July 16, 2010

Lawn Games and the Question of What’s Appropriate.

Make Sure to Bring Your Helmet.

Summertime brings to mind some very distinct childhood recollections: the creamy sweetness and impressive saffron hue of store-bought potato salad, the pungent scent of Deep-Woods Off bug spray, the sea of inharmonious rock songs that blasted from various boom-boxes at the neighborhood pool. And, not to be forgotten, the lawn games.

The lawn games from my childhood were not for the weary or faint of heart. We played with water balloons that left marks and squirt guns that stung the skin. We dove belly-first onto our Slip-N-Slide, a stretch of yellow plastic that was suited up with various hoses to create a horizontal water slide effect, with no fear of the inevitable rocks that would snag us from underneath. I remember playing horseshoe at an elementary-school age.

But the piece de resistance of all lawn games were lawn jarts.

Lawn jarts were essentially oversized darts with the purpose of being propelled vertically into the air while aiming to hit a bull’s-eye on the ground. And, like most of these sort of adult games, canned libations in beer-coozies were often part of the mix. I remember running around in very close proximity to these games as a kid, skipping and dancing with friends or being chased in a game of freeze-tag, totally oblivious to what was flying through the air around me. There is no doubt the adults were keeping an eye on things because no calamities occurred during the many summers where lawn jarts were a ubiquitous part of picnicking. But accidents do happen, and unavoidably lawn jarts were taken off the shelves (in the United States and Canada, at least) years ago.

My parents, who are now grandparents, have long since replaced the horseshoes and lawn jarts with a kinder, gentler game called Cornhole, for the next generation. Cornhole involves tossing beanbags through holes. No sharp points or blunt edges.

I am intrigued with how what is regarded as appropriate for one generation often changes so drastically by the time the next generation rolls around. My parents were just telling me how they never wore sunscreen as children, how they played for hours in the mid-day swelter without giving it a second thought. I wore Coppertone and Banana Boat when I was a kid, which were the popular brands that were available. Since then, there have been many studies stating that the parabens in these kinds of products are absorbed into the bloodstream and mess with estrogen levels. Opal wears all natural, paraben-free sunscreen that is safe enough to serve on toast.

My mother-in-law often talks, amazed, about how her son (my husband) never used a car seat when he was young. She put him in a little plastic bucket seat on the passenger side when he was a tiny baby and he remembers standing up in the back when he was old enough to do so. What a colossal leap to the present; not only does Opal’s car seat have a base and an intricate sent of installation and strapping instructions, it also comes with a built-in level. Not to mention the fact that in some states it’s law for children to sit in a booster seat until they weigh 80 pounds.

So there you have it. Summertime will continue to happen when Opal’s having kids and her kids are having kids. The decisions I’m making as a parent this summer with my 8-month old daughter may very well be deemed as unsavory a decade or two into the future, not because I’ve done anything wrong but because, to grossly oversimplify, things will change, and what is applicable now is bound to have an expiration date.

So, what to do?

At the moment, I’m feeling like it may not be a bad idea to pack ample helpings of good humor and amusement to add to the picnic basket.  Let’s just enjoy the barbeque.

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