One of our favorite family activities to play alone or with another family is kickball with an enormous ball. It's active but doesn't require much by way of skill, and the large ball levels the playing field.
Here's a little story from the first time we discovered this as a good #ForcedFamilyFun activity:
We seize the single warm, sunny day of the week, and in the late afternoon, head to a park full of biking trails and waterways.
We play a game of kickball on a big flat patch (playing in our own backyard is a precarious situation, with me constantly worried someone is going to go careening over the stone wall onto the concrete beneath). I’m universal pitcher, since I recently sprained my ankle, and it's not up to sprints and quick turns yet.
“I’m on nobody’s team,” I announce.
“No, you’re on everybody’s team,” my husband corrects me. “If it comes to you, catch it.”
Fine. But to be clear, I’m cheering for both sides.
The middle child is by far the most competitive sportsman in the family. He plays his heart out in every game, no matter how low the stakes are. He’s a bit disappointed to be paired with the youngest, who is only vaguely interested in sports. If the middle were arranging teams, he would pick his dad in two seconds flat. He would gleefully crush everyone.
But as my husband points out, in gym classes there are only two kinds of kids—the kids who care and the kids who don’t, and since the oldest is firmly in the camp of not caring, he has to be balanced with someone else who is giving the game his all--namely, his father.
Kickball, though, is good for leveling the playing field. Especially with an enormous ball that gets caught in the breeze and takes unpredictable turns. It’s even challenging to catch the thing; for some reason, it just pops out of your hands sometimes. So really, it’s perfect.
My husband and middle son predictably wail the ball as hard as they can, while the youngest and oldest are less predictable. Foul balls abound. At one point, someone who shall go unnamed misses the ball entirely with his kicking foot but bumps it a bit with the second foot, so that it might or might not count as a bunt (Is it in the batter’s box or not? Where is the batter’s box?), and though his teammate runs the bases, we ultimately call it foul.
Once, when my husband is up to bat, the oldest goes deep but the youngest stands close to home plate along the first base line. My husband tells him to back up, but he says he wants to stay. My husband kicks and the ball whacks the youngest directly in the face, knocking him down like a bowling pin.
It is totally America’s Funniest Home Videos-worthy. Kick. Bam. He’s down. Fortunately, the ball is so bouncy it doesn’t even hurt him—he’s just stunned, like a fly smacked not quite hard enough to die.
Unfortunately, a few plays later, as the youngest is playing first base, the oldest stiff arms him in the face to get him out of his way as he runs, and this time, there’s a red mark, but he’s all right. “He forgot we weren’t playing football,” says my husband.
Some of us are easily distracted. When I look down at the grass near my "pitcher's mound," I see dark gray downy breast feathers. “Feathers!” I shout, drawing the youngest to me. We begin scanning the nearby ground for a tail or wing feather we could add to our Bird Board.
“More feathers!” shouts the youngest.
“More!” I say. And then, there is a large collection of the downy feathers. Too large. “Ug. That can’t be good. I don’t think this bird got away alive.”
There is one single wing feather nearby, but I only lift it up with the arm of my sunglasses. It’s a bit too mangled for my comfort.
“Let’s go, Nature Lovers!” my husband calls from home plate.
A few innings in, we’ve lost track of the score and even how many innings we’ve actually played, but who cares? At some random point, my husband declares, “One more inning!” and the oldest sighs, “A whole ‘nother inning?” I bow out at the end to catch some of the game on film. Who wins? Who knows. Nobody? Everybody?
Afterward, the boys want to play in the creek. They drag logs around, trying to make a bridge across the creek. Then, without warning, they start walking upstream and disappear.
“Where are they going?” I ask my husband. He’d brought them to the same place a few weeks ago.
“Up to the source. They’re fine. Let them go.”
But I’m a mom, not a dad, so I can’t just lay there admiring the sky. After a bit, I head down where they were and start looking for them. I can see they’re climbing the hill side, nearly out of sight. Then, they’re gone.
“I can’t even see them,” I report back.
“They’re fine. It’s good for them to be out of our sight sometimes. That’s when it feels like an adventure.”
I remember the days my brother and I spent playing in the creek in our backyard, building a dam, trying to catch crayfish.
I pace back to the last place I saw them. No sign. I distract myself with wildlife. The woods are blooming these days, wildflowers everywhere.
Finally, they come back down. The youngest announces that the oldest is bleeding.
Great. Just what a mom wants to hear after her kids have been out of sight climbing up a mountainside she has no plans to traverse herself. But he’s fine, it’s just a small cut. And who can focus on that, anyway, what with the discoveries they made up there?
“Tires!” they report. “And metal and some kind of plastic!”
“Maybe the scene of a car crash!”
“It’s like Mysteries of the Abandoned!” they say, referring to a TV show they like to watch sometimes at their grandparents'.
There’s plenty to talk about on the ride home and through dinner and into the evening. The oldest pulls up Google Maps and sees that there’s a road close to the scene. The middle son, however, is still thinking about the kickball game.
“What was your favorite part of the time at the park?” I ask him as we both lie on my bed, reading.
“Kickball. That was epic,” he says.
I nod. “It was pretty great.” But I can't choose between the chaotic fun of kickball and watching my three boys together in the creek; it's a tie.