“My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard.
Mother would come out and say, You’re tearing up the grass!”
My dad would reply, “We’re not raising grass, we’re raising boys.”
Harmon Killebrew, MLB Hall of Famer
Winter seems to be releasing us from it’s pitbull-like grip. Spring is here at last. I loathe the seemingly endless winters of Michigan. Once the basketball season is over there is nothing redeeming left until that first day when you can walk out of your house in bare feet. For many, they can tell spring is here by it’s colors, or perhaps the smells of flowers or fresh cut grass. For me, I can tell that spring is beginning to bloom in full because I can hear it in the backyard.
I have the privilege of working from home most days so I get to hear the action in the backyard late in the afternoons. The kids are playing. The shrill voices of pre-teen boys at play are unmistakable. Baseball is their game of choice this time of year. The evergreen tree on the right is first base, the maple tree in the center is second, the neighbors tree on the left is third base and, well… the dirt patch where they all stand to hit, that’s home of course. Anything hit over the house is a homer, but there is also a (literal) short porch in left that counts as a round tripper too. And of course, if anyone breaks the neighbors window… run! Ahem, I mean, of course, they will pay for it themselves.
The kids do much more than play in the backyard, of course. They also argue. They fight. They choose sides, many times unfairly. They make up rules, often times to purposefully give themselves an advantage. They will even make up entire new games, intentionally created because the other games were a little too difficult for them.
They also work things out. They settle disputes. They even the sides when necessary, and change rules back in order to be fair. They call bulls#@t when they see it, and have to cop to it when it was they who tried to put one over on their buddies. In short, they will learn how to become a member of the world. This tiny little world that they create and inhabit becomes their training ground. Not just for being able to slap a single to right field when you need to move the runner, but also, how to argue, settle it and then move on.
That’s the real magic of the backyard. The moving on. Kids have a powerful ability to move on. We “grown ups” could learn a thing or two about that. Perhaps a little more time in the backyard would help. Nah… we’d just screw it up. Eventually someone would try to seed the bare patch. Soon there would be a couple of sticks in the ground with string and a handmade sign saying “Stay off! New grass.” Grown ups just don’t get it sometimes.
I have seen parents try to mess with the backyard. They want to organize things for their kids and institute rules. In our yard there is only one. Everyone can play. There is no such thing as “We already picked sides…” or “We have enough.” Anyone who shows up in our yard can play. Boy, girl, young, old, never played the game before, etc. Everyone can play.
From time to time I will make an appearance. I’ll be “designated pitcher” for an inning or two. I’m a sucker for the little kids and serve up softies (that inevitably they get the bat on), but I throw chin music to the hot shots. And every once in a while, I’ll bring out the “Blooper Pitch” my dad taught me in the 1960′s. The kids roar belly laughs when the frustrated batter can’t quite hit the slow moving, high arcing pitch. Soon I go back in, allowing them to get back to making the memories they will tell their kids about someday.
I love our backyard. Truth be told, it’s one of the primary reasons I moved away from California. We had no real backyard out there. Nice view – No yard. Says it all about California. I had a job that allowed me to live anywhere so I choose to give my kids the magic of a backyard. And just to be clear, I’m not talking about simply a lawn and some shrubs. I mean a backyard where they will meet new friends, argue with old ones, lay in the grass dreaming fanciful dreams while watching the clouds drift overhead, and even earn their first few dollars from genuine hard work mowing the lawn…
There is magic in the backyard. And it is worth every Michigan winter I’ll be
forced blessed to endure.
It helps them grow up, and it keeps me from growing old.