Sunday, May 16, 2010

Put the Stick Down, Andrew

Yesterday, Bill and I went to the University of Chicago campus to see our son-in-law Gary race his bike in a criterium. The course of the race revolved around the midway, a road that was designed around a park-like area. It was a great race to observe because you could see the entire race from any point in the middle of the park. There were cyclists of all shapes, sizes, and ages warming up, hanging out, and adults and children cheering on their favorite teams and riders.

There were a lot of kids of varying ages playing in the midway park area. There was no playground equipment or other prescribed activities, just grass to play on and I didn't see one kid look bored at all.

I did take notice of one mother, standing on the side. "Put the stick down, Andrew," she shouted from the sideline. I noticed a small boy of about five or six, hauling around a rather large branch, just playing and imagining. He dropped it, but soon was drawn back to its wonder. "Put the stick down, Andrew," she commanded again rather loudly, "or you will owe me money." He looked quizzically at his mom. "I don't have any money," he said. "Then you better not touch it again." There was no one around the small boy. He was not using it as an assault weapon against other children. It was so big, he could not have tried. He was playing, and off trekking in the wilderness of his imagination, a soldier, a pirate, the captain of a sea-going vessel.

When the races were over and people were packing up, I heard the mother again, this time boasting, "Well, Andrew owes me a dollar." She had won. She was in control of her son, after all. He indeed had put the stick down, the large limb of a fallen tree. I guess he found something more acceptable to do in the eyes of his mother. And a little bit of the wonder of his childhood had vanished. Perish the thought that he would have gotten his shoes dirty.

There is a field of imagination to the side of our house where the developer has not built yet. I am hoping that it will be a long, long time before anyone wants to build there. This afternoon, there was a couple of kids trying to catch butterflies with what looked like a pool strainer. I have seen throughout the winter a teenage girl playing with her dog, dancing in the snow. I heard laughter in the middle of a harsh winter afternoon when three boys sledded on the hill for hours.

If I have perfectly obedient children, but they have not fun, then I am only a tyrant. (paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13.1) Let them play, let them get dirty, let them imagine. They will be adults all too soon.

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