Play It Again

My pansies are still going strong, which means the really hot weather hasn’t started yet where I am, but it’s on the way. While I do not like the heat (or humidity or bugs), I do have a lot of wonderful associations with summer that boil down to one thing: Childhood freedom.

When I was a kid, I could leave the house in the early, early morning and not come home until Mom rang the cowbell to signal that it was time for dinner. I was expected to let an adult know my plans if I was going to be gone that long, but my range was at least two miles from the house, and if I was on a bike, farther than that.

That territory included woods, streams, neighbors’ properties, the local schoolyard, and a village about a mile and a half away. I most often explored alone, but sometimes my sister or a neighborhood kid or two would come with me. This was normal. My brothers and sisters enjoyed the same freedom, and nothing particularly bad happened to any of us in our rambles.

When I was on my godparents’ farm, we rode horses all over creation, and the only rule was, if we were riding after dark, we took the farm dogs with us.

What did happen was some basic fitness (I loved to climb trees), some life lessons (what Hurricane Agnes did to my little stream…), lots of imaginative play, some confidence, and some appreciation for the natural world. I still have a good sense of direction, and I think I picked that up while at large without supervision.

I was lucky. I grew up on the edge of the countryside and had access to a lot of time on a farm. But the reality is, children are safer now than they have been in generations (and no, helicopter parenting is not the most likely cause). Moreover, if a child is the victim of a crime, (particularly kidnapping), the threat 99% of the time comes from those who know the child rather than from strangers.

My dad grew up on Depression-era Long Island, and as a kid, he and friends took the trains everywhere. By the time he was fourteen, his version of running away from his father’s  house was to hop the train from Long Island down to Philly, where he showed up on his mom’s doorstep. In his day, a minor traveling unaccompanied even that distance was not in the least unusual.

I gripe about the addictive designs built in to a lot of screen-based products, and too much screen time is for-sure not good for anybody. But I wonder if our kids’ lousy mental health statistics, falling rates of literacy, and declining pro-social behaviors aren’t also related to a simple lack of opportunity to get out and play as their parents and grandparents did, and especially as their great-grandparents did.

The First Kiss by Grace BurrowesHow did you play as a kid? Were you constantly supervised? Not supervised enough? Never allowed outside? Roaming the malls? Was your childhood play done right or do you wish you’d had other options? Because when I look back on my upbringing, I can say without reservation, this is something my parents and the society around me got right. I was encouraged often and enthusiastically, to go out into the big world and play.

PS: I loaded  The Sweetest Kisses titles onto the retail sites, for those who prefer to shop there. (The trilogy e-bundle remains exclusive to the web store.)


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18 comments on “Play It Again

  1. Hi Grace, I was inputting all the Coming Soon books into my calendar and noticed that Book 2 “A Gentleman of Dubious Reputation” has a Buy from Grace date of Sept 26 but the other date is November 3rd. Should that be October 3rd? All the other books listed are a lot closer than Sept 26 to Nov 3rd.

    I wish I could buy from you but 1. I haven’t been able, even with Book Funnel help to get a book transferred to my Nook library; and mostly #2. I use gift cards for B&N so I don’t have small amounts hitting my bank accounts.

    Ebooks, and books in general have gotten so expensive the last couple of years that you, M L Buchman, Stephanie Laurens and Alice Duncan “Daisybooks” are the only ones I buy. Even my long-time favorites J D Robb and all the names Jayne Ann Krentz uses I have to borrow the ebook from Libby. I do so appreciate your keeping your books affordable. I re-read your series over and over. “The Captive” is one of my favorite. Am re-reading “His Lordship’s True Lady” at the moment.

    • Gretchen, my what sharp eyes you have! The dates for Lord Julian’s second book are correct. The issue is, Amazon pays authors on the 29th or 30th of the month (depending on banking electronics), and the pay lags a couple months. Any money I earn in October from Amazon hits my account Dec. 30th. I pay 20% profit tax on whatever is sitting in my account Dec. 31, and sending 20% of a new release’s first month’s earning right back out the door, when Amazon itself pays NO taxes, just doesn’t sit well with me.
      So I avoid October releases, and pay taxes on a more modest sum.
      And yes… I know everything is getting more expensive. I haven’t raised prices for eight years, but I recently did the math. I’ve absorbed something like a 28% hit because I haven’t adjusted prices to account for inflation. Ye gods and little fishes… how is anybody not feeling pinched?
      I hope you take advantage of every library app out there. I make it a point to distribute through Libby and several others–and I am well paid by the libraries–so please don’t feel you should be buying my books. Libraries are funded because people use them, and I think it’s money well spent!

      • Grace, Your books are top on my list of to buy. Even if you increased the prices 28% I would be able to buy your books. It’s the $14.99 ones that force me to go to the library. I’m lucky to live in the greater Portland OR area and have not only Multnomah County but also 2 adjoining Oregon counties and the one just north in Washington to be able to use. I use Libby for reading books that I hear of that I either can’t afford or am not sure I’d be all that interested in buying.

        I heard a very interesting discussion on (I thought) Planet Money on NPR on Saturday about libraries, ebooks and publishers. It answered a lot of my questions e.g. why when 1 ebook could be loaned to many many people the libraries have to buy a copy for each person it loans to, and after 30 reads the library has to rebuy the ebook. I tried to find a link but couldn’t.

        Noticed that you mentioned Amazon, I’m guessing as your primary source of book buying. I started with Nook from Barnes & Noble and like it much better than Kindle. I do have a Kindle app and do buy some ebooks from them, however, only ones that I can’t find on B&N.

        If you feel you can answer this I would appreciate it although I understand if you’d rather not. Wonder if during the RWA conferences if there are discussions about book banning. My mother was a librarian for years and I think she would be horrified, as I am, about what is going on.

        Sorry this is so long. And thank you for answering my question re timing. Have you ever thought of having a gift card?

  2. I was the only girl on my street, but fortunately come from Highlander stock, so I could hold my own. To the point Dad bought me an American football kit down to helmet & pads for Christmas the year I turned 12. Mom solved the supervision issue by designating the front yard of our huge double lot for football, while Dad turned the back yard into childhood nirvana with a huge sandbox, swing set with slide, tire swing & the best climbing tree for miles, which was a huge magnolia with enormous branches sweeping clear to the ground.

    As I grew a little older, I had a bike with a purple & while banana seat & basket deep enough to hold a double bagged grocery sack full of library books. Dad signed off on a library card that gave me unrestricted reading of even adult books, much to the shock of the head librarian. (I got quizzed at home to ensure I comprehended what I was reading & had any & all questions answered.) Is there anything more boring to a pre-pubescent teen than smooching scenes in books?!

    The library was a round trip of roughly 6 miles, but I had to say where I was going & roughly when I’d be back. The librarians knew me on site. And Dad’s office was a 1 Mike detour if the weather took a turn & I wanted to read quietly in a corner. He built a treehouse for me in an ancient pecan tree behind the office, so I could perch there to read & come home with Daddy when I wasn’t staining my hands black with pecans.

    Supervised activities meant swimming in 2 teams all summer & wearing myself out during the school year taking tap, jazz & ballet + piano lessons & practicing for dining in the church choir each week. Horseback lessons replaced dance once it became glaringly obvious that I was as tall as the adults or taller before leaving grade school.

    No wonder I fell into bed exhausted every night & looked forward to weekends walking on the beach & swimming in the ocean as down time! Those walks & learning to surf with Daddy gave me hours & hours of talking to & observing loving, successful adults who rewarded success & wise choices with respect, trust & privileges far beyond my age & peers. But my parents were also older than most & had seen, traveled & done things around much of the world that many had not. So I got an advanced course in adulting & responsibility even as I played hard. Dad especially often pointed out that long childhoods were privileges of growing up in a wealthy, relatively civilized country & those less fortunate were expected to do an adult’s job from the age of 12 or 13 elsewhere. A point not lost on me as we traveled the globe & I saw things sheltered American kids did not.

    I wish my parents could have been cloned to impart their experience & wisdom to more generations. I never realized what a fabulous childhood I had until I grew up, left home, & learned what an awesome upbringing I had.

  3. Ah summertime. We kids had chores to do, but after that we were free to roam as long as we were home for lunch and dinner. And we took advantage of it. A favorite punishment of my mother was to make us stay in the yard or (even worse) the house.

    All the kids in the neighborhood – anywhere from 5 to 15 kids at any time – played together also. Anything from riding bikes or playing dodge ball or hide and go seek or games we would make up ourselves – you would find a huge group of kids. But if you wanted to be alone and just read a book, or just daydream, you could do that too. We had a lot of freedom of choice. We were not micro managed.

    In the evenings, we could still play outside until dark, but were expected to stay closer to home. But sometimes we would watch TV in the evenings.

    I worry for the kids today. They grow up way too fast. I don’t think they even know what they are missing.

  4. I grew up in Roland Park on the north side of Baltimore. Since I was born just after WWII, there were rat packs of us kids. I spent all my free time playing outside. We played hide and seek, softball and climbed trees. In the winter we went sledding. I was an only child, but that was the baby boom and most families were bigger. The older kids looked after the younger kids and on summer nights we stayed out until dark playing.
    My parents were a bit temperamental and I felt safer with the neighborhood kids than I did at home. For years, I ate dinner at the Harper’s house and watched television at the Pembroke’s house. As an adult, I have been very grateful for Roland Park and a safe neighborhood. I
    By the time my children were old enough to play outside there were no children in our immediate neighborhood in New Vernon NJ.all of my children’s play with other children had to be planned by parents who drove the children to their friends homes. I felt my children never got the socializing I had gotten in those carefree summer evenings.
    When my kids were teenagers in Berkeley CA they had a couple of friends who were in awkward situations. One boy who was a friend of my son, lived with us off and on for several years. I could always count on him to take out the garbage and set the table! My daughter had a Chinese friend whose parents felt she did not live up to their expectations and she lived with us for a couple of years. In the end I felt I had paid forward the help I had gotten as a child.
    My grandchildren Iive in a nice neighborhood outside of Boston, but there are no children nearby and both parents work; so they seldom get to play with other children. The pandemic with no school for 1 1/2 years left them very isolated. Besides the academic disaster it has also been a social disaster. Tomorrow is the first birthday party my 9 year old granddaughter has had in 3 years! I hope the feelings of loneliness from these years do not follow then through their lives.

  5. I grew up in a ‘small town” and I had similar freedom to Grace’s with adjustment for a college town environment. For us it was out on the bikes and we knew to come home when thee streetlights came on. We walked everywhere without supervision. We were even allowed off the school campus during the lunch break from 4th grade on. I also remember taking myself to the office where I was issued a work permit at the age of 12. Most of the playground equipment we had has been banned, except for the swings although we had 20 foot chains which allowed us to swing quite high… the differences continue.
    P.S. Having retired form a career in pediatric occupational and physical therapy I can report that the consequences to our protected children are well documented, both physical and cognitive.

  6. YES!!! I think kids today are in dire need of unsupervised and unstructured play time. I think it’s practically criminal how we are overscheduling and over-impeding the children of today. Friends of ours who have raised their children while living overseas, where helicopter parenting is nearly unheard of, strongly agree as well.

    I rambled for hours on my own or with friends as a child, ranging far and wide without any checking in. Just the requirement to be close enough to be in hailing distance when it was around dinnertime. Halcyon days!

  7. Another cowbell kid! I am eldest of 5 and less than 6 years older than my youngest sister so we played together a lot. My Dad was in the Air Force so we lived in many places, including Turkey, since he was transferred every couple of years. We played all sorts of places, including some construction sites in Turkey since they weren’t fenced, and somehow none of us 5 ever got seriously hurt (the only sibling to have broken a bone did it in her 50s after a fall). And at one point my best friend was a neighbor’s Great Dane. My childhood was mostly the 1950s and I sometimes wonder how we survived compared to the safety measures in place today. I do think that most of the safety for products is a very good thing.

    I also remember looking forward to receiving my Scholastic magazine and sitting in the grass reading for an afternoon so there was physical and intellectual stimulation. I am grateful for my childhood summers.

  8. My summers were similar. We had a perfect setup. A dozen houses on a single street surrounded by woods. Lots of kids to interact with. My grandparents had a large pool so we had lots of time playing made up games there. I have a niece and nephew raising their kids in a manner as close as possible. They live in Oregon and go outside everyday no matter the weather. They even go to the beach in winter coats. I applaud them for going against the norm.

  9. My childhood play was playing in the yard, climbing trees, walking to the store, going to a friend’s house, riding bikes, etc.
    But, I couldn’t be a fully range-free kid all day.
    I had to be home for lunch and dinner because of medication issues. If I wasn’t at home, then I had to know where food was coming from and when.
    Except for that food thing, I had pretty supervision-free childhood days!

    It was lovely!

  10. I remember being sent to my aunt’s by Amtrac or by Greyhound with my younger sisters starting at about age eight. Mom had a word with the driver or the dining room steward. It was a trip of about 1.5 hours by bus or train. By the time we were in our early teens we made the trip alone, if needed.

    My mother didn’t learn to swim until she was an adult. There were Red Cross Swim lessons at a lake about 15 miles away. Mom and Dad and an aunt & uncle went together to buy a travel trailer that could be pulled by a car, a station wagon in our case. Mom pulled that out to the swimming lake for the three weeks lessons lasted, camping Sunday pm through Friday noon so that not only could we take lessons, but we could actually practice informally what we learned. We all learned to swim. I had the dubious honor of swimming my mother in from deeper water a time or two.

    Summer was also the time of summer haircuts. Who else had their hair cut to their ears every June?!

  11. My brothers and I were outside all day and evening, coming home only to eat and staying out until well after dark. There was a large group of kids and because of the positioning of our neighborhood between a lake and a highway, there were no through streets so there was very little traffic. When we weren’t kicked out, we spent hours and hours in front of reruns. So there was both an upside and a downside to no supervision. I’d rather forego the freedom for attention.

    • You make an interesting point. In hindsight, many us recall the long hours of unstructured time fondly, but we also know that juvenile delinquency flourishes in the absence of parental supervision. So much so that the hours immediately after school, when many teens are latch-key kids, are referred to as the delinquency hours by law enforcement. After dark, when mom and dad are around to check homework and enforce a curfew isn’t such a problem. It’s that little window of freedom…
      Or maybe, it’s having ONLY a little window of freedom?
      In any case, I agree with you. A feral childhood is no better than one full of helicopter parenting.

  12. I am an avid library patron and ebooks have been a huge boon. (as have audiobooks!) Using Libby and Hoopla lets me read/listen on my phone. Hoopla is a free app supported by many libraries and has movies and music as well as books. It often has books that your library may not even though you get to it through your library. Just wanted to pass this along in case you fans were not aware!

    • Hoopla is a great resource, but… getting your books listed there can take, literally, YEARS. They will not deal with authors directly, so you have to go through aggregator services, and after you upload the file, you wait, and you wait, and you wait. No customer service for authors, no explanations for the delay, no way to get a status report. Many authors don’t bother because the uptake end of the service is so tedious. Or they upload, see no progress for a year, and give up. Hoopla has a ton of content to wrangle, and I guess they prioritize some over others.

  13. I loved being free to be out and about as the oldest of five children. Uncle Vic led us on “exploring” trips beyond the 9 acres of weeds and Live Oaks we lived on. We often went to the railroad tracks at the edge of the property, but avoided the dry wash beyond the tracks. We got to go between the strands of barbed wire to visit the calves next property over.
    When we needed to get to the bus stop for school it was a bit over 1/2 mile on the dirt road to get to the two lane blacktop. My brother Don and I set a speed record home when we saw a snake as we headed home after school. Dad later captured the five foot long King snake (as the first of 3 pet snakes) and had us each hold it after we stopped shaking and absorbed the “good snake” idea (eats pests and can even eat the occasional rattlesnake) explanation Dad gave us. My sister Patti had a goofier experience with Dad and wildlife when he told her to close her eyes and hold out her hands when we were all in the living room after dinner. He put a frog in her hands and was surprised when she dropped it. (The frog was OK, but that was one of many misunderstandings Dad experienced since he was an only child.)
    The “tree house” was nearest the house, and was reached via a few railroad spikes driven 2-3 inches into the oak’s trunk. It was just where the branches began (8-10 feet above ground). We set up curtains with string and cloth for the 3 rooms those branches provided. That was a great place to hang out after school or on weekends since Riverside County temperatures were often above 95 degrees in summer. The house was usually cooler than outside, but under the tree was cooler still, and Dad was the only heat lover in the group.