On Sunday afternoon I had two pigs and a bunch of farmers in my basement. My son and daughter had invited three sisters over to play. They live across the alley and the older one has been playing with my older one off and on since they were three years old.
They go to different schools and both have various activities that conflict with play time but once in awhile on the weekends, one will call the other and they just get together and play.
In 1976 when I was eight and wanted to play with a friend, I walked across the street, knocked on Jill Nelson’s door and said, Can Jill play? Her mom let me in and that was that.
Today if the neighbor girls aren’t home and my eight year old daughter wants to play with a friend she calls the friend on the phone and an answering machine usually picks up. When the friend calls back or the mom emails me, we schedule a “play date.” After picking two or three different dates that don’t work we pick a future date that looks good, free of soccer, swimming, piano, dance or homework commitments and put it on the calendar.
These days of homework, over scheduled children and so much happening during the week with after school activities it’s hard to avoid whipping out the calendar and making a plan with school mates. It’s the only way play will happen, if it’s on the calendar.
Downstairs I hear laughter. It reminds me of me and Jill, building forts, spying on her brother, chasing each other in the back yard, selling lemonade on the street, playing in the street. We pledged our friendship by creating a private two person club, the ’76 Club. We crossed our hearts and linked our pinky fingers in a rabbit’s foot key chain, promising friendship.
More laughter comes from downstairs. My kids probably don’t realize now how special these friends will be to them.
Even though Jill and I grew apart when we were older and I moved away at age 15 we reconnected during college becoming housemates, renting our first apartment together. Decades later, we live in different states and keep in touch by email mostly. But through all the friends, the time passed by…it is Jill who I think of when my daughter asks if E can come over and play.
I respond enthusiastically – You bet. For it is in the spontaneous free play time that these kids discover who they are. Kids. Wonderful free spirited kids. No schedule, agenda or calendar attached. Just kids playing.