The other morning, walking past a neighborhood house I overheard some children role playing in the front garden. They were running and a little girl suggested they should pretend to kill the monsters - "that way they will be afraid and run away anyway." In playing their roles, these children were learning what they thought about life.
I didn't catch the rest, because the children disappeared into the back yard. But that snippet was so sweet and it reminded me of something eternal in childhood - my brother and sister and me with Kim and Nicola playing similar games.
We had a gate in the fence between our properties at the bottom of the garden, so that we wouldn't have to walk all the way up Oak Hill Road to get to their house. Sometimes while we were having breakfast, we'd see Kim at the end of our garden underneath the willow tree. She stood there awkwardly, twisting the leaves on an overhanging branch, waiting for us to come out and play. At other times we would be first outside -emerging through the gate on the other side of the fence, where they had a little orchard of plum trees.
We played games like the ones my neighbor's children played. Like the ones my own children played with their friends in the park in Buenos Aires. We tried on roles. One of our favorites was mods and rockers. The mods and rockers represented two different gangs in the 1960's - the mods being those who wore mini-skirts and trendy clothes, while the rockers were rougher, in skinny jeans and leather jackets. This game was for us the ultimate in cool. So we'd pretend to be rockers - finding twigs to represent cigarettes, and huddling in groups and putting on Cockney accents. I had a pen that looked like a real cigarette, and using that pen in my role playing gave me, I felt, a lot of cachet.
It wasn't until years later that I realized that the mods and rockers were themselves playing roles. Trying on roles to see who they were and if the disguise was a comfortable fit. I did the same thing as I went through my teens, although it wasn't as evident to me at the time. I only know that I felt more secure in a definitive role - in my Indian print mini dress and shag hair cut, for instance, pictured below. Here I am with my sisters and brother in Paris. I had these Indian sandals and one of them broke. My father found it so irritating. He couldn't understand why I wouldn't just buy a cheap pair to replace them. Why was I walking all over Paris in a broken sandal? But how could I change my sandals? That would have entirely ruined my image!
I was talking to my friend Gail over coffee and she remarked that now at sixty she was just trying to be herself, and because of that she noticed that younger women seemed drawn to her.
I think this is right. All through my life I have loved older women and thought of them as my real role models. There wasn't a costume that went with who they were. That's because they were genuine. They had transcended their sexual and biological roles, no longer cared about trendiness - although each of them had their own style. These women were a generation older than my mother - herself a wonderful role model, but too close for me to see at the time. There was Rosie, a sculptor who lived across the road and Flyn a family friend in Sunderland. These were the women I most admired when I was a girl.
Later there was Gladys in Cohasset, Massachusetts, and when I had children of my own and lived in Buenos Aires, there was my beautiful friend Irene. These women were much older than me and there was nothing to copy in terms of style. It was more a question of substance. They were who they were and they didn't care what anyone else had to say about it. And yet they were gracious and beautiful. They were themselves.
In any case, it was a lot of fun to try on all those roles. I love that childhood game and listening to those children reassured me. Those were the games that taught us how to be ourselves and what we really thought.