I was young once.
I was probably even small once, although that’s a lot harder to believe.
I grew up with an older sister and a younger brother. I don’t remember a time when they were not a part of my childhood. We didn’t have a television in our house for years, from the time I was barely old enough to know what one was until I was in high school.
We managed to find ways to entertain ourselves.
I’m sure we weren’t the first nor only children to make up their own games and activities. I’m certain we weren’t the first children adults looked at and shook their heads over.
One of the earliest games I can remember was not really a game, more of an exercise in altered perceptions. We found great joy in lying on the couch and hanging our heads over the edge upside-down and look at how the living room floor was suddenly the ceiling. This engaged us for hours (probably minutes) wondering how we’d walk around and avoid colliding with the light, and what would happen to us if we suddenly reversed along with the ceiling and fell up.
Altering perceptions, to some extent, factored into another game we would play once we were somewhat older. We called it “Helicopter”. With a large living room, we would stand in the center with our arms out and spin until we fell down, then watch while the room seemingly continued to spin around this. We’d marvel at how we spun faster with our hands at our sides but how our arms tried to rise up on their own, laughing and moaning when eventually the floor “fell up” to meet us.
Surprisingly, none of us ever vomited as a result, although there were a number of instances of bumped heads after colliding with a wall or furniture. Or each other.
We gave ourselves many opportunities to throw up. We also found great joy in lying down at the top of a hill and rolling down uncontrollably until the sky was spinning overhead even after we managed to roll to a stop. Of course we never stopped to see if there was anything in the way smaller than a tree or squishier than a leaf.
That would have taken all the fun out of it.
My brother and I used to play “The Car Game”. This one was simple and easy, providing a great deal of entertainment. We’d each lay on the couch with our heads at opposite ends (I guess I must have been smaller, because I barely fit on a couch alone these days!) and place our feet together. One of us would be the car, and one of us would be the driver, and our feet were the gas and brake pedals. The car would offer up a little resistance with his legs while the driver would press the gas or brake pedal and make car noises. Occasionally the car would get bored and crash, resulting in legs going everywhere.
Oh, the humanity.
As children, we were prone to throwing ourselves into harm’s mild way without a second thought, such as the time we decided to turn my brother’s crib (an ancient, iron, institutional monstrosity in my memory) into bunk beds by lifting my mattress on top of it. While we somehow succeeded in placing the mattress, we were unable to figure out a way to climb on top. Lucky thing, considering my brother was still in the crib.
Years later, we’d take my brother’s foam rubber mattress and use it to sled down the stairs.
Beds are dangerous. I don’t know why they’re even given to children.
Sledding is dangerous. One of my earliest memories of playing in the snow was sledding down the same tall hill we would roll down in the summer. I barely remember my own sled rides; what does stick out in my mind was when my mother sat my brother in a cardboard box and gave him a gentle push, which resulted in the box rushing at absurd speed down the hill. I can still easily picture the look of dumbstruck terror on my brother’s face as he looked back at us all the way down before finally gliding gracefully to a stop.
Danger and childhood (as well as parents’ gray hair) went hand-in-hand way back when. As an adult, I had an editor tell me that when he was a child, one of his gang’s favorite activities was playing hide-and-seek in the black smoke that billowed out from the exhaust pipes of the diesel busses that stopped in front of his house. As he was in his early 60s when he told me this, it seemingly didn’t do him any lasting harm, but I doubt parents today would feel fine allowing their own children to play the same game.
Some of the games were downright weird. (For everyone’s peace of mind, I won’t get into the game my brother came up with called “The Booger Test.”) And not all of our games were completely innocent. There was the time my sister and I decided to teach my 5-year-old brother about the birds and the bees.
Well, the birds at least.
Years ago, women’s pantyhose used to be sold in plastic eggs. My sister and I discovered one in my mother’s dresser, and dutifully called my brother over to show it to him (for what boundaries of privacy matter to a child?) Before showing to him, we solemnly explained that there was a great secret in our family, and it was now that he was finally old enough that we would tell him.
You see, we explained, trying hard not to laugh, he was not born like other children. No, we told him, he had been hatched. Whereupon we showed him the plastic egg, telling him that it was the shell of the egg from which he’d came, and that our mom had kept it as a keepsake for all these years.
With wide eyes, he simply nodded at us as he stared at the egg.
This story is occasionally still told at family gatherings. We think that my brother eventually figured out that he hadn’t been hatched but was brought into the world in the more conventional way, but who knows?
As we grew older and got along less well, these childhood games fell to the wayside of our paths to adulthood. These days, I feel far more fragile than I ever did as a child, and it’s hard enough for me to get up off of a couch, let alone flip myself and hang my head over the edge. And I haven’t been sledding since college.
But on occasion, I do spot a nice hill that would be perfect to roll down. And I’ll admit that one day, no matter what I have in my pockets that could get lost, I may finally succumb and allow myself one last horizontal descent, waiting for the sky to twist itself around me as I gather speed with wild abandonment.
I’ll be sure to call the paramedics first so that they can also be waiting for me and my inevitably broken body at the bottom of the hill.