Janet Sheridan: Children and the games they play

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Janet Sheridan

As a grandparent, I’ve laughed, moaned, and cheered while watching soccer, T-ball, softball, basketball, volleyball, track events, and swim meets.

I’ve been indignant, amused, ecstatic, nervous, resigned, and bored out of my mind.

I’ve sweated sunscreen off my face, struggled to stay upright in unrelenting gales, huddled under blankets to ward off humid cold, and run away from lightning with a toddler under each arm, all so I could reassure my grandchildren that I saw their hit, score, or outstanding play at third.

Along the way, I’ve stored up vivid memories: Lucy as a senior digging a volleyball off the court and returning it during championship play; Sophia with a baton and a determined look out-running older girls; Sally managing to stay in her own lane at a swim meet — most of the time; and Harrison kicking a soccer ball that, much like Old Faithful, regularly went straight up in the air and straight back down.

But my best memory of grandchildren at play is watching their impromptu kickball game on a Sunday afternoon on an Illinois day of daffodils and sunshine.

They used their cast-off jackets as bases and enforced their few rules haphazardly, depending on the age of the player: Young ones kicked until they connected; older ones changed positions and sides at will.

Thorough discussions conducted with loud voices and vigorous gestures resolved disputes, and play continued. Everybody laughed, and the jeers were gentle.

In other words, they were children playing together outside and having fun on their own.

Do you remember free-spirited play organized by you and your friends or cousins?

Games that frequently lasted until bedtime?

Games played without uniforms, spectators, officials, or coaches?

Games participated in for fun, not parental approval?

I do, and many of the memories revolve around my oldest brother, Lawrence.

Laughter followed Lawrence.

Not because he was a comedian, but because he brought a sense of fun to the rest of us, manipulating his gullible siblings into outlandish situations and teasing us in ways we enjoyed.

One summer afternoon, he assembled four of us — Carolyn, Bob, Barbara and me — on our spacious, scruffy front lawn.

We came running, deserting less interesting pursuits, when we heard him yell, “Get out here, you no-account kids.”

With great drama and suspense, he explained the rules to a unique baseball game he created.

He would undoubtedly win, and we would enjoy. Barbara and I, the youngest, were to serve as officials while Lawrence pitched to Bob and Carolyn.

He bragged he would strike them out every time and coaxed them to bet huge sums of money they didn’t possess against his ability to do so.

As, in turn, they assumed the batting stance they learned from him, his strategy became clear.

He threw high balls, wide balls, inside balls, bouncing balls: pitches they couldn’t possibly reach.

After each outrageous toss, Lawrence asked 6-year-old me to make the call: ball or strike.

He had whispered to me before his first throw that a strike was a good thing and a ball was not, but I had no idea how to distinguish the two.

So, he helped me.

Ignoring Bob’s shrieked laments and Carolyn’s fierce protests, he kindly explained what I saw until it became clear to me that this pitch, like all the others, was a strike.

When Bob and Carolyn threatened to quit if he continued to cheat, Lawrence agreed to seek a second opinion from Barbara, age 2.

He solemnly approached her, nodding his head up and way down, over and over, as he asked, “It was a strike, wasn’t it?”

Barbara, wearing a diaper and dirt, interrupted her pursuit of ants to consider the matter.

Then, slowly and gravely, a miniature Buddha, she duplicated his exaggerated nods.

The cuteness of her actions caused triumphant cackles from Lawrence, uproars of indignation interspersed with giggles from the batters, and vindicated relief from me.

The game continued.

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