By Dom Cioffi
When I moved my family into a new neighborhood a few years ago, one of my biggest concerns was for the safety of my son. I obviously wanted him to have a healthy environment in which to roam, but I also hoped there would be other children around to help occupy his time.
Luckily he ended up with both.
Our current neighborhood is beautiful, sitting in proximity to many useful locations and with an abundance of great neighbors throughout the nearby streets.
On the first day that we arrived, as we were unpacking boxes, an elderly woman from across the street stopped in to introduce herself. During the ensuing conversation, she drew a simple map for my son that pointed to all the young boys that she knew of in the neighborhood.
The next day, my son took that map and canvassed the area looking for new friends. Of the five boys he found in his initial travels, all five still rank as his best buddies. And they are all within 12 months of age of each other.
More boys filtered into the gang over the following months, which has allowed them to have some amazing football, baseball and basketball games. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to pull into my driveway after a long day of work and see eight boys tackling each other in my front yard.
In fact, it reminds me of my own childhood, although my experience was slightly different.
When I was around ten years old, I was the youngest kid in the neighborhood. Everyone was older than me, with the majority being two years ahead in age.
What this meant was that I was always the expendable player. If a game of three-on-three baseball started and there were seven of us, I was automatically the all-time catcher. If a two-hand touch football game erupted and there were an odd number of kids, I would be the one forced to sit out. And if there was a neighborhood-wide game of Kick the Can slated for a Friday night, I would inevitably be the weak link targeted by the older boys.
At the time I was not happy with my position as the youngest, but looking back I now realize how it helped build my character and how it forced me to work harder than my peers in order to excel.
Over time I also learned to speak my mind. I took the abuse for a couple years just so I would be included, but later, when I started to feel alienated or unfairly bullied, I made it a point to speak my mind. Needless to say, I remember a number of occasions where hurt feelings or borderline abuse sent me home with tears in my eyes.
But then a funny thing happened: the older boys moved on from playing neighborhood games and the little kids who were too young to play suddenly were available. Over the course of a year or two I went from not having much of a say in the activities in the neighborhood to being the commander-in-chief.
They say that with great power comes great responsibility and I think this is entirely true. When I found myself in this new position of power, I tried to remember how painful it was to be the weak link. So when it came to organizing a large game of football or baseball, I always made it a point to practice fair play among the kids no matter what the age or skill level.
As the oldest participant, I realized I could wield a lot of power and influence over our activities. And while I’m sure there were occasions where I used this power inappropriately, more often than not I think I put it to good use.
And the kids responded.
I had a deep hatred for some of the boys who were in charge when I was on the younger end, but the boys who filled that role when I was the oldest all seemed to look up to me.
I’ll admit there were times when I was a little embarrassed when three or four little kids showed up at my door to ask my mom if I could come out to play, but I also know that playing “coach” was worth any uneasy feelings.
It may not have always been a challenge to be the oldest kid in the neighborhood, but it taught me many valuable lessons that came in handy later in life.
This week’s film, “Minions,” happens to feature a slew of innocent characters who want nothing more than to be the obedient followers of a capable master.
Based on the scene-stealing characters from the “Despicable Me” movies, the minions’ history is finally unveiled, showing their progression from the earliest primordial ooze to the moment they met their master, Gru (which happened to be in the mid-1960s in England).
It’s really hard not to love the minions. They are fun, energetic and adaptable to any situation. The creators of this film did a fantastic job not only with the stellar animation, but also with the addition of a witty storyline.
I won’t go as far to say that parents will like this film as much as the kids will, but there are several laugh-worthy moments that make being there worth the price of admission.
A wacky “B-” for “Minions.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.