By John Stein
The first relationships I remember were with my parents, beginning of course at a very young age. I wrote about what I learned from my mother and my father in previous issues (Stein,2011, June 4; Stein, 2011, December 15). The next relationships I remember were with my peers, beginning around age 4, when I was sent out to play in the morning at our home in Reading, PA. Carol, also four-years-old, who lived two doors away, was my best friend. We played together nearly every day, on the sidewalks and on the playground of the school across the street. We played cowboys and Indians and our tricycles became horses while I became Roy Rogers and she Dale Evans. We also played cops and robbers and our bicycles became police cars and getaway cars. Sometimes they became buses or taxis as we played other things. Occasionally, Woody would join us, and I would sometimes play with him when Carol wasn’t available. Once school started, we played together after school. Then, in the summers, when afternoon naps were no longer required, we played all day long, stopping only for lunch. On very hot days, we would sometimes just sit and talk. On rainy days, we took turns playing with toys at each other’s homes.
Because no adults were available, we had to get along. If we didn’t we couldn’t play together. We had to learn to negotiate and cooperate, to take turns being the leader making up the stories we would act out, to settle our own arguments, to respect each other and each other’s property, and to share our snacks and toys and spending money. We quickly learned to avoid kids who couldn’t do these things.
In the middle of second grade, when I was six or seven, we moved to another part of town. I quickly made friends with several boys in the neighborhood who walked home from school the same way I did. My best friend there was Frankie, who was a big fan of Roy Rogers, so I usually pretended to be Gene Autry. We no longer used tricycles, pretending rather that we were on horses as we ran around the neighborhood. Carey also joined us frequently for play, and we took turns playing at each other’s homes. Frankie had a Roy Rogers play set with a ranch, horses, cowboy figures to ride them, and even a jeep. He had a large bedroom on the third floor where we could really act out adventures with his little figures, later bringing in model airplanes that we had put together from kits. And a little later, I got a set of toy soldiers.
By the fourth grade, we all had bicycles, and had friends from several blocks away. We traveled to different neighborhoods on our bikes. We played more cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers, with our bikes becoming our horses, or police cars and getaway cars.
Still there were no adults to supervise us, so still, we had to get along by ourselves. Our group was much larger, yet we still couldn’t play together if we couldn’t get along. And so we learned more about cooperation and negotiation, sharing, taking turns being the leader for the stories we acted out, and respecting each other and other people’s property.
There were, of course, kids who did not get along well with others. Tommy played with us a couple of times. He lived in the same block as Frankie and I, but Tommy was a bit of a bully. Aggressive. We soon learned to avoid him. He gravitated toward other ‘toughs’ from outside our neighborhood, and we saw little of Tommy or his friends. Dennis from across the street was another one of those kids. I would play with him occasionally when no one else was around. He was overweight and big for his age. Too often our play ended with me on the ground and Dennis on top. I began to avoid Dennis when no one else was outside.
Then came seventh grade, a new and much larger school, and more new friends. My best friend soon became Jim (Stein, 2012, December 15), and Frankie and I drifted apart. In seventh grade gym class, we began to learn the fundamentals of sports–American football, basketball, and baseball–and we began playing sports rather than cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers, with Mike and Doug and Rusty joining us. Because there were only two or four of us at a time, we had to devise games in football, basketball, and baseball that we could play with much less than a full team. And we had to make our own calls for fouls and out of bounds, a real challenge for cooperation, negotiation, and respect. So we continued to learn from each other.
In high school, we played a lot of basketball at Eleventh and Pike streets. Kids and even young adults came from all over the city to play pick up basketball there. Teams usually consisted of four players, and games were played on the half court by what was known as ‘Pike rules.’ Each basket was one point and the first team to reach eleven won the game. ‘Makers-takers’ meant that the team who scored got the ball back to try again. The most interesting rule was that, in the event of a foul, the person committing the foul had to call the foul, in which case the other team got the ball back. Interestingly, I don’t recall any disputes about fouls with these adolescents and young adults from all over the city.
What I learned both with and from my peers in my formative years has served me well throughout my life and career, especially my ability to trust others, until I learned different, and my sense of fairness and fair play.
Stein, J. (2011, June 4). Things I learned from me mum. goodenoughcaring Journal.
Stein, J. (2011, December 15). From my dad. goodenoughcaring Journal.
Stein, J. (2012, December 15). Jim: the importance of peers. goodenoughcaring Journal.