Rules? Whose rules?

When I was a little girl, playtime I had was pretty much unsupervised.  I could roam the fields, walk over to my friend Betty’s house, or play ball at Mike’s with his brother and sister, and the rest of the neighborhood kids.  I dared to go down Terry Lane with Nancy and Dougie, and built villages in the brush with Tommy and Bonita.  Of course we had rules.  Some got handed out by parents, some were rules of the games, some we made up by ourselves.

“Walk on the left side of the road,” Mom said.  “So you can see what’s coming.”

That’s a hand out rule.  I never quite understood that one, ’cause Mom also told me to walk on the shoulder, not the road.  My friend Betty lived about 1/4 mile away, and I got to walk down there all by myself.

When I got older and could ride a two-wheel bike, she said to ride on the left, and get off when I saw a car coming. That’s a rule made up by parents:  mine.

“You’re supposed to ride on the right side, with the traffic,” I said.

“I know what you’re supposed do,” Mom said.  “And you’re supposed to do what I say.”

Course I did, ’cause she had that ‘don’t be bull-headed look on her face.  The one that always made me want to say she was bull-headed.

Tommy next door rode on the right side, like the official rules.  He got hit by a car and flew up as high as the telephone lines before he landed on top of the car that hit him.  When he came out of the coma, the only person he wanted to see was my mom.  Maybe he wanted some new rules.

I hardly ever got to play in my friends houses.  We played outside.  No one told me that was a rule.  It just was.  Maybe that’s one of those rules that everybody just knew; an unspoken rule, or one of those rules of the universe.  All my friends had crowded houses; they were hot and full of chores and other rules.  So who wants to play in there anyway?.

Bonita and Tommy and I built villages in the brush between our garden and the Black’s bean field.  Sometimes we let Vickie or Cathy play.   We cut paths and swept out rooms and assigned everybody roles.  Bonita was always Cochise or Tonto.  That was the rule.  I liked to be Bat Masterson, ’cause I had that little deringer belt like his; the one where the gun popped out whenever I pushed my belly out hard.

“Half-gun, will travel,” I said, which made a lot of sense to me on account of how tinsy a deringer is.

We had bedrooms and kitchens and barns and stables for our pretend horses.  Mom never cared about us sharing a bedroom in our brush-houses.

She about had a conniption fit when Tommy came out of the tent Bonita slept in the backyard one morning.  Sleeping overnight in a tent with a boy was against the rules.  Bonita never knew that before, but one look at Mom’s face all white and eyes popping wide,  and lips pressed so tight together they disappeared and that rule got indelibly carved in Bonita’s heart and soul.

“I don’t care if you are Tonto and Tommy’s the Lone Ranger, and you were just making camp,” she said.

Of course games always had rules.  We had a good feel for the Official rules, and then there were the Real rules.  The Real Rules were the rules we played by, ’cause sometimes the Official Rules needed a little help to make the game go better.  Like strike rules for baseball:  little kids need more strikes, sometimes new players need unlimited strikes.  Or Monopoly:  lots of  times we let a player wait to pay up until they passed Go, just so she could stay in the game.

Nowadays, there is so much organized play for kids, I  thought maybe flexible rules fell to the shoulder of the road.  This week, my grandchildren taught me how to play Foursquare.  I never learned that game as a child.

“Do you want to play by the Official Rules?” Bradaigh said.  He’s almost 14.

Foursquare: a game for all ages.

“Sure,” I said.  Bradaigh started to explain.  “I guess I’m not that sure of the Official Rules.  I can teach you how we play by the Real Rules.”


“Well, one person is the King, and they hit the ball diagonally to the person standing it that square.  The ball can only bounce once in that square.  That person hits it into another square.”

“We play, so you can catch the ball,”  Keely said.  She’s eight years old.

“I let Canaan bounce it when I’m King,” said Ryan.  Ryan,  is a newly minted kindergartener, and Canaan is almost two.

“Sometimes we keep it going from a roll,” Bradaigh added.

This reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, “Parenthood.”

“I like to play with an old ball on my head,” said Robert, the other half of the almost six-year-old twins.  He staggered around,  giggling and a little drunk on fun.

Oh yes.  These are rules I can live by.

A good strategy on the playground.

A wonderful approach to life.

4 thoughts on “Rules? Whose rules?

  1. My grandkids play and play outside doing a lot of the things you mentioned.The other day I pulled in the driveway and they made a pulley system with a bucket to take their cat in the tree.I loved this post.

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