Essay | Childish Things

All memories fade over time, but the ones from my childhood that seem to be best preserved are those of the games we played.

They were always these simple things we did to pass the time while we were growing up. Digging holes, for example, was a daily source of fun. There was this little spot of dirt in front of our small house, where grass didn't grow, that my sister, my cousins & I would take a small shovel and, well, dig. The point? I'm not really sure. I think maybe we were trying to pretend we were at the beach and making sand castles. I remember turning cups of dirt upside down on bricks. Maybe that was our way of dealing with the fact that we never go to the beach, the way other kids would throw confetti in the air and pretend it was snowing.

When I still lived in the same house as my Lola & uncles, my sister and I played with my two cousins down the street with similarly makeshift versions of actual games. We had no basketball court or, even, a basketball. Instead, we used a rusty shopping cart and a volleyball in the backyard, where there was no pavement to even dribble. It fulfilled it's only purpose, which was to keep us busy for one afternoon.

Our indoor games were weirder. We continuously invented a handful of different paper games, with all kinds of rules and premises. There was a mailman game, where the entire point was to pick a room (Uncle's room! Laundry room! Bathroom!) and pretend that it's your house. Then we would write letters to each other, and one of us would be a "mailman" that delivered the letters to everybody. That game didn't end, not really. It was one of those games that kids enjoy because it's an imitation of adult responsibility. I think we just kept writing each other fake letters until we got bored.

A simpler, faster paper game was named simply, "the note game." Here's how it worked: you take some paper, rip it up, and then write something on each small piece. Then you sit in a circle and pass it around and everyone stops when the leader says so, like pop goes the weasel. Now, with your randomized assigned note, you unfold it and read it aloud. It was always something embarrassing and designed to make the reader feel bad. The notes were full of ingenious phrases like "Tracy is a spit-butt!" or "Ate smells like poop!" The goal was to outdo each other in hilarity and get bigger laughs.

We didn't really play this game with any other kids.

Eventually, my little cousin was born. This introduced a whole new element of play for us. Not only did it provide us with new tools for invention (her toy plastic golf clubs, for example, became the main equipment in the sport we invented called "Domingo"), but we also learned the joys of lying to children.

Besides excluding her from our "big kid games", we would also invent games with no rules to play with her. The rules were improvised, divided into two teams (us vs. her), and we would win every time, even in the next round when all the rules changed. I am sure these teases during her formative years left no lasting impact on her as a person.

Now we're grown up, and with what little time we have is spent on our laptops or our parties or our six-hundred-dollar video game systems. My little cousin's growing up too, yet her time is spent on her Nintendo DS and her computer. I wonder sometimes if that's weird, because we never needed any of this stuff, or if I'm just hating young whippersnappers and looking back "in my day."

I know every generation looks to the next one in despair, that their old ways are being forgotten and that the new one isn't learning the important lessons they learned. So I know that even though it's weird that I see kids these days getting cell phones and a MySpace page in the 3rd grade, I have to believe things will turn out normal and they'll all be well adjusted 19-year-olds, just like my generation turned out. Unless we're irrepairably fucked up and don't know it.

Still, it saddens me just a little bit that most kids don't know the joys of digging a hole and then filling it up again.