Backyard Basics

In my wanderings through the historic world of art with my daughter, we ran across an amazing painting by Peter Brueghel, dated in the mid-1500’s. It’s called Children’s Games, and in it, he endeavored to paint all the children’s games that he knew in one street scene. I’ve shown a detail here, but I’ve posted the whole painting – plus my own updated version of it (wink, wink). Brueghel’s painting is a great image, crammed with clumps of rambunctious kids in what looks like a riot, but a playful one.

That got me thinking. Being that this week is National Backyard Games Week, it’s a great time for families to head out to an open space and run around. Now, I will confess: we are not much of an outdoor family. A few years ago during our adoption process, China required us to provide photographs of a family activity. We didn’t think a picture of us watching old movies was particularly gripping. So we staged a picture of all six of us on bicycles and another with us all attempting to simultaneously kick a soccer ball. Viewing them now, those pictures are hilarious. And no, you can’t see them.

I know we’re not alone in our somewhat indoor life. Judging by the absence in our neighborhood of ball-throwing, or kid-chasing, or just wrestling on a green lawn, I’d say we’re fairly average.

So, hey, for us: outside the box sometimes means outside the house – en masse, the six of us playing a game in the backyard. So out we went one recent balmy evening. I reached into my childhood memory and pulled out something simple.

It was a game of ball-tag. Start with two bases, fifteen feet apart with the “it” person in the middle. The “it” throws up the ball, and other players start running between the bases, trying not to get tagged once the “it” catches the ball and starts racing after them.

Within minutes, we were laughing and breathless – parents, teenagers, our pre-schooler. Everyone got tagged a couple times. It felt so good to be out beneath a darkening sky, enjoying the cool grass under our feet, reveling in the pleasure of each other’s company. (Though bare feet and wooden bases don’t mix. Doormats worked much better.)

A playful riot is waiting for you, too. Just outside your back door.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter