My kids are frolicking! Really!! MY children!

They’re outside, they’re running around, they’re having fun — without colorful plastic toys, without a play structure, without an adult overseeing, supervising, or facilitating…without ME! Just a big backyard, rolling grass, a random hill or two and my kids. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.

Maybe this wouldn’t be such a big deal if I were used to it. But I’m not.

We don’t live in the country. This is just our summer vacation.  At home, my kids almost never play outside, and they certainly don’t play outside without me standing there beside them suggesting what to play and showing them exactly how to play it.

When did kids stop knowing how to play?  When I was a kid the rule was: come home from school, disappear until dinner, show up for food and go to sleep.  My parents never watched us.   And they didn’t provide us with any “props” to facilitate our entertainment.  Okay, I had one of those geo-domes and a zip line.  But I barely used them.   What was the point?  The neighborhood was my oyster!   All of the kids would get together after school and climb trees, play Red Rover, and ride bikes around and around (and around and around and around…) in the wide circular driveway behind my house until my dad, irritated by our repetitive cycling came outside yelling “ENOUGH ALREADY!”  That’s the way frolicking was done in the olden days.

This is my fault.

My kids have just never really frolicked.   We live in a big city and they play inside where it’s safe.  They have video games, a playroom filled with toys, and a jacuzzi in the courtyard that I let them splash around in occasionally.   But the big outdoors scares them.  The most freedom my kids have enjoyed is riding their bikes in the street.  It sounds dangerous, but bike riding in my neighborhood consists of a grown-up, (i.e. “me”) standing in the middle of the street or sitting on the curb watching vigilantly in both directions for any car movement.  If I see any car along any road nearby I yell “CAR!” and the kids know to scatter immediately to the side of the road.   When the car is gone, I yell “CLEAR!” and they resume their riding.  That’s it.   And I sit right there the whole time…yelling…”CAR!” “CLEAR!” “CAR!…NO WAIT!…CLEAR!’

It’s unproductive.   And quite frankly, it’s boring.   Once I invited my neighbors to join me for a little curbside cocktail hour as we watched our kids riding up and down the street and took turns yelling “CAR!” and “CLEAR!” and “PASS THE WINE.”   It made it more entertaining.  But you can’t really do that everyday, can you?

So you can see why, when I look out my window of our summer house in the mountains and see my kids rolling down the hill in the front yard, chasing each other and “frolicking” outside I am so pleased.

It wasn’t easy to get here.  Our first day in the house I opened the back door to the yard and said “Go.”  They stood there and looked out at the wide expanse of foreign territory blinking.

“GO!” I tried to shoo them out the door.

“Are you coming with us?”

“Nope. I’m going to be right here in the kitchen cleaning up. I can see you through the window. Go play! Have fun!”

“Are there bears?”

“No there aren’t any bears. Well, there might be, but they’re not interested in coming into our yard while you’re running around.”


“Really.” I hoped I was right. But I wasn’t going to give them the bear excuse to bow out of playing in the yard.

“We’re scared.”

“Scared?   Of what?   Grass?  Leaves?  Fresh air??  You’re totally safe.  Look how beautiful it is!  Go play!”  I pointed to the lovely vista of rolling hills behind our house.   They were unconvinced.

“What are we supposed to do out there?”   I couldn’t believe they would look at this gorgeous yard and not know what to do with it.  “You can play catch!  You can play tag!  You can roll around on it.”

“How do you do that?”

“Roll?”   I was beside myself.   I had had enough of this.   I took them both outside by the hand to the top of a small hill and literally showed them how to roll down a hill.

“WEEEEEEEEE!!!!  I added enthusiastic sound effects to emphasize how much fun I was having.  “Come on!  Try it.”

Livi got down on the grass and rolled.  She rolled a little sideways, and partially under a bush but she was laughing like it was the funniest thing she had ever done.  Ben, convinced by Livi’s laughter, followed her down.  Somehow between all of us rolling, picking buttercups, playing tag, and me throwing a raw hot dog out into the field to convince the kids there was something more interesting to the bears than they are, they started to relax and have fun.

And like a parent watching their child balance on a bicycle for the first time, I let go and slowly backed toward the house.   I closed the screen door behind me, came into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of lemonade.   I could see through the back window they were having fun.  They were happy.  They were safe.  They were frolicking!

I sat down, took a leisurely swig of my lemonade, and yelled “CLEAR!”

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Sarah is a comedian, freelance writer, and the founder of "Mommy Lite" (www.MommyLiteOnline.com), a parenting humor site. Her work has appeared in Los Angeles Magazine, on More.com, ParentsAsk.com, DivineCaroline.com, Shine.com, and TheWellMom.com. She has appeared at The Comedy Store in Hollywood, The Hollywood Improv and Stand-Up New York. Sarah is the creator and co-author of "The Bridesmaid’s Guerrilla Handbook" (Berkley Books) and her second non-fiction humor book, "Got Milf? The Modern Mom's Guide to Feeling Fabulous, Looking Great and Rocking a Minivan," will be out in Spring 2011. Sarah lives in Los Angeles with her ten year old daughter, six year old boy/girl twins and three ridiculously overweight guinea pigs.

12 responses to “Frolicking 101”

  1. Richard Cox says:

    This line says it all:

    “The most freedom my kids have enjoyed is riding their bikes in the street. It sounds dangerous, but…”

    Riding your bike in the street sounds dangerous. Wow. And you don’t have to live in a big city. My sister and her husband live in Edmond, Oklahoma, in the most scrubbed-to-a-sheen, upper middle class neighborhood you can imagine, nothing but tidy suburbia for miles and miles, and her children are more sheltered than nuns in a countryside convent. She would tell you otherwise–they take gymnastics, ballet, etc–but they are shepherded to and from events by her and only her. I bet they don’t ride their bikes any farther than three houses away from home. They don’t go to the pool without her. Nothing.

    I don’t have children, so I’m not really afforded an opinion, but as an outsider it seems like media fearmongering is partly to blame. And once one parent starts overprotecting, then gradually they all do, because if you’re the only mom who isn’t showing up for every event and constantly watching her children, then you must be the terrible, Satan mom who doesn’t possess the ability to love.

    And don’t even get me started on the troop transport-style SUVs. Hahaha.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I should be more specific. Not the media specifically, but big business. The message may be delivered via the media, but really it’s many types of corporations selling you “safety.” It’s a big business, keeping us scared. Because overall we’re a fairly safe lot here in the U.S. But you can’t be allowed to believe that, because then you won’t buy the goods and services that help “keep you safe.”

      By the way, the threat level is currently orange.

  2. Joe Daly says:

    As a single non-parent, I have suspected that kids have lost the art of frolicking, but have no basis for that suspicion, other than the preponderance of video game ads and throwaway comments from friends with kids. Like Coxy, I have to agree that the media might be overplaying their hand a bit, although if I were a parent, I can’t say my overprotective gene wouldn’t kick in.

    Growing up in New England, I lived in a neighborhood with lots of kids and we always found stuff to do- football, kickball, bicycle riding, etc. In the interest of full disclosure, these activities later morphed into switchblade throwing, pipe bomb building, and home invasions, but hey, we were young! One man’s crime is another man’s frolic.

    But I’ve digressed. I’m inspired by your enthusiasm for watching your children develop so happily. Seems like it’s infectious!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Oh, yeah, Joe. Home invasions were all the rage. Or getting chases. We’d sit on our bikes and throw peaches at passing cars until someone got pissed and came after us. And let’s not forget unsupervised trick or treating at age 10 blocks and blocks from home.

      We run the risk of sounding like old farts here, but like Dana I’d like to know what’s different. If anything it’s safer now than then. The old adage “these kids today” could conceivably edited to “these parents today,” again acknowledging that I’m not a parent myself.

      In any case, Sarah, kudos to your frolicking kids!

      • Simon Smithson says:

        The day we learned that fruit + cars = awesome was the day we finally learned that maths had some purpose.

  3. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    Hmm, that big city thing I understand somewhat, but still, I’ve been noticing this “play where it’s safe” attitude a lot, and frankly, it’s scary.

    Sure, I grew up in a small suburb, but it was an industrial suburb, and we played in parking lots loaded with semis, pushing each other into the trucks and onto the concrete. We played on junkyards, in lakes, around the slaughterhouse, we played with bolt-guns used for killing cattle, with fireworks, and we did all that without any parental oversight.

    I wonder if we have all un-learned that most of the time it’s safe not to be safe. Sure, explain that to the mom whose kid gets run over by a hummer, but still.

    So frolicking is really good. Really good. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Dana says:

    Hear hear! My parents WERE overprotective and still I started going to the pool unaccompanied when I was 10, babysat when I was 11, rode my bike 6 miles to the lake when I was 13 (without a helmet) and routinely stayed out playing until dark or until the mosquitoes drove me inside. Parents are convinced that it’s a much more dangerous world out there now than it was when they were kids, but I’d like to know what has changed.

    My friends daughter recently turned 16 and has of course started driving. How absurd is it that the first time kids get any freedom at all now, we give them the keys to the car?

    I should also point out that I don’t get a vote in any of this because I don’t have children. 🙂

    LOL Joe – Home invasions?! Way to take it to the next level!

  5. zoe zolbrod says:

    I’m glad your kids are outside having fun! I have kids aged 2 and 9, and I think about the difference between their childhoods and mine all the time. Just generally, I wonder how the current-day protectiveness will affect the chances the kids take as they grow older. And I wonder how I, a supposed lover of freedom and risk, will respond if and when my kids want to do some of the things that I did as a teenager or young adult. I wrote this post about it on my blog:
    (I don’t usually see links in the comments section here. Someone please tell me if it’s bad form. I won’t take offense.)

  6. dwoz says:

    In my experience what has died is unstructured time.

  7. Simon Smithson says:

    “As a single non-parent, I have suspected that kids have lost the art of frolicking, but have no basis for that suspicion, other than the preponderance of video game ads and throwaway comments from friends with kids.”

    Yeah, Joe’s said pretty much everything that I have to say. I don’t have kids, I don’t want kids, but I’ll happily stand up and say that kids are too sheltered these days. Based on conclusions that I have pulled out of, basically, the sky.

    But it’s like the idea that certain things are too scary for kids to watch, or read about, and should be sanitised (in terms of ghost stories and the like, not, for instance, the Boston Strangler).


    Getting the shit scared out of you is one of the best parts of growing up.

  8. Irene Zion says:


    Victor and I grew up in a different time. We were in Brooklyn, mind you, but attitudes were not the same.

    You had your bowl of cheerios in the morning and you went out to skate or ride your bike in the street till you got hungry again around lunchtime and came home to make your PBJ.

    Then you went out with your friends in the neighborhood again and skated or rode your bike to the park to play on the swings and the monkey bars over concrete.

    I never got hit by a car, although I did break my arm once avoiding a car who thought I shouldn’t be skating in the road. Victor got hit by cars all the time, but he was a boy. He was careless. He finally learned how to avoid cars as he got some experience.

    We also went to school alone by subway. It was usually fine. Now and then you’d get a flasher, but that was part of life. No one even bothered to tell anyone.

    It was great. The freedom was exhilarating. This was our childhood.

  9. Marni Grossman says:

    This piece reminded me of my frequent complaint about playgrounds.

    There was a playground near my house and it was amazing. Huge wooden thing with tunnels and slides and- it seemed like magic- little tin intercoms. A few years ago they replaced it with a plastic one and I was heartbroken.

    The reasoning seemed clear: wooden playgrounds are dangerous splinter-traps. Still though. I found myself longing for the playground of my childhood. A little bit unsafe but a hell of a lot of fun.

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