The Fountain of Youth
The secret lies in the potential of broken bones and stitches
Yesterday, Jennifer and I got to hang out with her nephews. They’re in the 9 to 12 age range and into sports. I haven’t asked their parents for permission to name names or share pictures, so I won’t, and this post is really about life observations anyway. For the sake of brevity, let’s say that our first job was to pick them up at a sports function in a park in Calgary. Of course, it was more complicated than that, but let’s just keep it simple.
When we got to the park, it was absolute bedlam — kids were running around in the playground, in a field just beyond, more kids were playing what looked like American Football, and in the area closest to us, they were playing soccer. A clot of parents was gathered around a firepit cooking hotdogs, handing out chips and drinks, and socializing. Not being a part of this social group, Jenn and I just hung out and watched the madness unfold.
I’ve raised two sons, so I am very familiar and comfortable with this level of chaos and savagery.
Jenn and I watched as the soccer match morphed into something more akin to Australian Rules Football but more violent and unpredictable. The rules were vague and being made up in the heat of the play; bodies were being tackled and trampled, the ball was carried and then slammed into the net for a goal, often with a small body still attached.
The goals were small futsal nets, and the goalkeepers invented a rule where they could quickly turn them around or upside down to prevent a goal, which meant the Strikers would have to run around the nets looking for an opening.
There was a trail of bodies from one end of the field to the other.
Jenn wondered aloud how the parents didn’t care that kids were being flung around the field, often hitting the turf with a thump and an explosion of dried grass — kids would emerge from a cloud of dust and grass looking like they just put on their best ghillie suit. There were Dog Piles as a dozen smaller kids tackled a bigger kid to the ground — it was the live-action Lilliputians taking Gulliver down right before our eyes. I assured Jenn that the chaos is self-regulating, and it’s likely only one kid out of 20 will break a bone, suffer a cut that needs stitches, hit their head on a pole, or get knocked unconscious by the ball.
“Only one in twenty!?” She asked incredulously.
It’s inspiring (and entertaining) to watch kids make up games as a group and agree upon (or argue) the changing rules as the game evolves. What was really interesting to me was when I asked the kids what the score was when it was time to leave. “I dunno, 25 to something?” It was more about playing, tackling, and making stuff up than who won. Ah, kids.
In a way, it reminded me of the picture at the top of this post. That’s my youngest son Kierin many years ago when we lived in Okotoks. Our house backed onto the Sheep River, and the boys were, more often than not, off playing and exploring in the forest or along the river. One day Kierin was out longer than usual, so I looked for him in his usual spots.
Earlier that week, he was building a Huckleberry Finn raft with his friend Eric along the river banks. He wasn’t there. Building a tree fort in the forest behind the house? Nope. Jumping his mountain bike over small canyons? Still no. Eventually, I found him as pictured, surfing at the Okotoks Public Library bridge.
If you are looking for the Fountain of Youth, might I recommend the Great Outdoors and your imagination?