Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Toilet Tag

Yesterday we went down the street to play in the cul-de-sac. My friend Ellen lives there and called to tell me everyone was outside. There are three families down there with a total of eleven kids. Yes, I said eleven. Two of the three families are Catholic and one just had bad luck with an IUD. Add in my three and you have fourteen. That’s practically a herd. Moving on. The snow had melted off the asphalt and so for the first time in weeks, the kids could run and play. They’d all been suffering from Trapped Monkey Syndrome so it was sort of like uncorking a big bottle of crazy.

They went ape schmidt.

Seriously. They were running around as fast their pale, Wii-weakened legs would carry them. They were screaming so loudly I almost walked back up the street for earmuffs. One kid asked to go inside and was told “NO!” before the question had escaped his lips. OK fine. It was my kid. Asking if he could play Lego Star Wars. Typical.

But after being rebuffed, he quickly joined the other children in what I stupidly assumed was game of tag. It wasn’t tag. It was TOILET TAG. Somehow, they had developed this alternative to a normal game to make it extra gross and to include the periodic use of fart noises. You have to admire their creativity.

Basically, Toilet Tag follows the same rules as freeze tag. Except when you get tagged, you have to squat down as if you were sitting in an invisible chair and you became a toilet. In yoga, I believe this is called the “chair position”. I can hold the correct chair position for about 60 seconds before my legs start burning and I fall down. First graders can comfortably hold the chair position for two and half hours.

So when you’re tagged, you become frozen in the chair position as a toilet. To become a person again, someone either needs to sit on you or flush you. Flushing consists of someone running over to you and pretending to flush your left ear. If you were “it”, you had to have four of the fourteen kids tagged and frozen as toilets before you won and could become a regular player again. Base was the front steps of Ellen’s house. Base had a 5 second rule. Mommies could not be base, but if your mommy needed to tell you something you were in automatic time-out from the game.

Only Ellen and I were observing them, and it was fascinating. What we saw was pure kid-tastic awesomeness. I recently read about how “the culture of childhood” is being lost. I get that. Families are busy. Parents work. Kids are overscheduled. We can no longer assume (as our parents did) that it’s safe to let our children run around the neighborhood with no adult supervision. Plus, as I’ve mentioned in past posts – I have that disorder whereby I think every adult I don’t know is a serial sex offender. But I have issues.

I have very fond memories of time spent running around doing nothing with no grown-ups in sight. There’s something really valuable about being bored and stuck outside with a bunch of kids in your neighborhood. Kids who you may not even like all the time, but you have to get along with them because they’re there. So you’re forced to get over yourself, include people when you don’t want to (or risk being excluded later), and come up with something fun to do. And you quickly figure out who’s really nice, and who always has an idea up their sleeve, and who are the leaders and the followers, and I swear all these things are good for you.

So I thank Maude that I live in a neighborhood where my children can play outside safely. Where they can run around with a gaggle of kids and engage in those bizarre rites of negotiation, hierarchy and ingenuity that all kids should have. While I was standing there, smiling and feeling fortunate, I was reminded that another part of the “culture of childhood” is a kind of ruthless, time-has-stopped, Lord of the Flies desire to win games like Capture the Flag.  Or Toilet Tag.

Ellen’s littlest daughter Jo is a good example of this.  At 5 years old, she is a tiny peanut of irresistible cuteness, fluffy hair and strong-willed ferocity. Like her mother, she’s little but she’s hard core. Don’t even go there with her – even if she does weigh 34 pounds soaking wet. Someone twice her size and her age, tried to mistakenly un-freeze (or should I say un-toilet) her, and I watched bemused as that child lost her damn mind in the manner of Napoleon Bonaparte upon being told he was heading to Elba.

“NO! Not flush me! FLUSH YOU! Do you hear me?! FLUSH YOU! Get back here! I said FLUSH YOU!”

At which point Ellen and I started silently shaking with laughter.

Then my 5 year old son Hawk was “it” and sadly, the kid had no game. No strategy. He couldn’t get anyone out. After watching him flail around laughing for five minutes, I started to see him get frustrated and angry. So I made a bad call. I grabbed my daughter Thumbelina in a reverse bear hug and told Hawk to tag her. I shouldn’t have interfered in the game. Mommies are not supposed to get involved.

Time slowed down. She saw her brother running towards her to tag her and turn her into a toilet. So she turned into Chuck Norris instead.  In extreme slo mo, she looked around and then used her leverage in the bear hug to defy gravity and lift her body up and karate scissor kick her brother square in the throat with a size 4 Sketcher.

It was both perfection and totally horrifying. She left a perfect footprint on his neck. He was thrown back about ten feet, hands grabbing his neck, sputtering exactly like it was a kung fu movie. There was a moment of silence. Everyone who saw it stopped short. One of the big kids exhaled slowly and said: “Daaaaaaang…” while staring at Thumbelina with something between fear and respect.

Then Hawk started wailing. He was OK, he was just selling the foul. He told his sister he was taking a break, and she had to be “it”. Then the mommies fussed over him for a few minutes and wiped off what was a truly impressive footprint. When he calmed down, I asked him if he wanted to rejoin the game.

He looked up at me slyly and nodded. And then he ran off. He told his sister he was coming back in the game and he was taking her place as being “it”. She nodded and screamed: “SUB!! Hawk is IT!!” and before she could take a step – he tagged her. She froze in fury and dropped into chair position.  Then he pointed to the three other kids stuck frozen as toilets, counted them off and said with a smirk: “I win.”

I guess he had game after all.

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2011

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