Playdate is a newly invented word. My mother never took me on playdates. Instead she’d shoo me out from underfoot with, “child go outside and play.” Play…????
I was never very good at play. Probably the result of being an only child in a suburb where the children next door were deemed “ill bred” by my well meaning though somewhat misguided family. The “White” children (honest to God.. that was their surname) ran around bare footed, played with worms and sharp sticks, said dees, dem and does, and cussed like one-legged sailors. How I envied their wild dangerous freedom but, like all things, there was a price to be paid.
As an adult, I have often lamented my lack of playfulness – especially with my daughter. I hug. I tickle. I talk a lot. We laugh. We read. We snuggle. But when my daughter asks me to play with her, I can feel my resistance. Part of me just doesn’t like to play. It is always with remembered yearning at not having someone to play with- a sister, a brother, and especially my mother -that I drop to the floor as my daughter explains the complicated family groupings of her Shopkins before engaging in the elaborate drama in progress.
In lieu of play, I daydreamed and pondered the great mysteries of life. Where did the sun go as the moon rose… and were they one and the same? How do I reach the purple kimets, the sweet ones at the top of the tree? Where did Christmas apples come from and why did they smell so good? Why does Great Aunt Beatrice sweat so much? And how can I get out of hugging her?
One day bleeding into the next, drifting clouds of memory, a soft tumble of days, and thoughts and lonely longings. And the heat, dry and still and quiet.
“It’s too hot to sleep, let’s go for a walk,” Mom would say, and just like that we’d be off. Down the mountain stairs onto Black Street, hand in hand we’d walk. A right turn passing the crumbling Carib Indian House, a left turn at the wooden haunted house. They say rocks rained down on it, the sun high in the sky. Passing the Chinamen’s apothecary where Uncle Joe worked, smelling the sulfur and ginger and scary dried things in jars, we “looking-both-ways” cross Lower Hillside heading to High St.
And there it is! Releasing her hand, I run to the swing next to the Woolworth’s begging my mother to push….. and she does. Soaring up into the heavens, the warm evening air, blowing up my skirts, losing my slipper mid-air, wanting to go… “Higher Mummy Higher!” My heart caught up in joy and fear, and magic and wonder…..I hang on… always returning to my mother’s sure hands at my back. Those moments defined my childhood. Simple and sweet and rare. Flying high cause mama is at my back.