A primary school in British Columbia, Canada sent letters home last week informing parents that children could no longer play tag or hold hands or essentially……TOUCH EACH OTHER. Do we now live in a world in which all touch is unwanted, harassment or assault; that all negative words (or silence) is bullying. It made me realize my daily gratitude.
I am grateful for the blessing of having been a child when play meant running, fighting, spitting, wrestling, taunting, pulling hair, throwing sticks and stones and itch berries, daring each other to do dangerous and idiotic things and for that daring to be leveraged by threats of humiliation and public scorn. By the time I was leaving the playground, I could spot a bully a mile away. I knew how to navigate the waters of peer pressure and torment. I did my fair share of tormenting, too. It taught me empathy. I hated the way it made me feel deep in my gut when I picked on someone weaker, slower or younger. I hated myself for being complicit or an accessory. I also understood the meaning of keeping a secret and the Code of The Playground: you don’t rat fink out ANYONE to the grown-ups….as long as no one was bleeding, no bones were broken and no ones’ privates were seen in the light of day. I also learned to run swiftly and vociferously to an adult when a perv flashed his penis at me and two other girls as we walked to junior high. I grew up across the street from a public park with ONE supervising adult: Penrod. Maybe there were other park counselors but I don’t remember them. Penrod was the LAW and if you did something so bad that you got her attention, you were in a shit storm of trouble from your parents. I learned to climb unto a roof at the school and climb over a 10ft barb wired fence unscathed. I learned to give red bellies and Indian burns and cootie shots. I was on the receiving end of plenty, too. I just don’t remember it ever feeling extreme and there was none of this hypervigilance and uber supervision. I definitely knew every single adult and “older sibling” had the authority to rat me out to my parents if I was being a delinquent. But delinquency was true, genuine delinquency as defined by the LAW….vandalism, destroying property, breaking and entering. Crime. If they drove by and my friends and I were jumping off the bridge into the canal at Marlin Road, the only way my parents would know was when I came home with wet clothes. And the game we BEGGED, truly begged my father to play with us was a game called TRIP. My father would kneel on the ground in the front yard and we (and I mean ll the kids on 200th street) would run around him trying to get as close as possible to see if he could trip us. And he did. It was not a sissified, pseudo game of tag. It was called TRIP for a reason. He tripped us, grabbed our ankles and yanked us to the ground. We climbed trees with buckets and ropes. We rode bikes without helmets. We rode skateboards, too. Most summers we were shoeless and possibly miles from home. Screw flip flops. We were barefooted. We did penny drops and had monkey bar wars. We touched. We touches a lot. It’s how we learned the difference between NORMAL touch and ABNORMAL touch. There is appropriate touch, normal human contact. And outlawing touch on the playground basically means ALL touch is potentially evil, unwanted and to be distrusted. I am grateful to have been a child when we trusted that touch was natural and what kids naturally did as part of play.