Sometimes I feel like I grew up on another planet, especially when I read about something like the Dangerous Book for Boys.
I don’t get the title–first off, marbles aren’t dangerous. What’s dangerous is playing war by tearing up weeds by the roots in a vacant lot and winging them at each other as grenades. Especially if, as my uncle suggested to me, you press a good rock into the dirt around the roots, to give it that extra oomph. Second, the book doesn’t make much sense to me because I grew up in a house where the girls knew at least as much about tying knots and fixing cars and playing sports as the boys did. If I wanted to learn any of these things, I could ask my sisters or my brothers–or Mom or Dad.
We didn’t know how to play marbles or stickball–that was Mom’s generation–but damned if we didn’t play wiffle ball, four square, seven up, red light/green light, and any number of other unorganized games. You might think that with six kids, I always had someone to play with, but we all had different interests, as we do now, so I was often playing with neighbors or friends from around the neighborhood.
This was, in no small part because I wasn’t allowed to watch TV during the day, and our parents didn’t get videogames for us, even when they were available. Sure, we did eventually get an Atari, but our interest waned pretty fast since we only had a few cartridges, so it was back out to the street, where if we were bored with all the games that we knew, we’d just make something up. Of course, technology did come to the street from time to time, like when I got a Green Machine. As I recall, Green Machines came out when I was a few pounds too big for them, but I was determined to get one, having never gotten a Big Wheel, like all the other cool kids.
So I did my best impression of the youngest child, complete with incessant whining (pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease!), empty promises (I’ll keep my room clean until I’m, like, 100), and lists of benefits (it’s fast, it’s green, it’s cool). As soon as I got it, I let all the other kids ride it around for awhile, until they tired of it. Magnanimous? No, pragmatic–I knew that once they were done, it was all mine. I tore up and down our cul de sac, tugging and pushing on the levers to pitch myself into high speed turns, until I finally felt like it was time to test out the Green Machine’s killer app: skids.
I took it all the way to the open end of our cul de sac and launched myself, pedals flying furiously, toward the circle at the other end of our street, where I would throw the levers as hard as I could in opposite directions, spinning me into a glorious, fast, dangerous, and loud skid. I knew it would work because I had seen it on TV, and TV never lies.
The thing is, physics is a subtle and tricky science. As well as a dangerous one.
This was my realization somewhere between being launched off the Green Machine midskid and scraping on my right side along the asphalt for several feet. I do have to give Mom credit where it’s due. When I limped into the house, picking small stones out of my arm and leg, she looked at me and said, “Oh, that looks like it hurts. So, was it fun?”
Of course it was fun. As was playing hide and seek, war, tag, football, or other random activities like climbing in trees–even the one I fell out of, opening a six-stitch gash in my chin, giving myself a concussion, and biting off a piece of my tongue in the process. And that’s why I plan to teach 3B all of these games–or at least let him discover them himself.
But it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s a boy. It has to do with my complete ineptitude at videogames and the fact that those are the only games I know for kids. I’d teach the same games to a girl if we had one. But the reality is that if 3B–or a daughter, if we have one–wants to learn fun things like tying knots and changing a tire he’d likely be better off learning them from one of my sisters, or Mom, if she were still alive.
I recall Mom telling me about changing a tire on her station wagon alongside a highway on one trip when she was well into her 60s. “Mom, you have AAA. Why didn’t you just call them?” (Funny how roles reverse later in life, right?) Her reply: “Oh, they take too long to get there, and I should know how to do it anyway. It’s not that hard. Wouldn’t you change your own tire?” I sputtered, “Yes, but . . . never mind.”
But my family lives all the way over on the Left Coast, so visits are short and infrequent. But, I’m still all for our kids knowing essential skills that they can use when caring for their elderly parents, like baking a flaky pie crust, driving a manual transmission car (so they won’t ruin the Aston Martin they buy me when they take me to the home), and the basics of sewing and seaming, which is why I’m all for Moxie writing her proposed book.