The Nights the Parents Played
By Ronica Stromberg
That day I had been attacked by a pack of rabid wolves, held at gunpoint by a mad cowboy, stabbed by a samurai, and dive-bombed by a deranged dictator. I couldn’t be more bored.
I tossed aside my game controller and said to Sam and Liz, “Let’s find something else to do. I’m tired of this.”
“What else is there to do?” Sam asked.
“We could go to your house,” Liz suggested.
Sam stretched out his arms, letting go of his controller, and yawned. “I have the same games you do.”
Mom poked her head into the rec room. “Maybe you should go outside and play.”
“Play what?” I asked. “We only have three people.”
“Maybe the Borawski twins can play.”
Liz looked at Sam and me as if Mom had suggested we sprout wings and fly to Mars. “We never play with them.”
Liz shrugged. “We only have two controllers, so we have to take turns as it is. We don’t need two more players.”
“And they’re younger than we are,” I added.
“Only by two years,” Mom said, as if that were nothing. “I bet they’d be good at Kick the Can.”
“What’s Kick the Can?” Sam asked.
Mom leaned forward as if she might have misheard. “You’ve never played Kick the Can? You haven’t lived!”
She went on to tell us how much fun she had as a kid playing Kick the Can, which was a game like Hide and Seek only played with a can as base. The person who was “it” set a can on the street and counted to twenty while everyone else hid. The person then looked for the other players and, if he or she saw someone, tried to run back to the can before anyone could kick it. If the “it” person made it back to the can first, the person seen had to be it. Otherwise, the game started over with the same person being it again.
“Sounds like fun,” Sam said, “but it’s going to be dark soon.”
“That’s when it’s most fun,” Mom said. “And we have a streetlight in the cul-de-sac where we’d place the can.”
“I can’t believe you’re telling us to play in the street,” I said.
Mom looked as if she might tell the stories of how she used to ride her bike without a helmet and drive in cars without seatbelts, but instead she said, “We can ask the neighbors if it’s OK if we block the street off for an hour or so with our car while we play.”
“We play?” Liz repeated questioningly. “Are you playing, too?”
Mom puckered in thought. “I can for a while…until you catch on to the game.”
Sam, Liz, and I grinned at one another. This was something we had to see. Mom was in her forties. What chance did she have of catching nine- and ten-year-olds?
“Let’s do it!” I said, and Sam and Liz agreed.
Double the Fun
The Borawski twins—Ben and Braxton—jammed on their running shoes as soon as we asked them to come outside. Their dad, who asked us to call him “Mr. B,” said to Mom, “It’s been years since I’ve played Kick the Can but maybe I should help supervise.”
Mrs. B chuckled and nudged him in the belly. “Maybe I should supervise, too. I always wanted to play, but by the time I got old enough, my brothers and sisters had stopped playing.”
“The more, the merrier,” Mom said.
The parents walked door-to-door around the rest of the cul-de-sac to make sure it was OK with everyone to block off the street. An elderly woman, Mrs. Sloan, came out of one house and asked if she and her six-year-old granddaughter, Olive, could watch.
“Sure,” Mr. B said. “Don’t be bashful about joining in, either.”
Mrs. Sloan laughed at that. “Lord knows I could use the exercise, but I’ll just watch from here.” She lowered herself onto the porch step, and Olive sat beside her. “It’s been years since I’ve heard children playing in the neighborhood. I’ve missed that.”
“Well,” Mr. B said, “this neighborhood’s probably never heard grownups playing, but tonight it’s going to hear that, too. I guarantee it with Mrs. B.”
“Oh, you!” Mrs. B nudged him again in the belly.
“How will we choose who’s it?” I asked.
Mom motioned for us to form a circle. “Everyone put a foot in and I’ll say, ‘Engine, engine number nine.’ ”
“Why do you get to say it?” Mr. B asked with a pretend pout. “I wanted to say, ‘Mosquito, mosquito, in the night, how many people did you bite?’”
Mrs. B said, “I like ‘Bubblegum, bubblegum, in a dish, how many pieces do you wish?’”
Sam, Liz, and I just looked at one another. “Huh?”
Mrs. Sloan rose from the porch and hurried over, waving her arms in the air. “I’ll say it. It’s the only way that’s fair. OK?”
The parents and the Borawski twins agreed. Sam, Liz, and I were still trying to figure out what they were talking about.
Mrs. Sloan stood in the middle of our circle and, with a finger, tapped our feet one after the other while chanting, “Cinderella dressed in yella went upstairs to kiss a fella. Made a mistake and kissed a snake. How many doctors did it take?”
She looked up at me while pointing at my foot.
“I don’t know. Three?”
She counted out three and pointed at Mom’s foot. “You’re it.”
Mom moaned and looked at us kids. “Who will I be able to catch?”
“I don’t know,” Mrs. Sloan said, “but first you have to get the can.” She stepped outside the circle and, with a blast from her foot, sent the can rattling down the street. “Run and hide, kids!”
Peony bushes are not good places to hide behind. First, they stink to high heaven, and second, they have ants crawling around that you don’t want getting on you.
As I fought off a sneeze, I thought of a third reason: I might be allergic to them.
Mom tiptoed close, singing softly, “I know you’re here somewhere. And, Mr. B, there can’t be that many hiding spots for a big guy like you.”
She inched closer to the peonies and crouched. Just when I feared she would see me, Liz came crashing around the corner of the house.
Mom straightened, and Liz shrieked and ran back the way she’d come.
Mom ran to the can, calling out, “I saw Liz near the peonies!”
Everyone came out, and Liz had to be it next.
Sam told her, “You should have run past your mom and kicked the can, then you wouldn’t have to be it.”
Liz shrugged. “I’ll keep that in mind for next time, but this time I’ll be looking for you.”
“You’ll never catch me.”
“I don’t have to catch you. Just spy you and get back to the can before you.”
“Just?” Sam laughed.
Liz caught Mr. B while he was trying to hide behind the light pole. Seriously? Mr. B thought he could hide behind a light pole? I think he wanted to be “it.”
While Mr. B counted to twenty in a loud, booming voice, I crouched between our garage door and minivan, and Sam climbed onto one of the lower branches of the oak tree in our front yard. A giggle sounded from the oak tree.
I held a finger to my lips. “Sh-h! Mr. B may hear you.”