“Round and Round”

Going in circles seems to fascinate kids. Merry-go-rounds certainly capitalize on this joyful movement. Not only did the horses go in a circle, they also went up and down as music played. I wanted to stay on the horse and go again, and no doubt this face shows me advocating for such a chance.

Several toys in my childhood also featured spinning. My favorite was a simple top such as this one

It required no skill. You pumped the handle up and down for a bit and then let go. It twirled around the room making a satisfying sound as it rotated.

Later I received a gyroscope for Christmas, but I had no luck with it. I think it needed a bit more coordination and time than I gave it. However, this Christmas I gifted my grandchildren with a gyroscope based whirling, spinning, floating toy. As it lit, twirled and soared around the room, I remembered how joyful spinning can be.

Flynova Flying Spinner Pro (no money to me, just wanted to share name)

“Twinkle, Twinkle”

When I was six my best friend I sometimes spent the night at my best friend Skipper’s house.(My friends had names like that, including Dude.) One special treat was sitting in the living room with the lights off while a toy shone constellations of starts on the ceiling. It seemed magical. Of course I was very used to looking at the night sky for the same arrays, but this was indoors and very unusual.

Later the local science museum built the planetarium shown in the image above. Here the seats reclined, the ceiling opened up, and lights mimicked the sky, changing over time and seasons. While we were supposedly listening to the scientist droning on and on about astronomy, I for one just relaxed into the chair and dreamed.

When my daughter was little, she insisted that we put adhesive backed glow in the dark stars on her ceiling. She seemed to find them as magical as I had at Skipper’s house.

Sadly light pollution, especially in the part of the country where I now live, has drastically reduced the view of the night sky with just a naked eye. I remember always finding the Milky Way as a child. Now apparently it is obscured for 80% of North America. So pervasive is light up and down the East coast that Maine distinguishes itself by having a “Dark Sky Festival.” I hope that all kids will have a chance at some point in their lives to see a night sky full of stars. I hate to think their only experience will come from the recreations of toys, planetariums and ceiling stickers.

“All Fall Down”

As a child I had a set of dominoes but I only ever used them to set up and then knock down. I was fascinated later in life by videos of very long lines of dominoes set up and then tapped over to form patterns. But I never knew that they were made to play an adult game.

I have been in diverse settings all my life, and I was first introduced to the serious game of dominoes in my mid-20’s when I was a guest at a mainly African-American Thanksgiving dinner. After a huge meal, and after the pound cakes had been discussed and judged, the dominoes came out. Men set up a card table, four chairs, the box of dominoes and began to play. This was SERIOUS. Unbeknownst to me until then, dominoes can require thoughtful strategy. But what struck me the most was the vigor from the men as they played the tiles. One wasn’t laid down, but thumped down hard enough that the table shook. This was followed by groans and whoops from the other players.

Curious about the game, I read about it on line before writing this post. Because the language was too crude for me to insert a direct link, I am not sending you over to a video. But I did find examples of the raucous play and insults I remember from watching that afternoon. I also learned that the game is very popular in the West Indies.

I wonder about my readers. Did any of you ever play the game or witness an animated game played by others? I would love to know where it occurs.

“Scissors”

A close friend who works with toddlers in a Montessori classroom assures me that today’s children’s scissors actually cut. Doubtful of this claim, I looked on line and discovered that it does appear that today’s are vastly different from those of my childhood. So if you are young you may have trouble understanding this post.

Above are the two types of scissors available to me as a child both at home and in school. Ignore the middle one with sharp points. They would never have been on hand. As you might surmise by checking the images, these scissors were mainly designed so that when a child ran with them she would not succumb to the ever present threat “you are going to put your eye out.” They were not engineered to cut anything. Imagine trying to cut smoothly around an image drawn on a piece of paper. Not possible. Many “childish” looking art projects probably just reveal the poor tools available to the child.

But my brother, sisters and I had a solution. My mother owned sewing scissors which she kept in the top dresser drawer in her bedroom. We were absolutely forbidden both to open her drawer and to use her scissors. Needless to say, when the need arose, we did both. Her scissors worked wonderfully, producing smooth edges with no effort. We usually remembered to return them.

I can still hear her voice, sixty years later, yelling across the house “WHO USED MY SEWING SCISSORS TO CUT PAPER?” How she knew I have no idea. And certainly none of the four of us was going to own up.

“Paper”

Mr. Wolfe, my high school math teacher, sometimes started class off with the dreaded “take out a sheet of paper.” This meant that we were about to have a “pop quiz,” the bane of every unprepared student. A collective gasp accompanied the putting away of math books and the retrieval of a single blank sheet of paper. I remembered this first when I thought about posting about a piece of paper. Apparently that experience overrode my previous positive associations.

But long before high school I, along with every other kid in my class, learned how to make a simple paper airplane. Although it was certainly possible to make complex folds, I stuck to the model pictured above. It worked fine and sailed across the classroom when necessary. Of course we all knew how to look completely innocent when a missile flew around the room. Making an ordinary plane ensured anonymity.

I have no idea how kids learn ways to torment teachers. I am not referring to actual bad behavior such as talking back or using physical force. In the 1950’s we were really still in awe of teachers. But we did sometimes toss a paper airplane or spit a wad of paper at another student. Of course teachers had appropriate punishments for such stunts. I remember one boy having to take a sheet of paper and make spit balls one after another and send them into a waste basket. He probably has as bad a sense about “take out a sheet of paper” as I do.

“Rocks”

Speaking of rocks yesterday led me to think about rocks, paper and scissors for three days. Above you can find me exploring the edge of a wave looking for rocks. By the way I no longer had the itchy wool bathing suit but rather a cotton one with a ruffled back and seahorse print. I remember it clearly since it was such a welcome change from the red wool one.

I always collected rocks wherever we went. However, I chose them when they were wet and really appealing. Often I was disheartened to find the rocks rather ordinary looking when I got them home and they dried off. Occasionally I would find a piece of obsidian which kept its gleam when dry. At the beach I found agates which looked better wet but still attractive when dry. I still pick up rocks when we travel, putting them in my pockets. I still wonder when I take them out why I chose those drab specimens!

The other play with rocks was learning to skip them. My father was an expert stone skipper and spent quite a lot of time teaching us how to find the perfect skipping rock, flat and semi round, just the right size to fit our palms. He demonstrated over and again the proper stance and the correct arm movement needed to let the rock dance over the water. His would bounce several times in a row. Despite his excellent tutelage, I rarely got the rock to do more than go ker-plunk. While I have never mastered the art, I now have a grandson who excels at the throw. “It’s not really that hard,” he says. “Look.” And I am back many years watching my dad execute the same perfect pitch.

“Rock, Paper, Scissors”

As one of four kids my life was filled with repeated claims of “it’s not fair,” “you always go first,” and “it’s my turn.” We ended up with several methods of solving these minor disputes by ourselves. Our parents were steadfastly uninterested in the debates.

“Rock, paper, scissors” was usually played by two of us for the best two out of three. (Unless the loser insisted that what they really meant was best three out of five.) Rock(clenched fist) smashes scissors. Paper(flat hand) covers rock. Scissors(two extended fingers) cuts paper. I would like to say that this ended the disagreement. However, there seemed to be new complaints such as “how come you always choose rocks?” Irrational I know, but the loser had to think of some way to confuse the results. (Here I consciously avoid present political parallels.)

Coin tosses were another decision maker. I still was regularly tricked by my brother’s quick “heads I win, tails you lose.” As I watch my grandchildren use the coin toss to settle questions that old phrase still hangs on. And a new complaint is added to the list: “that coin only has heads!” (My brother did buy such a penny at the novelty store we both loved.)

Finally we used “eeny meeny miny moe.” In the mid-1950’s our family was considered progressive because we said “catch a tiger by the toe,” instead of the much more commonly used racial slur. It never occurred to me to figure out who should go first in this rhyme. It took 60 years to learn from my young granddaughter that where you start determines who wins. I’m glad we didn’t know that as kids. We would have had yet another round of : “you always go first.”

I would love to know any other ways you resolved issues of fairness when you were a kid. Violence not included!

“On a Shoestring”

Having cleared up any thought that I was just going to wax nostalgic about the past, I begin my posts on fun and games with a consideration of shoe strings. These long cords, capped with eglets(a word only useful in crossword puzzles) were a constant irritant in my childhood. If I tied them too quickly they came undone and threatened to trip me. If I tied them too tightly I ended up with a knot I was unable to undo. I clearly remember believing that I could never be a mother because I could not get a knot out of a shoelace.

But shoelaces were just right for the hand game of “cat’s cradle,’ pictured in the illustration above. The game took two people, both of whom needed to know how to make the moves and both of whom were willing to play at any given time. I rarely found another girl to play this with, so I usually only got through the first steps, the one’s I could do alone.

One summer, however, when we spent six weeks at my grandparents’ home in the country, my mother was unusually relaxed. She patiently went through the whole process with me with a grand flourish of “ta da” when we finished. After that she showed me “Jacob’s Ladder,” another string design. I was amazed at this playful side of my usually harried mother. I remember the game with fondness as I see the two of us under the large sycamore tree playing with a shoestring.