Could a video game be the key to getting kids outside, roaming the neighborhoods in packs the way they used to?
It was a weekend morning. My husband and I were cleaning out closets while listening to the “West Wing Weekly” podcast and trying to gauge if we had done enough work to warrant a Starbucks break. (Try to contain your envy at our glamorous life.) Our kids were on a bike ride trying out their newly-acquired Pokémon GO game. We had just looked at the clock to see if it was time to check on them when my phone beeped, signaling the arrival of the following text message from our son:
“Hey mom we are still biking and having fun and being safe and we keep picking people up.”
Soon after, my kids burst into the house with a neighbor child in tow. My son’s face was alight as he informed me that they were biking over to another street to pick up more kids for Pokemon Go. No, they weren’t hungry. Yes, they would be back soon. I told him to be careful and watch out for the younger kids, then he raced out the door with a hurried “bye, Mom” thrown over his shoulder. Then I looked at my husband and asked, “What just happened?!”
Then we realized what was going on: our kids were experiencing a taste of the 1970s/1980s childhood.
You’ve probably read the recent blog articles about childhood in the 1970s and 1980s. If you believe the blogs, it was a time when kids roamed free, feeling the wind in our hair as we rode our bikes willy-nilly in the pre-helmet age while our moms sat around smoking and drinking Tab and gossiping, pausing only long enough to throw us a bag of Cheetos and tell us how to get a drink from the hose in the backyard. I experienced this childhood only partially, as my mom 1) did not smoke and 2) worked part-time as a nurse, so my afternoons were mostly spent watching my two sisters and cursing the ill luck that placed me first in my family birth order. But that’s another story.
Now, our kids were outdoors on their bikes, running into other kids, traveling on their own steam and having the time of their lives. And yeah, they were checking in here and there, but mostly, they were sampling the freedom and independence we’d grown up with, just like those blog articles were all talking about!
Just after my husband and I enjoyed a lunch that was characterized by a peaceful and relaxed quality that bordered on surreal, the kids came back with a few more neighbor kids along for the ride. Suddenly, our front lawn was studded with bikes, our dog was barking wildly, and our house was overrun with kids. Kids running in, shucking helmets and sneakers and jamming our kitchen as they compared Pokemon progress and checked with their parents to see if they could stay for lunch. My husband asked if they were part of the “local goof troop.” They giggled the way kids have been giggling at dad-jokes since the beginning of time. Fantastic!
I herded them into our finished basement, and the kid-sounds floated upward: talking, playing on the keyboard and drums, just hanging out. Thank goodness for Peapod, there was food in the house! I called them upstairs and dished out lunch of boxed mac and cheese with a few odds and ends (as a 2016 mom, I had to include some actual sliced veggies, courtesy of my CSA). They ate, ravenous as young wolves who had spent the morning on the prowl.
Before they headed outside for the next round of play, the kids acknowledged my makeshift suburban hospitality with a chorus of “Thank you, Mrs. McDonough,” which really brought me back to my 1980s childhood (we would have died the death before calling any of our friends’ parents by their first names!)
Maybe 6 hours on bliss on bikes will tire my kids out enough for them to fall asleep by a 1970s/1980s bedtime. One can dream, right?