Thursday, July 19, 2007

Games kids play

It’s past 10 pm and I figure I should get my kids to bed but they are still outside playing night games with a dozen other kids and it warms my heart to no end to hear them out there laughing and running and hiding in my neighbor’s bushes and frightening their cats so I think I’ll postpone my impending pronouncement of Bed Time for a few more minutes. I don’t really relish being the party pooper.

We live on the edge of a cul-de-sac full of incredibly tolerant people with great grassy front yards at the end of a connecting street full of parents with flexible (read non-existent) summer curfews. The result is that two or three times a week, kids spontaneously congregate outside our house to play night games. I’m not sure how they know when and where to meet. Do they share some kind of inborn night games homing instinct? Did they see a signal in the sky? Maybe Hermione has given them all coins prepared with some kind of Protean Charm. I know not what. But I watch them gather and mill about and then deliberate which game to play and form a circle in the road with their right feet in the center “… mother said to pick the very best one and you are IT” and then they’re scattering in all directions like crows in a wheat field, my oldest son grabbing onto the hand of his little brother (the one who just a few hours ago was the world’s biggest pest!) to help him run faster and my faith in today’s youth is restored and I’m entirely willing to let them stay up way past their bedtime or at least until someone suffers road rash whichever comes first.

Things that have not changed since I was a kid:
1) Night games include Ghosts in the Graveyard, Hide and Seek, Capture the Flag, Kick the Can, and Sardines.
2) It’s physically impossible and besides that immoral to go to bed before 10pm in the summer.
3) It still sucks to be “it” but if, when you’re tagged, you suddenly remember that it’s way past your bedtime and you have to go home, the other kids will threaten not to let you play next time.

Things that have changed since I was a kid:
1) When we needed to stop the game for an injury or potty break, we yelled “All-ee all-ee in-come free.” Don’t ask me why. And don’t ask why I always thought it was about some kid named Ollie and only just this year discovered it made more sense to read it All-ee as in everyone, perhaps derived from the old English All’ye. Anyway, the kids now yell “PAUSE.” I suppose this reflects the pervasive influence of videos and DVDs which are also paused. I guess if you say you’re going to play Kick the Can, it’s only logical that you would also be able to pause Kick the Can. I wonder if it’s also possible to rewind, fast-forward and listen to the director’s commentary on the game.
2) I keep a close eye on my kids while they’re out playing, even if they don’t realize it. When I was young, we were free to wander the orchards around our home and play anywhere as long as we checked in once in a while with the folks: every couple of days or so (just kidding, Mom). Truly, times have changed and not for the better in this case.
3) I had to explain to my kids what sardines were. They are deeply deprived.

Times have also changed a bit since Brueghel painted this scene of children at play. It’s basically a catalog of all the games popular in his day; over 80 specific ones have been identified by name. I think it’s interesting that we are viewing the scene from above, from the perspective of an adult (maybe up in a building?) who smiles and thinks “ah, how picturesque it all is” rather than from the child’s point of view, on the street-level angle where boys jump over each other’s backs and girls with scarves tied around their faces play Blind Man’s Bluff. We certainly never thought our night games were art-worthy. We were too busy playing them to think beyond how we could avoid major eye injuries while crowding 12 people into a great hiding spot in the prickly juniper bushes.

My brilliant brother Steve produces video games for a living (and thus walks on water as far as my kids are concerned) so I apologize in advance for the next little bit, but I thought this link was funny. Be sure to hover your mouse over the picture to see the modern update and click on the figure to see what he’s holding. Sorry Steve, but you already know how I feel about video games and why we don’t own them which is partly why watching all the neighborhood kids play night games has me so delighted. As long as they’re chasing each other around, no one can mock my sons for living so far behind the times.


Heffalump said...

We always said Ollie Ollie ox in free!, but I have heard it All the All the outs in free! Its insteresting that different areas say it differently, and one has to wonder where it originally came from and all of its derivitives.

By the way, my oldest son has been reading Ethan's blog. I hope you don't mind. I knew that J would enjoy reading it, so if Ethan is wondering where some of the comments have come from from J-Dog, that is from my son.

Dedee said...

I loved the link.

I love it when the kids in our neighborhood congregate for night games too. I hope they get a few more good times in before school starts.

My dh just bought our first "video games". A small console that has five games built into it that are all the old school, pacman types. We'll see how this goes before he gets to convince me to buy a wii. I really don't want one. It's one point of disagreement in our relationship. I don't like them. He loves them. Wonder how this is going to end.

bubandpie said...

I always thought it was "Ollie Ollie 'umpkin free," vaguely assuming that 'umpkin was short for pumpkin. Not that that makes any more sense than just plain umpkin.

Scribbit said...

Crazy House was one of our favorites and I loved watching my own kids and the neighborhood kids playing it this week.

marinamo said...

I was one of those kids whose parents maintained a bedtime even in the summer. My bedtime was 7:30. I remember vividly lying in bed, hearing ALL the other neighbor kids outside playing and having fun, and being miserable.

Luisa Perkins said...

That link is TOO clever. I love Brueghel.

"Ollie ollie ox in free" was our version as well.

The Lazy Organizer said...


I find it sad that in my mind night games equal death by west nile virus.

Jenni said...

Eew! And it's so creepy how all the windows in the "after" painting are lit up in otherworldly blueness.

purple_kangaroo said...

I always thought it was "Ollie, Ollie, oxen-free" as a kid. But I think it's actually "All the, all the outs in free," as in, whoever is out there can come in without penalty, or without getting caught. I found an interesting page about it on wikipedia just now, and another at