Times, they are(n’t) a changin’

A little bit ago, Annie had a friend over for a play date. She and this buddy get along famously, and often spend their time together doing artsy stuff. At one point, they each asked for a pair of scissors (and then looked at me rather incredulously when I asked to know why they needed said scissors, seeming almost hurt that I wouldn’t allow two six year-olds to just waltz off with some Fiskars) so that they could cut out these little… squares… they were making.

I watched as they meticulously drew dots on each square – one had a dot smack dab in the middle; another had two dots, one in the upper right and one in the upper left corner; yet another contained five dots, with one in the middle and the remaining four in the corners – and it occurred to me that they were essentially drawing dice patterns on their papers. When I voiced this to them, I was quickly admonished.

“No, Mommy! These aren’t DICE. Dice are ROUND.” (Okay, so we may need to work on our geometry.) “These are CARDS.”

Ah, playing cards! Gotcha. When I then suggested that they could simply use one of the 839 decks of Bicycle cards we have lying around the house, I was dismissed just quickly as before.

“No, we need to MAKE THESE because it’s part of the GAME. We learned it at school.”

So, first grade teaches gambling these days. Awesome.

Once the “playing cards” were drawn and cut out, it was time to write down the rules. Annie and her friend H each wrote down separate versions, then compared them, to be sure they’d each gotten it right.

To wit: Annie’s rules of the game (you can click on the photo to see it bigger)

Top It rules

1. Make sure that you each have 11 cards.
2. Shuffle 3 times.
3. Say “1-2-3 top it,” then have each flip over the card (whoever gets the bigger number wins <—- small print squeezed in off to the right side)
4. Keep doing it over and over
5. Until your cards are out
6. Have fun

H took her rules home with her, and I didn’t have a chance to take a photo of it before she did, but they matched Annie’s pretty closely.

What’s this game called?

“Top It.”

As I watched the girls begin to play – each turning a card over at the same time, with the person who played the higher card winning and taking both cards – I remarked that it looked an awful lot like the old-time favorite card game “War.” They looked briefly up at me and said, “It is.” When I asked why they were calling it “Top It” instead, they simply said, “Because in school we’re not allowed to say ‘war.'”

Really? REALLY?? It has come to this?

To be fair, our elementary school has, I think, done a pretty fantastic job of NOT jumping on the overreaction, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT THESE DAYS, there-could-be-a-pedophile-around-every-corner, we must protect our children bandwagon. Loads of kids walk and bike to school (many sans parents), there is still Tag and monkey-bar-hanging at recess, the kindergarteners are taken on a bus ride — without parents! without even ASKING the parents! — when they come to meet the teachers in August, and there is still outdoor recess all through our snow-filled Rochester winters (with the stipulation that once the wind chill hits 20 below, it’s officially too cold). It’s a school that, despite the recent push toward high stakes testing and lots of homework and recent tragedies at other schools across the country, has really embraced the idea that we truly are a community, and kids should be allowed to be kids. In short, it’s a fabulous place to be.

So, maybe that was why not allowing first-graders to call “War” War struck me as so odd. Or maybe it’s simply because it’s an asinine rule. BECAUSE PLAYING A CARD GAME THAT INVOLVES THE HIGHER NUMBER “BEATING” THE LOWER NUMBER HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ACTUAL WAR, you know what I mean?!?

Yes, yes. It’s different now. Increased security, Newtown, Columbine. And our school has taken measures because of that. But I can absolutely promise you that playing “War” wasn’t at the root of any of those tragedies.

I’m trying to imagine what’s next… Since the devastating tornadoes in Joplin and Oklahoma, clearly we can no longer allow kids to play “Twister.” I suggest “Twisted” (too psycho?) or  “Tangled” (save for copyright infringement).

“Candyland” obviously promotes unhealthy choices, but “Veggieland” or “Paleo-land” are probably okay.

“Battleship” encourages violence; “Sink ‘er!” or “Peg It!” are much more benign.

“Hedbanz” will soon be recalled for its glaring grammatical faux pas, with “Guess Me!” arriving in its place (or perhaps “Guess Me?” would be more apropos…?)

I know that my girls will tire of hearing me say it, and no, I didn’t walk to school uphill both ways (although I did have to endure a time when Jams were in style, and when the only way to watch cartoons was to actually find them on the television when they were showing LIVE — and then TURN THE DIAL, by hand, to the correct channel), but in many ways, life was just easier when Nick and I were kids. People didn’t second-guess everything. Nuance wasn’t read into all our interactions. We played “War” and nobody got a yen for actually hurting someone.

I guess it was a different time.
Except… not so much at all, really.


Annie’s just now arrived home from school, bursting to tell me about her day. After I heard about her Morning Work and playing outside at recess (gleeful, because there was snow on the ground), she proceeded to ask Ella if she’d heard a little “song” that Annie’d learned recently. And it goes like this:

Ella and so-and-so
Sittin’ in a tree!

Awwww. Familiar, no? I was reminded, yet again, of just how much childhood has not changed as I chanted alongside her (in my head, not aloud; that would have been totally uncouth, in Annie’s opinion)…

First comes love!
Then comes marriage!
Then comes the baby in the bay-bee carriage!

So beautiful, the connection between the generations, the innocence of childhood. “Top It” instead of “War,” my butt.
I heard the rest of the little ditty in my head before Annie could say it out loud…

Suckin’ his thumb!
And wetting his pants!
And doing the hu-la hu-la dance!

Except… that’s not how Annie ended her version of the ever-famous schoolyard jingle. No, according to Annie, after the baby arrives , he goes on a bender:

Then comes the baby in the bay-bee carriage!
That’s not it! That’s not all!
Your baby’s playing with al-co-hol!


Soooo, it would appear that some things have changed just a smidge in thirty-plus years.

I’m still calling it “War,” though.
And if Annie continues to sing this jaunty tune at the top of her lungs, I’m taking away the remote and making her change the channels on the television by hand. USING THE BUTTONS ON THE TV.

And she’ll still have to walk to school.

When she tells her own kids about that, I certainly hope she lets them know it was uphill. Both ways.

1 thought on “Times, they are(n’t) a changin’

  1. H’s cousin came up with the alcohol thing, too, over the summer. She whispered it into our ears and waited for shocked expressions. She, however, goes to Catholic school. Related?

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