War games

By Dan Dunkle | May 23, 2011

Coming up through leaves next to the garage, I nudged a branch aside with the barrel of my weapon and surveyed the drop zone through my scope.

All was quiet.

I was well prepared for any eventuality. I was fully loaded with a backup clip in the pocket of my fatigue-style shorts. My orange Nerf assault rifle was outfitted with a shield to deflect incoming fire as well as a bipod to hold the barrel steady should I decide to lie down and snipe.

The sun was out and warm on my back even though the ground and all of the leaves were wet. It gave the yard a tropical, Pacific Theater kind of vibe.

I noticed a little pair of legs where the trunk of the pine tree should be next to the house. The pink leggings with multicolored stars were a dead give away. Target acquired!

Breaking cover only briefly, I darted from the side of the garage to the base of the apple tree and scanned the area again. Suddenly I heard giggling from directly above. When I looked up, I saw a small enemy combatant perched in the branches.

"Careful not to fall!" I shouted, breaking character for a moment.

Wesley had chosen the tree as a hiding spot while I counted to 30 in the back yard. He was armed with a toy gun that shoots green balls or "grenades."

When I looked down again, a screaming little girl armed with a plastic pirate sword was coming at me like Joshua Chamberlain on Little Round Top. This was the owner of the pink star legs.

A steady stream of orange foam darts flew from the barrel of my weapon. Wesley was climbing out of the tree, and his accomplice was easily outrunning and dodging every "bullet" I fired. Before I could reload, I was dispatched by a well-placed green ball. The resulting invisible explosion left me lying in the wet grass.

I die like Bugs Bunny. "It's getting dark, doc. Who turned out the lights? So cold. Can't. Stay. Warm." Then a series of choking sounds.

For days upon days, the forecast had called for rain upon more rain with a side order of rain to go. So on this particular Saturday morning as I looked out the window and saw rays of golden light breaking forth from the clouds, I was determined not to waste a second of it.

I looked in the living room, this being just after breakfast, and spotted my two children. Wesley was playing a hand-held videogame and Samantha was watching SpongeBob.

"Get up! Turn off the TV!" I barked. "Everyone's going outside to play!"

Wesley groaned. "Awwww!"

"Go outside this minute! You should be running around and climbing trees! Quick, I don't know how long this will last!"

I pushed them out the door and then ran back through the house. I hadn't showered for the day yet and was still walking around in my sweatpants and T-shirt evening wear. There was no time for grooming, I decided. I pulled on the shorts I wear for mowing the lawn and then ran into Wesley's room where I found a big milk crate full of Nerf guns and darts and toy light sabers. I dragged the whole lot of it down the stairs, leaving a trail of foam darts behind me, paused long enough to put on some flip-flops and headed outside.

The kids were milling around in the dooryard* like lost sheep, squinting at the bright orb in the sky.

"It's OK," I said to myself. "If they don't play outside naturally, I can teach them how."

Things were different when I was a kid. By the time I was Wesley's age, I was roaming the neighborhood on my bicycle for hours on end.

We played guns back then, and when we broke the toy ones, we improvised with sticks. We explored the woods near my house, sword fighting with sticks on a log that had fallen over a small ravine. I came home for dinner covered in dirt, bloody scrapes and burdocks.

I know a lot of people don't approve of playing guns, and I can respect that. I figure "play" is the operative word, and I have taken time to explain to the kids that we believe in loving our neighbors, not shooting them. Still, I defy you to fire off a foam dart from my son's awesome Nerf rifle without cracking a smile.

One of the problems with our little war games is that we don't have a fence or hedge, so anyone walking down the road can see me chasing the kids around in the yard with a plastic gun. Sometimes I do feel a bit foolish play-acting with Wesley out there, especially with my hair standing up all over my head because I haven't had a shower. But on this morning, I was just too giddy at the sight of the sun to be bothered by such things.

At one point as Wesley and I were sitting in the yard reloading for the next round I spotted this woman walking down the street with two little girls. I think they were stopping door-to-door to sell something. Wesley ran over to the other end of the yard while I finished reloading. When I talked to Wesley again, he told me they hurried past our house without stopping. Apparently we were pretty tough-looking customers.

We had switched from guns to Frisbee by the time Christine emerged from the house all dressed and ready for her day. By then the sky had clouded over once again.

"You missed the sun," I called to her.

People always talk about seizing the day, but in Maine in spring, sometimes it's about seizing the hour.

Even if you have to shoot it with a dart.

*Note: I don't actually know what a dooryard is. Is it the yard next to any door or just the front one? Does it ever include the driveway? Is it the exercise area at a prison for dormice?












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