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The Miracle in Vinyl Village

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A lesson in imagination and co-operation

"How many kids are coming this year? Twelve? Fourteen?" asked my spousal equivalent.

I expelled a small snort of air and began tallying up the assorted offspring our friends would be bringing to our Second Annual Really Cool BBQ (trademark pending).

"Thirty-five – if they all show," I said as calmly.

"Do you think we should get a trampoline?" asked SE.

"Do you think we should get a lawsuit?" I countered, visions of tots flipping through the air into adjacent backyards.

SE is one of the most levelheaded individuals I have ever met. She is not in the habit of making grand gestures when it comes to the entertainment of children. Our kids birthday parties aren’t crafty affairs. A Game Cube, Nintendo or Play Station has never crossed our threshold. And we both question how much kids should be programmed.

However, she is human and not immune to being overwhelmed. Frankly, the prospect of 35 children freely in one’s backyard is daunting. Anyone who claims otherwise has access to a medication withheld from the rest of us. After all, if most of us did not fear mass groups of children, we would all be elementary school teachers and presently enjoying summer vacation.

After much deliberation, it was decided that any activities would be ridiculous since their favourite game, Run and Scream , is one in which the rules have never been disclosed to any adult. The rules are intrinsic and forgotten with the onset of pubescent hormones, setting the foundation for other games such as, Bitch and Moan: The Teen Edition, Subversive Eye Rolling and the ever popular, Scowl and Sneer .

In an effort to further brand the SARCB children’s programming, SE decided to throw some water guns into the mix, effectively making the perennial playground pastime suitable for summer. We were set.

At 5, SE and I sat in our mighty, plastic Adirondacks and surveyed the backyard. The lawn looked the best it had in years; the bocce area perfectly cordoned off for play and the seating tableaus examples of elegant simplicity. By 6, the same yard was a watery war zone with more than 30 children engaging in high-stakes, aqua battle. Those not actively involved were a 13-week-old held back by his mother and the 13-year-old in charge of ensuring the three rules of play were met: Don’t spray water in anyone’s face. Don’t spray anyone not holding a gun. And above all, DO NOT spray adults.

Here’s the good part: The 13-year-old, a.k.a. Number One, made it so. Number One appears to have inherited The Child Whisperer gene from her dad. The kinder responded accordingly. Not only did nearly three-dozen kids of varying ages comply with all the rules, they played fair and had fun. Bigger kids helped little kids fill their water guns. Little kids went after similar-sized prey. Those awaiting their turn at wielding a water pistol found other things to do: Run and Scream Original , Chase That Cat and the enduring classic, Spread the Pea Gravel Around .

Left to their own devices, a virtual herd of children proved that despite living in this over-branded, over-licensed, video-game-saturated, clicker culture, they had imaginations. From the smallest to the tallest, they were doing what kids have always done best: playing in packs and making it up along the way.

Here’s the better part: The parents looked just as happy as the kids did. Sure there was the occasional mishap and confrontation, but they were resolved without incident – a raised parental eyebrow or stern tone to kibosh any potential hysteria. The kids seemed to sense that as long as the parents were having a good time, so would they.

Childless folk who opened the gate to our backyard went into the first phases of shock. Who could blame them? At first glance, the scene did resemble a primary school version of Saving Private Ryan . Without having hosted a three-year-old’s birthday party they couldn’t know that they were hearing "happy sounds." Without having watched a playground at recess, they’d never guess that four-year-olds routinely outrun whippets. Without being parents there was no way they’d understand how truly significant a sight they were witnessing.

The kids broke from their activities long enough to scarf hot dogs, throwback drinking boxes and find ways to make it look like they’d eaten their maternally-imposed crudité. For three hours, they got soaked and in turn drenched their buddies. Some underwent multiple changes of clothing while others chose nudity. Others merely wiped themselves off and charged back in. Only sundown-induced hypothermia slowed them down.

And the best part? Life had demonstrated to all of us that sometimes the best programming for kids is no programming. For many of us, it will long be remembered as the Miracle in Vinyl Village.

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