I remember the squeals of excitement and joy (followed by intense focus and discipline) when we would walk into our scheduled gym class and see mats strategically placed about the gymnasium. Some of them standing up, creating nooks and crannies, some of the folded on the ground creating tunnels. Some of the lights would already be turned off. This could only mean one thing. Today was a day we were going to play Flashlight Tag.
Flashlight Tag was my favorite game growing up. It was Hide and Seek plus the super scary factor of running around in pitch black darkness and trying not to run into each other as you ran for your life to the next hiding spot. And I mean ran for your life. Flashlight Tag is extremely serious and you need your wits about you at all time.
The rules of Flashlight Tag are simple. You can play on teams or have a person who is “It”. The “It” person gets a flashlight and everyone else hides. After counting down from a determined number (usually 60), It goes to seek out the hiders with a flashlight. If It catches you in the light, It has to call out your name. If It gets your name right, you become It. You could also play it where you were out if tagged by the light and identified so the game had a definite ending once all hiders were found. There are many different versions of this game as there are in any childhood game but this is how we normally played.
I had a lot of strategies when it came to Flashlight Tag. It was extremely competitive between my classmates or neighborhood friends. When we played it in gym, I would find a mat standing up and folded. I would find my way into one of the folds and squat down so if It came by and shined the light in the mat, they wouldn’t automatically dip it down onto the floor. Another plan was I would wait to see It check out a mat and then run to that mat because clearly It wasn’t coming back for a few minutes because they had to check the entire perimeter. I also would run faster than I ever did when we had to run a mile and even if the light hit me, I would be such a blur I couldn’t be identified properly. Occasionally I would hide in the corners of the gym not covered by a mat because who thinks to look there and it’s usually the darkest part of the room. I made the mistake often of running with a group or a friend. Never do this. You are a selfish soldier and you must survive on your own. You can’t risk having Tommy not being able to fit in the mat beside you and Betty and having the entire mat collapse and expose you all.
Injuries were abound when playing in gym. I can’t tell you how many times I ran into one of my classmates but we never stopped, not for a second. You bumped shoulders or hips and you recovered and YOU KEPT GOING. You had to get to that darkened corner and that scuffle made too much noise on the hard floor and you had no time to waste. That light was coming for you.
In neighborhoods, there were other rules. A play area had to be determined and committed to. You couldn’t go outside the boundaries otherwise you would be automatically out. Obviously everyone did this any way. We had trees, sheds, swing sets, and bushes to crouch behind. I would climb up into trees or lay as flat as possible behind bushes. Being tiny has its benefits when it comes to hiding games. My coworker, as I said I was writing this, said they called it Spotlight Tag and she used to hide in the shadows of trees so that no matter where the light fell, she was in darkness. Absolutely brilliant.
I think back on Flashlight Tag and how dedicated I was to the game. My brain would be on fire and my senses incredibly alert. I would be focused and determined. My body would be alive with adrenaline and I would be thinking three steps ahead at all times. Why don’t I apply this passion to my everyday life? Why was I more concentrated on a simple childhood game than I am today in anything I do? I can barely get myself together to do a full workout because I’ve gone down a black hole of puppy surprise videos after work. Even my career of acting I love can be a struggle to get my shit together and sit down and memorize lines or a new monologue. However, if you said “Let’s Play Flashlight Tag” I would leap up off the couch and already have 18 spots of where to hide and how to maneuver between them. I basically become Monica Gellar.
Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up. And maybe that’s the whole point. We play these games to learn how to play the game of Adulting. I wish there was as much pride in achieving a small Adult goal as there was in being the last man standing in Flashlight Tag, but the stakes are comparable not as high. Ok, they actually are but the glory isn’t the same. Here’s a visual. This is how I felt when I would be the last one found in Flashlight Tag:
And here is how I feel when I file my taxes:
Yeah. Not the same.
I will continue to work to achieve the same childlike resolution to my everyday Adult activities as I did to Flashlight Tag. Until then, who can come out after dinner to play?