Today is National Touch Tag Day. For real.
This fact upset me, mainly because nobody plays tag anymore, and it’s one of the all-time great childhood rites of passage. But it also clarified for me a recurring vision I didn’t even realize I’d been having. Is that weird? It’s like this scene had been projecting on the inside of my skull and the rest of my brain just thought it was background noise.
The first home my parents owned was a 2-story brick house on Ridgeway Drive, which was exploding with kids. Greggie Smith, who lived right next door, was two years older than me, and we hung out a lot. One day, when I was 10, we went to our secret hideout behind the trees at the dead-end street, and sat there waiting for something to happen. Greggie turned his sweaty face to me and said, “Would you tell your mother if I kissed you?”
I considered Greggie’s question for a minute. I’m pretty sure I wanted him to kiss me, but I also felt obligated to answer the question, which seemed complicated.
“I think,” I finally said, “that if you had kissed me without asking me that, then I wouldn’t have told her. But now that you’ve asked me if I would tell her, I have to tell her because otherwise it would be lying.”
He looked at me and swiped at his dark brow. “What?” he said. Men are so from Mars.
I rephrased. I might have rephrased three or four times. Greggie just sat there, his brown elbows perched on his bony knees, staring at the dirt.
After a while, I heard my mother calling me, and Greggie said, “You better go.” I wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed. I was both.
Nobody else tried to kiss me until I was 16 years old and Paul Lanneaux stuck his beer-flavored tongue in my mouth and I spent the next three weeks waiting for him to call me and teach me a whole different kind of touch tag.
Wait. None of this is part of the vision.
Okay, let me refocus. Touch tag. For us, it was Freeze Tag. Most evenings, we ran around the neighborhood until dark. We loved when the mosquito fog truck droned by and we could chase behind it breathing in the toxic gray plume. Seriously, we really did that. Is it a coincidence that mosquito bites don’t really bother me? I think not.
And we played freeze tag. Sometimes the magnolia trees served as “base,” and other times it was our front porch. It seems now like we played Freeze Tag every single day, although I also obsessed about bouncing on my pogo stick, climbing up the mimosa tree and picking Japanese plums.
My vision, however, zeroes in on Freeze Tag. And I think that’s what’s been bugging me about my life – my kids don’t play it. They don’t spend hours and hours outside, like I did. Why not? Is it because they have more options inside? Or because we don’t have as many kids in our neighborhood? I don’t know. I’m not going to be so trite that I start longing for a simpler time because, duh, who wants to go back to not having a remote control for the tv? I won’t even get started on espresso.
But damn, I wish today’s suburban kids grew up with more gumption. I want my boy to remember collecting worms after rainstorms, and for my girls to know how to make princess crowns out of wildflowers. I want them to know that liberating moment when, standing statue-still after being tagged, a friend slaps your hand and you’re free to run, run, run for home, or for base, or to sneak a kiss before dinner.