Childhood / Thoughts

Childhood Games

File:U-Bahnhof Saarlandstraße Zugangsgebäude.nnw.jpg

Writing the previous post brought up some old memories and some reflections. When I was a small child, I played a game of not stepping on the gaps between the concrete slabs of the pavement. Maybe you can play such a game only at a certain age when the length of your stride fits the size of the slabs. It was certainly in pre-school times. I used to walk and say or think “sugar” when I stepped on the slab, “mustard” when stepping on the gaps. I don’t remember why I considered mustard to be the opposite of sugar; I obviously did not like mustard, so it represented getting a negative point in the game. I don’t know if this sugar-mustard-game was my own invention or I had learnt it from another child. Maybe I was part of a tradition here.

If I walk on such a pavement today, I hardly ever notice the slabs or the gaps consciously. They belong to the expected features of the environment that are filtered out from conscious perception most of the time. We produce expectations and what matches the expectations is filtered away and does not reach our consciousness. The expectations in this case where built up and trained through that solitary game of my childhood. At a certain age, the structure of the pavement was new and interesting and entertaining enough to use it in a game. After some time, that game became boring, as that aspect of the world had turned into part of the expected. Sometimes, when we unexpectedly stumble, for example because a tree root has pushed up one of the slabs, their existence comes into the focus of our attention, but most of the time, we can just take them for granted.

The games of children might seem odd to the grown up, but many of them serve a purpose of investigating the properties of things. Most of these exploratory games are forgotten later, but some memories are left. I remember that one time, my grandmother had picked me up to bring me to her place (this must also have been at a pre-school age). I remember that we came downstairs from the train station near her place (see above a contemporary picture of that station). I started dragging the tips of my boots over the ground with each step. This caused a vibration of the foot and a “rubbery” noise. Of course, it also caused scratches on the tips of my boots and my grandmother told me to stop it because I was spoiling the shoes. I remember nice brown leather boots. They had scratched tips ever after. Seeing these scratches again and again might have kept that memory alive. This experiment must have taught me something about the properties of pavement slabs, of leather, about noise and vibration, about the concept of “spoiling” things, about the reactions of my grandmother, about a new way to walk, a new movement pattern. From my grandmother’s point of view, I had been spoiling my shoes (although they were just as fine as before from my point of view). Today I think it was an interesting experiment and worth the scratches in the shoes.

In some ways, our perspective is widening when we grow up but in other respects, it seems to be getting narrower. As we grow up, we are understanding larger connections and structures of things, be at the same time, we are weaving ourselves into a cocoon of knowledge and expectations that is reducing the rich experience of a child to a small trickle.

One thought on “Childhood Games

  1. This is a lovely essay. It helps me remember childhood more vividly. One of the joys, to me, in taking photographs is to venture forth without expectations, hoping to see something as if I haven’t seen it before.

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