Summer Days of Chicken Combo
September 23, 2009
The first day of fall is upon us, which means leaf raking, sweater wearing, football watching, and playoff baseball. While I consider these next couple months to be my favorites, the essence of the word “melancholy” can be felt in simply watching the passing of summer: expired pool passes, fewer trips to Dairy Queen, sprinklers put away for the season, and the ominous sunset creeping into our lives earlier each day.
For me, the most dispiriting change as summer departs is seeing the end of my children’s creative side borne out of boredom. Sure, school fosters creativity in its own way through projects, class collaboration, and making faces with dry macaroni noodles and glue, but nothing can replace a child’s imagination on a boring summer afternoon.
With nothing for my children to do but play on our swingset for an hour before dinner, I have been privy to creations beyond my imagination. Among them is a “game” called Chicken Combo. Origin of name unknown, it involves a slide, a jump rope, at least three kids, plenty of climbing, and various shouts of “Chicken Combo!!” Oddly enough, there are no chickens; no combos - just unbridled childhood fun.
My son has tried teaching me the intricacies of an indoor game known as Bollyball. As you’d suspect, no ball is used. The balloon is the main character, and points are awarded to my son any time he hits it (double points for a “spinny spin”) while I lose points for hitting the balloon too high, too hard, too anything. In the end, son defeats father and everyone is happy.
Many games are impervious to time as each generation plays them without need of an instruction booklet. I’m talking about classics such as Store, Restaurant, Hot Lava, Baby, Dress Up, and my all time favorite, Fort. Today’s kids are adding to the list with new games like Texting and Phone thanks to the bevy of old cell phones lying around everyone’s houses.
I had my own games as a kid, and while I lacked the creativity of my children, my imagination was just as vivid. Virtually every afternoon I played something my friend and I simply called “The Game” (I told you my creativity hadn’t peaked yet). It was nothing more than two of us throwing a baseball back and forth simulating an entire 9-inning baseball game, but it never got old. When left to one’s imagination, every game can be decided in the last out. Home runs, double plays, and amazing catches - all without needing a bat or a baseball field! Maybe that’s why my hitting was never up to snuff, but I wouldn’t trade childhood imagination for all the skills in the world.
These days, children seem to be returning to school earlier than ever. My kids started class with 13 days left in August this year – THIRTEEN!! Summer vacation began a week into June, so they were left with just over two months of school-free bliss. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge proponent of school and education. Just last night I woke my daughter up to quiz her on three math problems she did incorrectly. At some point, though, even kids deserve a break.
What I can’t understand is the push for year-round schooling. Have these people never been children themselves? I know that boredom can also lead to trouble, but life is fleeting and filled with decades of work and stress. The least we can do is allow our kids a few months of worry free living. Their imagination requires it. Prince wrote a song titled “Starfish and Coffee” many years ago. Among the lyrics are “If you set your mind free baby, maybe you’d understand.” If we all slow down and take a listen, maybe we can figure out that Chicken Combo game yet.