Monday, February 22, 2010

Maybe I Did Have a Weird Childhood

Even though I have four siblings, I spent a lot of time on my own as a child. My brothers are 4 and 8 years older than me, and my sisters are 5 and 14 years older than me. While the age difference is nothing right now, when we were kids, it was a great divide that screamed “You and I have nothing in common!” There were no kids my age in the neighborhood, which contributed to my not-really-an-only-child-but-kinda-an-only-child life back then.

When I was 4 years old, my oldest sister was graduating high school and heading off to college, while my brother Kaz—4 years older than me—was entering the 3rd grade and playing on the “Major League” little league team. I was barely hitting the ball off the tee. (See above, great divide.)

Throughout my childhood we played endless hours of wiffle ball in the summer, and of course Kaz and the boy next door could hit the ball way further than I could. They would round the bases while I scrambled to field the ball and try to tag them out. The games that my siblings played were all too old for me, and I constantly lacked the skill to compete. I was the little sister that tagged along, yipping at the heels of my older siblings. My choices were yipping or staying home. Staying home meant helping Mom with the cleaning or ironing, and who wants to do that?

Then someone, I don’t know who, took pity on me and bought me a set of jacks. I remember the plastic molded jacks were in a plastic-y drawstring bag with a rubber ball. There were no instructions with the game, and I had no idea how to play jacks. I studied the contents of the set with a scientific fascination. The jacks certainly looked interesting. Why were some prongs rounded while the others were pointy? I didn’t know. I twisted them around in my fingertips, and then tried to spin one of the jacks on its end on the surface of the coffee table. I was disappointed that they wouldn’t spin the way a coin would spin. It would have been cool to see how many I could get spinning at the same time. No dice. I couldn’t stack them on top of each other like blocks, or lean them against each other like I would when building a house of cards.

I lined up the jacks end to end on the length of the coffee table and examined them. They didn’t look like they would be that much fun to play with as they uselessly tilted on their axis; I couldn’t get them to balance so that they looked like plus signs. I left them on the table and bounced the rubber ball against the picture window. I left a perfect round smudge on the glass. I wiped it off with the curtain, so Mom wouldn’t see it and then turned my attention back to the jacks in formation on the coffee table.

“What the heck am I supposed to do with these things?” I puzzled. There was no Internet, so it’s not like I could anonymously look it up and learn. I didn’t want to ask anyone how to play for fear of looking stupid. Even I knew that everyone knew how to play jacks. Well, everyone except for me. Was it some sort of childhood instinct that I lacked?

And now it’s an adult instinct I lack. If I understand it correctly, you’re supposed to bounce the ball and see how many jacks you can pick up before the ball hits the table again, right? Where’s the fun in that?? Who thought of that? I’ll bet it was someone who wanted to make cleaning up the toys a game, so the kids would tidy up after themselves. I can picture some misguided and frazzled mom, “OK, kids, I am going to bounce this ball. Let’s see how many things you can pick up before it lands…. Ready??? GO!!!”

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