When I was about ten, my friend, Laura, and I started a club. As a younger sister who rarely was let into my sister’s inner circle at that age, I was a little annoyed when Laura let her little sister join our club. Weren’t little sisters supposed to stay on the periphery? Our club was housed in a loft of the garage of the Lutheran church rectory, where Laura lived as a p.k. (pastor’s kid). Several years ago, long after Laura and her family moved away, one of my mother’s friends found a board with club details written in red pen in that garage, including the names and positions of the three club officers and the cost of dues.
In that same era of my youth, I started a "friendship club." My Dad scoffed at this, accusing me of trying to win friends through my club, but I remember it another way. It wasn’t so much an attempt to garner friendships as practicing the art of event organization and using my imagination. And it seemed right that such an activity should be shared with and involve others. What fun is a one-member club, after all?
In my years as a mother, I’ve been privvy to many a summertime club-house concoction. These days, however, I know only sketchy details. As the adult, I watch from the outside, as I did today when my kids, who had lost television privileges, began finding other things to do with their afternoon. "Can I take this bwanket outside?" my youngest son inquired. That was the first clue. "Can I use your computer to make a sign, Mom?" asked my oldest daughter. Clue number two. Doors opened and closed as plans materialized. Squeals of giddiness erupted. "Can we sleep out there tonight?" was the final query. By the time I looked out to see the results of the earlier murmurings, the visual included about eight blankets and several bowls full of Ramen noodles being consumed by club members. In front of the club house (our play equipment loft) was a sign: OLBENICK. "It’s all our names put together," one of them explained. "Ol-buh-nick." "Ahh, I see," I said, smiling.
Two of the siblings had chosen not to join in on the fun. However, a while later, one of them asked if I could go to the grocery store and buy some Little Debbie Zebra Cake snacks so that they could have a club of their own. Having an even hipper club filled with even cooler snacks was the premise of the request. Who needed Olbenick when you could dine on Zebra Cakes?
It was then I saw the writing on the wall: World War III was about to emerge. Thus entered one of the downsides of the childhood club, and what my Dad might have foreseen as he listened to my own club plans. Clubs have the potential to become exclusive, and while the exclusion of adults is par for the course, when club-house factions begin to form among potential members, gentle intervention on the part of an adult might become necessary.
But unlike my father’s way, instead of discouraging the club idea altogether, I simply denied the second club its request for an exotic treat. Eventually, its members lost interest in following through with the "our club is even better" idea. Eventually, the blankets and bowls and sign came down from the play loft. Eventually, both Olbenick and Zebra Cake Club were retired — for the day at least.
So, all good things must come to an end, but the nugget I take from today’s club-house episode is that removing the television, far from making my life more difficult today, brought an unexpected blessing to our afternoon. I love that my kids’ creativity emerged. It was fun to see the three main "clubbers" working on their plan together, enjoying their time outside. And it reminded me that tapping into the imagination of childhood can cost as little as the price of a couple packets of Ramen noodles.
Long live OLBENICK!