There are many things about my childhood that I’m grateful for. One of them is that I grew up in a neighborhood in NY where there were dozens of kids my age on every block. Any given day you could find a wiffle-ball game in the street starting up right around 4pm and lasting until the street lights came on. Every parking lot had a spray painted square shape somewhere on a wall which signified the batter’s box. First base was usually a manhole cover. The foul line always seemed to be something that wasn’t as permanent, like a pile of leaves or a sleeping dog, inevitably leading to heated arguments.
The younger the group was, the more likely it was that a a new kid would roll up on their bike to join the fun. They’d watch the game, smiling, until a new game started and they’d get picked for a team.
I can remember vividly the fashion of the day was to have a bunch of worn out stripes at the bottom of our jeans. This meant that as each kid grew, his mom would let out the extra fabric at the bottom of his pants and then fold and sew it at that spot. When he grew a little more, she’d undo the stitches and make a new fold in the pants instead of having to buy new jeans. We teased each other relentlessly about stuff like that, but we were all on the same team. None of us came from wealthy families. Almost all of us were first generation Americans. The kids wondering into the group didn’t have much to offer, but if they showed some skill in hitting the little pink ‘spaldeen’, their status among the group climbed quickly.
As we got a little older, roaming freely among the neighborhoods on our bikes wasn’t as safe any more. We’d cycle into another neighborhood and find a ball game or a bunch of kids building a bike ramp. They weren’t as accommodating as they were in our younger days though. Often times we’d have to fight our way out of their “turf”, coming home with bloody noses and scraped knees. I lost many a new spalpeen that way too.
As we grew even older, the chances of seeing a group of strangers and joining in their fun became almost impossible. As teenagers and adults, we couldn’t just walk up to another group and sit there smiling at them. They’d ask what our problem was instead of asking if we wanted to play second base.
What changed in those growing years that made us become so protective and territorial? Why are we so intimidated to join an unfamiliar group of people? I believe it has to do with the stories we tell ourselves. At an early age we see that wiffle-ball game and our eyes light up. We envision hitting that home run and being carried around the parking lot on the shoulders of all the other kids.
For some reason, as we get older, our mind immediately creates the nightmare of striking out in front of everyone. We convince ourselves that it’s much safer to avoid the group, therefore protected from harm and humiliation. That might be the culprit right there, humiliation. As kids, we didn’t give a shit about our bat skills, our hemmed pants, or getting punched in the face by the bullies on the next block. We ventured out of our comfortable neighborhood anyway. Picture what we could accomplish if we still followed our childish imaginations instead of our unfounded fears. Our batting average would probably be a lot higher. We'd still strike out some times, but every once in a while we'd hit one out of the parking lot.