front of our patient mothers and neighbors. Occasionally stopping for a glass of Kool-Aid that was toxically loaded with red dye. Taking a break for a salami sandwich and milk. Finishing up quickly as I heard in the distance, “Eee-ah-kee, Kris.”

More call to play.

Baby Boomers everywhere recall these days with joyful nostalgia. Metal playground equipment that was scalding to the touch which didn’t stop us from using them. Merry-go-rounds that you took turns pushing as hard as you could. Mostly we stayed on, but sometimes someone fell off and required Mercurochrome and a band-aid. See? It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. We actually hurt ourselves. We had scabs to prove it. Mercurochrome, by the way, was banned by the FDA in 1998. It’s a wonder we’re still alive.

I often see postings on social media from fellow Baby Boomers recalling these simpler days. I know that our kids are safer now than we were. I don’t purport that we return to the days of riding bikes without helmets. But still, I don’t see scores of Baby Boomers wearing head gear caused by falling off a merry-go-round.

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook a link to an article from the reputable publication Psychology Today. This article, written by a smartypants as indicated by the fact that he has a Ph.D., reports that rates of depression and anxiety among young people are on the rise, and have been for several decades. He goes on to say that this psychological phenomenon appears to have nothing to do with the idea that our world is inherently more dangerous. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II, and the ensuing years when we all thought we were going to be blasted to Kingdom Come by a nuclear bomb coming straight out of the Soviet Union, we were all still happy campers.

And the reason for the increase according to Dr. Peter Gray? Kids no longer have a sense of personal control over what is going to happen to them. The reason, he goes on to say, is that kids no longer play outside unwatched by any sort of parental figure. Instead, they have Play Dates. As a result, kids no longer solve their own problems. They don’t figure out how to fight their own battles. Instead, parents help their kids make decisions (when they’re not actually making the decisions for them). Parents are choosing their kids’ friends. Kids aren’t able to choose their own interests. Instead, they are put on soccer teams and into gymnastic classes. They must study, study, study because they have to get into the best schools and for heaven’s sake, they MUST go to college. As a result, they are spending more time than ever in school, and less time in free play with their friends.

I don’t know if Dr. Smartypants is right or not. My grandkids seem perfectly happy with their lives. But it does make me sort of sad that they haven’t the opportunity to experience summer in the same way that I did.

And, by the way, kids still drink red Kool-Aid, though I’m certain it’s made with safer coloring.

Here is a photo courtesy of a fellow grade school classmate who somehow had access to this permanent reminder of our youth. I am pretty sure I am the little girl with my back to the camera in the middle row, third from the right, uncharacteristically wearing my glasses. The top row features the women who served us every day at cafeteria. While they look wholly unpleasant (except for the woman on the far right who didn’t get the memo that she shouldn’t smile), I recall them actually being quite pleasant. Ah, sweet youth….

cafeteria line circa 1960 (2)


4 thoughts on “Play Dates

  1. I have such wonderful memories of running around in the summer.
    The picture transports me right back to school days and walking thru that line. I’m sure your head was turned because you were trying to decide if you wanted one kolache or two!

  2. I remember going to the first day of third grade with huge bandages on my knees and elbows – the cause was continually falling off my bike. Yet, despite the scrapes, pain and blood, I didn’t stop riding.
    And yes, we somehow managed not to get third degree burns from the playground equipment. No one babied us, if it was too hot then figure out how to pad it or don’t get on. Duh.

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