Kids at Play – A Christmas Miracle?

Capture the Flag on a street in Berkeley, CA on Christmas Eve!

The car slowed to a near halt and the driver rolled down his window. This looked ominous. He had just had to negotiate a gang of neighborhood kids who had taken over the street and he wanted to speak to me. “I don’t know,” he said, “you just can’t speed anywhere anymore.” He was smiling.It was Christmas Eve and an hour before my sons had been moping about wondering what to do because they were on a “screen break”. (Nobody with children in the 7-17 age range needs me to explain what that is.) I suggested they organize a neighborhood game of Capture the Flag. “Oh mom, that’s so babyish,” exclaimed the 12-year-old. “None of my friends want to do that.”

His 9-year-old brother thought it was a grand idea, however. He rounded up a couple of local friends on the phone and they ran down the street knocking on doors. Within minutes the game was on – the street’s two yellow “kids at play” men were in position and the perfect props had been found in dad’s soccer referee flags and some sidewalk chalk.

And, thankfully, it wasn’t just the one driver passing through who looked on benevolently – everybody slowed down and seemed to appreciate the kids’ prerogative to play outside. One even looked sheepish and shouted “sorry” to me as she put a brief stop to the game while driving by.

Needless to say my pre-teen was soon immersed in the game and several parents looked on with pleasure. There’s not much else that gives 21st-century parents that glow of happiness than watching their kids behave like 19th-century children. (Or even mid-20th century children. Let’s just say pre-TV children.)

A couple of the adults eagerly volunteered to stand in for kids who had to be scooped off to archery class or needed a bathroom break. One father couldn’t resist offering strategic tips, periodically shouting out instructions to the kids (who largely ignored him). Another case of parental over-involvement? Perhaps, but when I asked him what the rules of the game were, he responded: “I have no idea!”

What was certain was that the children were having a ball — strangely you just don’t see that sort of exhilaration on the faces of kids playing “Mario Kart Doubledash” — and their parents were thrilled.

Now I can only hope that this type of spontaneous event will be repeated — and regularly. For it’s clear to me that my family lives in a near perfect “playborhood” and it would be bordering on the tragic if we didn’t take advantage of that fact to the full.

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