Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Real Life On A Slope

I grew up loving sports, especially of the team variety played on fields: baseball, football, soccer. I dug on that kind of level playing field competition, where everyone follows the same rules, everyone plays in the same weather, everyone deals with the same referees, and everyone, at the end of the game, win or lose, walks out on that field one more time, shakes hands and says "good game."

But a level playing field is rarely a condition in the rest of life, making the competition found there hardly worthy of the name. Life, rather, is made up of ever-changing inclines and declines, slopes steep, even treacherous, with no one ever standing at the same place. It's a lousy place for competition, what with everyone having their own starting lines, dealing with different angles and trajectories, and aiming at such divergent goals.

The playing field is never level and any flat place you find to stand is at best a transitory, if not entirely an illusory, thing. Every day requires every one of us to rise up in the morning and wrestle life back into shape, and it's so much better when all the other folks out there are working together in cooperation, rather than against one another in a rule-less competition. 

I've been watching children play on our long, hard concrete slope for over a year now. The games they play together are always ones of cooperation: dramatic play, turn-taking games, helping one another up and down with ropes and ladders. We love nothing more than to use our slope for rousing games of Caps for Sale.

I've come to marvel at the physical abilities we're developing as well. Most of our 2-year-olds ignore the slope, not able yet, or courageous enough to make the ascent, but by the time they're 4, all of them have mastered the slope, scampering up it's raspberry-making face, or climbing up around the backs of the lilacs, using the roots as stairs and the branches as handholds. I've watched older children teaching younger, showing them step by step the way to go. Many of them drop to the seat of their pants without a thought, skidding down to the bottom in a dust cloud, often carrying on a conversation as they go. Some days it's all some of them do, hang around on the ropes we've installed up there, helping one another up and down, talking, making up games that are just off the adult radar.

We are forever shouting, "Grab my rope!" or "I'll pull you up!" or "I need help!" most often coming from the mouths of children who can very well make it to the top or bottom on their own, but who have found they prefer relying on their friends.

It makes me happy that it's not a climber, but rather a real, unique place, one that requires the development of specialized physical skills, one that embodies some real risk, one that requires constant conversation, one where we not only have to take care of ourselves, but one another because space is limited, and the consequences of losing our cool too high to let petty grievances get in the way.

There is, of course, a time and a place for competition, out there on those artificially leveled playing fields, but not here in the midst of our real life on a slope where we need our friends for everything we do.

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1 comment:

evan said...

As the dad of young kids it's my cultural role to "level the playing field' for them and provide "all the advantages." But it's my contention that kids who don't know at all what adversity is, or who have everything handed to them, won't have what it takes to handle some of the steep inclines that are sure to come.

That's one reason why my wife and I emphasize outdoor play and make-do playthings. We've gotten inspriation from your posts (particularly the one where you used an old wine rack as a building set). We also are working at honing down more based on the remarkably not-deprived life of a child we read about, the "boy with no toys."

Thanks! Your cape is well-earned.