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My wife and I drove to her childhood home in Akron the other day to help her dad with some outside chores. Along the way, we happened to catch a piece on the radio which theorized that a whole slew of the world's maladies could be traced back to the fact kids just don't spend time simply playing outdoors anymore.
We listened, then lamented the slow quieting of our own neighborhood, a place where only few years back no fewer than 20 kids under the age of 12 used to fill our block with shouts, screams and laughs from sun up to sundown. The kids in our neighborhood have largely grown up and gone. I guess you'll have that in a place where the average homeowner's tenure rings in at a shade over 30 years. It was a good place to grow up outside.
Our own childhood neighborhoods were much the same, even though mine was here, in a small town, while Kristin's was smack in the middle of a thriving city of a quarter-of-a-million people. Kickball, freeze tag and ghost in the graveyard were a daily part of the itinerary, along with bicycles, jump ropes and banged-up knees. Our comings and goings were largely unnoticed and entirely unsupervised just as long as we made it home by dark.
"I can't even remember the last time I saw a group of kids outside playing -- unless they were all wearing uniforms," I sniffed.
"I know what you mean," agreed Kristin. "Guess those days are gone for good."
We drove along in silence, mourning the forgotten art of play until turning the last corner into her old neighborhood. There on the sidewalk and spilling out onto the devil strip (that's Northeast Ohioanese for "tree lawn") was a bubbling scrum of tousled hair, skinned elbows and dirty knees surrounding a small folding table. The crowd broke into a line paralleling the road as we approached.
"Hey mister, buy some of our stuff!" screamed the passel of youngsters in failed unison. "Hey mister! Hey MISTER!"
It took us less than a second to silently agree that whatever it was these kids were selling, we were going to buy as much as we could afford.
"So what have you got?" shouted Kristin from the car window.
"Slime!" they screamed. "We made it ourselves!"
"How much?" Kristin asked.
"A quarter," shouted the oldest, a gangly 9-year-old who almost jumped right out of her flip-flops at the prospect of a sale.
"That's great, we'll take two!"
With that, the youngest of the kids, a girl of maybe 5, carefully scooped up an egg-sized wad wrapped in waxed paper from a beaten-up cookie sheet and carried it to us in the same manner you might carry a baby bird.
"I stamped it myself!" she said through a gap-toothed grin. Another girl followed, delivering the other half of our order.
"THANK YOU!" they squealed, jumping and skipping as we drove away.
We haven't yet figured out what, exactly, this particular "slime" is, but we've determined that flour, water, sand, dandelion petals and red glitter are present in varying quantities. Whatever the make-up, we're convinced that we've purchased something priceless -- concrete evidence that the art of play is still alive in our world.