Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Boys Versus Girls

The other day we had some friends and their kids over for one last backyard barbeque hurrah before old man winter puts the kibosh on that sort of thing. As will happen in the classic American barbeque scenario, the men ended up out on the back patio standing around the grill holding beers and watching the kids play, and the women ended up in the kitchen and living room drinking wine and complaining that the men were not watching the kids properly. At least that’s what we assumed they were talking about, since no man in the history of the classic American barbeque scenario has ever been foolish enough to go inside and inquire.

As you know, we now have a gigantic redwood play structure in our backyard that we got for “free.” The running total amount that the play structure has actually cost me is still climbing, what with the roofing materials I bought for it last week and the medical bills from the broken leg that are still coming in. I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway…

As the men huddled around the grill, and the women did whatever the women do inside the house, the boys were all playing joyously on the play structure. Six out of seven were playing on it, anyway. Our youngest son, who was the play structure’s first victim and the main reason for it not being very free at all, and who is still busy mending his femur in his Spica cast, was inside with the women. Poor kid. Anyway…

The other boys were having a great time playing some sort of fort/swing/cricket/dodgeball/jai-alai hybrid game that continually evolved with rotating team members and flexible rules, as kid’s games often do. It was hard to follow, but the kids seemed to always know what was going on. As near as the dads could figure, if you got hit with the batted Wiffle ball while in motion on one of the swings, you had to jump off the swing, climb up onto the play structure platform, and throw soccer balls at the guys with the bats. If you got hit with a soccer ball, you had to drop your bat and quickly get up to the platform and go down the slide before you were hit with one of your own Wiffle balls. If you caught the Wiffle ball, you had unlimited bomb powers… Like I said, it was hard to follow, but it was mighty entertaining.

A few times during the action one or two of the moms stuck their head out the sliding glass door to inquire about the safety of the game, but we assured them that Wiffle balls are mostly harmless, and the kids were just having fun, so everything was OK. They seemed unconvinced, but didn’t push the issue.

The game ran its natural course, lasting the standard 10 to 15 minutes of semi-coherent action, then devolving into small roving bands of children sort of still playing that game, but kinda playing something else. It eventually morphed into one small soccer game and a separate swinging height contest, both of which were far less entertaining for the adults. Just when we thought all the good action was over, a bright spot could be seen shining through the haze. One of the seven-year-olds seemed to have a quest. He had found our “Big Wheel” tricycle. You may have known it as a “Green Machine,” or by some other name, but if you’re my age, I’m sure you rode one as a kid. The all-plastic design, with the low-slung seat set back between the small-diameter wide rear wheels and the handlebars high above the large-diameter skinny front wheel with the direct-coupled foot pedals. An American classic. The Radio Flyer of the '70s kids.

Our young beacon of hope had found the Big Wheel and was in the process of holding it by one of the handlebars while walking up the play structure’s slide, dragging the Big Wheel behind him. We dads thought that was fairly impressive, since Big Wheels, despite being made of plastic, are pretty heavy for a seven-year-old. He made it all the way to the top of the slide and onto the platform with his load, and then began getting into position.

The slide is plastic with wooden side rails, and only about 20 inches wide. He put the large front tire in the middle of the slide heading down, but since the Big Wheel’s rear axle was too wide for both back tires to fit on the slide, he had to cockeye the back end and put only one back tire on the slide, with the plastic undercarriage near the other tire resting up on the wooden side rail.

Quickly assessing the situation, using the innate risk versus reward software that men hone and refine in our brains over our lifetimes, we dads concluded that the drag from the plastic undercarriage on the wooden rail would offset the low-friction rolling wheels, keeping the rider at a relatively safe and manageable speed. He would need to pull up hard on the handlebars for the launch off the end of the slide onto the lawn, and then cut it hard to the right to avoid a head-on with the fence, but he could definitely pull it off. His worst-case scenario was a few scrapes and splinters. Assessment: Totally worth it.

Approving of the venture, and eagerly anticipating the first test run, we watched as he worked out how to get onto the Big Wheel without it starting down without him. He was just making his way into the seat when a whole gaggle of moms came bursting from the living room and kitchen onto the patio, shouting, “No!!!”

We turned around in surprise to face the horde of naysaying mothers, shocked to see them glaring at us with icy, dagger-throwing eyes.

“It’s alright,” I said, trying to calm the group down. “That plastic frame isn’t going to hurt the wood.”

As it turns out, that wasn’t what they were concerned about at all.

As we listened intently to the ladies' concerns, and I watched the young boy’s mom dismantling what would have been a perfectly mostly safe and totally awesome test run, a thought occurred to me. This is why there aren’t too many female test pilots.

When a girl looks at a steep hill, she thinks to herself… I honestly have no idea what she thinks to herself.

When a boy looks at a steep hill, he thinks to himself, “You know, if I was on something that had wheels, I could go really fast down this sucker!”

When a girl looks at a bike, or a skateboard, or a scooter, she probably thinks to herself, “That looks like a fun and effective mode of transportation,” or something like that.

When a boy looks at anything with wheels on it, he thinks to himself, “You know, I bet that thing would go faster if the back end of it was on fire.”

Boys are doing math at a young age, constantly putting two and two together. Play structure plus Big Wheel equals fun. Pool plus roof of house equals bigger splash. Firecracker plus anything else equals awesome.

I have tried, but it seems to be a very hard concept to explain to my wife. I just don’t think women really get it.

He totally would have made it!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. LOVE it! My son turns 16 in 3 1/2 weeks, so the past months have seen me log many miles in the co-pilot's seat as he gets a feel for the wheel. A running joke has been referenced here that made us both laugh and smile. I have told him countless times, in an attempt to hone his defensive driving skills into a ninja-like 6th sense, to be prepared at all times for a "kid on a Big Wheel" to come darting across the road. It could totally happen...


  2. Especially if that Big Wheel is coming down off a play structure slide. That adds extra speed, and you know his feet won't be able to be on the wildly spinning pedals! Thanks for the heads-up on the roads of greater Portland. I'll alert the family to keep a sharp eye for Cos.

  3. I think Miles has that sense of adventure in him when it came to steep hills and a skateboard ... it got him brain surgery and plates in his skull. Just sayin!

  4. Eydie,
    That just makes Miles cooler. He now has a partially bionic head, and a built-in excuse for any brain farts. "Oh, yeah, sorry about that, must be the brain surgery an all..."