Do Kids Still Chase Butterflies?
Today I noticed a Facebook post about talking into the fan “to hear my robot voice,” complete with a picture of a windblown little girl facing a fan and either talking or singing. That is, if robots sing.
“Admit it…we all did this,” the caption concludes.
Duly admitted. However, my life partner says he never did any such thing. Perhaps that’s because he grew up mostly in Alaska, where fans aren’t a common household appliance. I grew up in humid South Jersey, where fans helped us believe we weren't actually melting.
Do kids still do that—talk into a fan to hear their voices oscillate? Or is that too lame for words, given that they can download apps to make their voices sound like Darth Vader or, yes, a robot.
How about this one: Do kids still let the fan blow bubbles for them? Show of hands if you’ve ever held a dripping bubble-blowing wand in front of a running fan to watch bubbles shoot out.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the aging process, but this got me thinking about other things that my siblings and I did but that perhaps children no longer do. Such as:
Make rings or chains from plants. I never could figure out how to make chains from daisies or clover. None of us could. But I could make a decent ring from a stalk of plantain weed. I rarely wore them, because a classmate on the playground would inevitably notice it and say, “Ooohhh, did your boyfriend give you that? Are you getting married?” Besides, it wasn’t the wearing that mattered. It was the making.
Make temporary tattoos. The simplest was plain old ink. A popular theme was to draw a face on one’s fist and do simple puppetry. Invariably my mom scolded us and made us scrub it off with Ajax. Ouch.
Then there was a plant we called pokeberry, which grew along the edges of the school playground. Squishing the purple berries produced a very dark stain onto fingers, arms or whatever. One time I dipped the pointy stick from a push-up ice cream bar into the juice and “wrote” with it on a discarded ice-cream wrapper. All the girls with me instantly scattered to look for their own writing implements. Interestingly, we never tried eating the berries, and a good thing, too, since apparently they are poisonous.
Jumping, spinning and stomping.
Play hopscotch. Scratching squares in the dust, finding flat stones to use as markers, and hopping for hours in the hot sun. That is, when we weren’t playing jump rope: Someone’s dad would get us a piece of rope and we’d skip until we couldn’t do it any longer. If you were young you’d get stuck as a “steady ender,” i.e., you never got a chance to jump.
Wrap rubber bands around their fingers. You’d do this as tightly as possible until all sensation was lost. Feeling the blood rush back in was interesting.
Spin until you almost puked. We would do this until we were so dizzy we fell over. The residual, still-spinning feeling was almost as good as a ride at the fair.
Hold dandelions under chins. Otherwise, how will they know whether their friends like butter?
Stomp on a soda can until it molds itself to a foot, then walk home clanking all the way. We liked the way it sounded crossing the road and also on the two sections of sidewalk that existed in our little town. Never tried this with two feet at once. Now I wish I had.
Yep, we were easily amused.
Perhaps I need to believe my childhood activities were more fun than they actually were because I'm in my mid-50s and trying to make sense of my life.
I expect today's kids often have a lot more fun than we did. Thhey’ve got plenty of toys and electronics, and access to amusements we could never have imagined. Our little town didn't even have a stoplight (it still doesn't), let alone Build-A-Bear Workshops and bouncy-house emporia.
Still, I feel a little sorry for today's children if they've never had the chance to roll down a grassy hill or spend an entire afternoon following a butterfly from flower to flower.
I remember dropping tiny crumbs near anthills and watching the workers trundle them off for storage. Sometimes I’d see a team of ants lugging a large (by comparison) insect; I don’t remember ever seeing them get it into an anthill, though.
I had a cousin who fried marbles, rolling them around in a hot pan and then pouring on cold water so that the glass balls cracked. Once she gave me a clear glass version whose cracks made it look like a diamond. To me, anyway. I kept that marble long past elementary school; it was in my old jewelry box when my dad’s house burned down.
We could ride our bikes forever; "be home before dark" was the only rule. It was possible to go shoeless from after-church Sunday to the next Sunday morning, except maybe flip-flops if the road got really hot.
A family-owned convenience store sold Popsicles for five cents, the kind you could break in half to share with a friend or a sibling. My brother and I would pool change to buy a Milky Way bar and put it in the freezer until "Astro Boy" came on the UHF station (remember those?) in mid-afternoon.
Or how about the chance to catch fireflies (which we called “lightning bugs”) all evening, imprisoning them in a jar with holes punched in the lid, and then letting them go? The idea was that if you got enough you’d be able to read by their collective light. I was a little skeptical, since they tended to go off and on randomly. Moot point, though, since my mom would never have let me bring a jar of bugs into the house.
When I was really young my sister told me that another cousin pulled the lighted parts off the fireflies and made rings out of them. That horrified me, because I figured it really hurt the bug. Couldn’t she just have stuck with plantain?