Mary Oves
Published: Friday, October 29, 2010
Mary Oves
Giving the gift of childhood freedom

Childhood memories are like little pearls that you find in the most indifferent oysters. You pull them out, smiling, and admire them, amazed that something so beautiful and pure could possibly belong to you.

When I think of my childhood, I think of freedom. I was never in the house, never. I left in the morning, and reported back for meals, like the dog. I went as far as my two legs would take me, well within the range of my mother's voice.

Then I got older, and wanted more freedom. I remember getting a yellow plastic skateboard for Christmas. A Mercedes Benz couldn't have made me happier, or made me feel cooler. I rode all over town on those rubber wheels, flying through the air, wind in my face, so very very happy. I still remember the sadness I felt coming home from college, and finding out that my parents had sold it in a yard sale. It was like they sold my childhood wings.

Then came the orange ten-speed. Oh my goodness, a girl never loved a thing more. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I rode it until it fell apart. I rode it to my friends' houses, and we rode to our community pool, to McDonald's, to Jamesway department store, to Brother's Pizza, and to the Women's Civic Center.

My friends and I played endless games of kickball and whiffle ball in that Civic Center parking lot. I knew every inch of it, and even now, I can shut my eyes and remember the tree that sat in the middle of the parking lot, dividing the church from the Center. I picture the protruding knotted roots that could knock you off your bike, and the low branch you had to duck to avoid.

The parking lot of the Civic Center was huge to me, my whole world, and it was here where my greatest adventures took place. There was a Church of Christ in that complex, and our friend's father was a minister there. We would sneak into the church to play games like Hide and Seek, and Search and Destroy. We never touched anything, but marveled at the wine and communion wafers. As girls and boys we ran together, and there was no talk of gender weakness or discrimination. I ran as a boy, played like a boy, kicked like a boy.

My girlfriends and I sat on the steps of that Women's Civic Center, and learned the Romanian language in the hopes that one day we would meet the perfect one: Nadia Comanichi. We were obsessed with her perfect 10's in gymnastics, her beautiful brown eyes, and her adorable perky ponytail. On those steps we learned Romanian phrases like "You are wonderful," "We want to be like you," and "You are perfect." My only wish as a young girl was to meet Nadia.

Our love for gymnastics took us to the generous backyard of a friend, where we created our own gymnastic equipment. We made parallel bars out of tree limbs and poles, tying these together so as to practice our routines.

I remember once arching to grab the back parallel bar, and it gave out, throwing me on my back. The wind knocked out of me, I gasped for breath, impatient for a chance to try again. No one called 9-1-1. No one rushed home to tell my parents. It was survival of the fittest.

Childhood was a blast. I was so happy all of the time, and being outside was my greatest joy. I was never reigned in, but when I was ready to go home and be comforted, mom and dad were always there.

Things are different. Over-parenting is more common than giving children wings, and I try not to do that. I want my sons to experience the creativity of freedom.

So as I watched them gear up to meet their friends at the local playground for a pick up baseball game, I kept quiet as I realized one was going to ride the bike while the other got towed by bungee cord on a Rip Stick. My first instinct was to tell them that absolutely no way were they going to ride across busy West Avenue on that contraption.

Then I thought of my yellow skateboard. My orange bike. And the parallel bars.

And I told them to have fun. And be careful.


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