Saturday, September 3, 2011

game play.

Mom was a firm believer that children needed to have lots of time outdoors. When it came to things like schoolwork, meals, devotions and chores, she was more than understanding. More often than not, however, if there was any volume of conflict between siblings, any furniture jumping or even too much feet-kicking, it would immediately be "outside! Let's go. Everyone."
"Even Michael? Does Michael have to go outside? He's taking a nap."
"No, let your little brother sleep. I don't want you playing outside his window either."
This statement caused much chagrine and bemoaning amongst my two sisters, as the front porch from behind the railing to the front wall all along the whole front of our house was "their zone." Mutually agreed upon, us older brothers didn't often foray of our own volition into their territory. It was both fiercely protected and cluttered just enough with girl toys that there would be no justifiable reason to want to go there anyway. The few occasions when we were asked to clean up that section of the front yard was  responded to dramatically and on strong enough grounds ("it wasn't our mess Mom! The little girls played with all that stuff and left it out in the rain the other day") that usually the offending parties were given official (verbal) summons and made to appear before judge and self-appointed jury of sibling-peers.
"Outside!" was the command, and we slunk, slouched, dragged and argued our way outdoors.

It was by no stretch of the imagination cruel or unusual punishment -- in fact it was by stretching our imagination that it was no punishment at all.
"Okay, from speed bump to speed bump is limit."
"No way, that's too big of a field! Besides it's pavement and it'll hurt if you fall on it."
"I never fall."
"But I do!"
"No you don't. I've never seen you fall."
"Yes I do, I fall all the time. I fell last time."
"You did?"
"Yes, see? He did fall last time." The defense attorney lifted up the shorts-leg of the defendant and displayed confidently exhibit A: a small, pink mark where the scar tissue was healing.
"Oh, I didn't know that. Well let's play in Grandma Mattie's yard then."
"But Grandma Mattie said no more football in her yard, she doesn't like us getting hurt."
"Two things. Grandma Mattie is gone to the Philippines this week and we're not going to hurt."
"How do you know she's gone?"
"Her car isn't there." A smug finger pointed to the empty carport across the street, void of it's seemingly ever-present gold-colored Ford Taurus. If the car wasn't there then she had to be in the Philippines.
"Okay, fine."
A conciliatory win was just as good, if not better than a win on the "football field."

Why on the pavement or in Grandma Mattie's yard?
Our grass wasn't the kind of grass that looked or felt like real football grass. Besides. We had bricks in our yard. Bricks and fence posts. There was no way, no way we'd ever play football in a yard that had a sidewalk and a fence. It wouldn't work. We'd rather play basketball than football in our yard.

And so we played.
Five or twenty-five minutes into the game one of us older siblings would call "quarter" or "half" at the top of our lungs. Whichever we felt like. Inevitably this would be followed by much arguing as to how we were able to discern that our timing was appropriate, and like every pass, run and play, it entailed much arguing. Each game the number of timeouts was firmly agreed upon with much promising and threats of what would happen if they were taken advantage of or exceeded in usage, but always they ended up for all intents and purposes, limitless.
The score was always what everyone concurred it was. Between counting by sevens for touchdowns, adding four for each "field goal" which was next to impossible to ever achieve (how many ten year-olds do you know that can kick a football straight?), and losing track of what play we were on, it was almost unavoidable. The game would end each time with "next point wins" which definitely doesn't work in football where a team starts with possession of the ball and touchdowns are always scored in under five downs.

We broke every rule, lost track of time and spent our days playing as aggressively as we could until someone got hurt. Then we would erect new rules against such behaviors as could cause another person pain and use them as coercion tactics to convince the victims of the sports violence to rejoin the league.
The afternoon would get dusky, and sometimes, every once in a long while, if Mom didn't call us in for dinner because we had a babysitter (we're allowed to play outside as long as we want, our Mom says!) we would play until the sun fell deep enough behind the top of our valley that we couldn't see the ball as it flew haphazardly towards our faces.
Then one of the older kids on the winning team would "call the game" and the opposite team would negotiate a tie. We'd all shake hands, come inside and rampage through the kitchen as only a horde of small boys can, and see how many hours of "computer" time we could get in before we were evicted and relocated to our rooms.

"Are Dad and Mom at a business dinner?" we'd ask, chips and salsa overflowing on plates. The answer determined how late they would be out, and directly coincided with how much we could be able to get away with.
"You should go next door and get one of those big Pepsi's from your house" we'd suggest to the neighbor kids who sat next to us on the massive bench at our 8-foot long kitchen table.
"No, I might get in trouble." This didn't matter. We never had soda at our house because it wasn't good for us, but if someone else brought it, it was fine.
"Well you're eating our chips and salsa for dinner. You should go get your soda and bring it here."
"This isn't even my dinner. I'm going to go home and eat something after I leave here."
"But I thought you were going to stay and play Age of Empires with us?"
"Oh yeah, can I?"
"If you want to. Mom and Dad are at a business dinner. That means they'll be out late."
"Oh, then HECK yeah!"
"So then go over and get soda from your house and I'll let you play our game."

With our glasses full of ice cubes and dark carbonated beverage, we'd play. The two youngest boys would share a chair and the two older boys each got their own as we sat around the computer for as many hours as we thought we could get away with. There was no way to make four chairs fit, so it fell to seniority or who's turn it was to play. Those that weren't playing got up on their knees, put their elbows on the computer table and pointed and told the one who was playing exactly where he should go and what he should do in the game. He who was playing was free to disagree and do as he pleased, such was the triumph of having the mouse and keyboard in your hands.

"More sheep. Go over to the right and gather more sheep."
"I don't need them, I'm already getting berries."
"Okay then, your enemies will get them."
"I don't care."

"Build a Barracks, you don't have one."
"Yes I do, I built one over there --"
"No, that's an archery range, idiot."
"Hey, you're not allowed to say that to me."
"Yeah, don't say that to my brother. You're not allowed to say "idiot" at our house."
"I'm not? I thought I was."
"No, you're not."
"But it's not even a bad word!"
"In our house it is. Don't say idiot to anyone or else we get to punch you."
"Your Mom doesn't punch you if you say that though!"
"I know, but she's not here. So we have to take care of it because we can't talk like that no matter who's  here. So that includes me. And you're not my kid, so I can't spank you or make you wash your mouth out with soap, so I'll just have to punch you."
"It makes sense, but if you punched me I'd punch you back. Harder."
"Watch out, that's your enemy's scout!"
"No it's not, that's my ally's."
"What does ally mean?"
"It means friend, not enemy. The other team that's the good guys. You can trade with them and stuff."

An hour or so into our game play we'd be informed by our sweet, naive babysitter that "your parents called and they're on their way home."
Instantly all arguing and activity would cease, save for one of us who dove towards the keyboard to hit "Escape" and pause the game.
"Where did they say they were at?"
"They said they were just leaving downtown Honolulu, and they'd be home in about forty-five minutes.
Someone would save the game, someone else would jump up to clean the living room and our neighbors would escort themselves out the front door.
We'd brush our teeth, hop into bed and dim the lights just enough to keep reading and fake sleeping if necessary. The door would be left open a crack and all ears would listen raptly as parental units asked "how the night went."

"Oh, it went really well. They were well behaved. They played outside then came in and had dinner (whew, safe) and spent most of the night on the computer."
"Idiot!" an older sibling would whisper from the top bunk.
"You're not allowed to say that" came the whisper from below.

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