The Hand Game Chronicle

Patty-cake, patty-cake baker’s man
Bake me a cake as fast as you can

That’s how it all begins.  A simple poem paired with hand movements, and an 18 month old boy or girl seated on Mom’s (or Dad’s) knee learns the basics in coordinated movement set to rhyme.

Roll it, pat it & mark it with a “B”
Put it in the oven for baby and me!

Of course, nature being what it is, it’s natural for parents to change the “B” to a more apropos letter… “mark it with an “S”, put it in the oven for Suzy and me!”  Proving once again that rhyme, if inconvenient, can be discarded.

Then this little exercise is concluded by raising baby’s arms and saying “Yay”!  And there isn’t an 10 month old who doesn’t recognize that this is the most satisfying part of the game.  The “Yay”, arms held high… a toddler’s version of a “touchdown celebration”!  Everyone laughs.  Finally, Mom (or Dad, or both) will be rewarded with a photo-op smile.

It isn’t too long in a child’s development when the love for this sort of hand game will either whither and die, or will expand and flourish (at least for another several years).  And I think for the most part this divergence in the path is along gender lines.  I am not suggesting that there is a distinctive genetic marker that predisposes girls to picking up more elaborate hand games, but I can’t ever recall seeing boys in the school yard engaged in interactive hand movements coordinated to humorous rhyme. 

Even for girls, this cooperative hand play will fade from the scene (around 9 or 10?), though not be entirely snuffed out.  There will be a period of “dormancy”, and then this proclivity would re-emerge in an altered state… the hand games provided the base syncopation for further elaboration.  Added to the hand movements will be dance steps, and the poetry will be replaced by words set to a melody. Also gone, the specific play between just two (sometimes three) participants. Cue the Electric Slide and the Macarena, among others! Enter large group play!  {SLIGHT DIGRESSION: There are many dances that have involved intricate choreography from Galliards in 16th Century Europe, to contemporary Square Dancing and Texas Line Dancing… ornate?  Yes, but missing the overall effect of specific hand movements and associated gestures.}

ANNOYING DIGRESSION CONTINUED: Curiously, with the Electric Slide et al. men reappeared on the stage.  Take in a scene during these “group dances” at a Wedding or Bar Mitzvah, and women far out number the men. {FOR MY PERSONAL AMUSEMENT: I have to shake my head, it’s laughable when I see men fueled with a little booze taking the plunge into these artful dance steps, manfully trying to keep pace, but more often than not, looking like a hair out of place.}

Just maybe, just maybe —   I looked as much the fool as a shirt-undone-besotted-guy dancing the Macarena, when I tried to learn one of Suzy’s hand games. And it is to these grade school-age hand games that we now fully turn.

I think the “golden years” for girls and hand games begins around age 7.  What do I base this on?  Because Shaina’s Olivia is 7 and it seems to be a reasonable launch point.  Olivia has picked up one at her dance class and has even begun to initiate her younger sister, Becca into the finer details of “Avocado, Avocado”. CURIOUS POINT: Learning these hand games appears to be a peer taught, outside the home activity.  Maybe some of these hand games have profanity laced doggerel that parents aren’t supposed to hear?  At Olivia’s age, Shaina played “Ms. Mary Mack” with Katie Quell.  Possibly this was the girl equivalent of “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”?

I wish I could recall when I first saw Suzy working thru “Shame, Shame, Shame”, or who she was playing it with.  But I can’t.  And neither can Suzy (I asked her). Maybe Val Tamburo?  But for sure, when I first observed this hand game in action I was impressed by the variety of the claps, slaps, pats & etc., all employed in perfect time to the meter of the recited words. Recited in unison!

I loved the way it started… each person pressed hands together (as if in prayer), and then both swing their hands left and right, slapping the backsides of each other’s hands… all the while saying in rhythm, “Shame, shame, shame.  On a hot summer day….”   

I dunno.  It seemed like something fun to learn.  But… try as I might, I never made it past the first lines, nor could I master the more involved sequence of hand movements. Suzy showed great patience in trying to get me fully on board.  She put the movements into “slo-mo” for me… taking me thru the steps, one by one.  It was for naught… I didn’t have the patience. But…. And wait for it… at the conclusion of the recitation, each participant was required to “freeze”, and try to stare the other person down!  I was redeemed!  Regardless of how I mangled the verse and movements, I was, and remain, world class at “hold the pose, stare, don’t blink”!

Now my kids are grown and have children of their own.  I realize that hand games are a minor part of our culturalization… perhaps more important for girls than boys?  But even for me, sitting side stage, I love that there is a marvelous simplicity in inventing games that require nothing more than a friend, some words and some joint clapping and slapping.  No audio.  No gadgetry required. I can’t imagine there was ever a hand game played that didn’t have laughs’ giggles and smiles… before, during and after.

And yes, I’m looking forward to seeing my granddaughters demonstrating their hand game expertise.  Perhaps new variations?  Not that I’m an expert on this stuff. If there happens to be questionable words or phrases contained therein, I promise to keep my delight hidden from my children. After all, regardless of their age… they are still my children, and Dads have to be mindful.

APOLOGIA: OK, Ok… if my grandchildren laugh at my children’s expense & if I laugh, too… I’m declaring that I’m off the hook. Unless it involves farting.

Shame, shame, shame
On a hot summer day

Hey, hey
Eenie, meenie, disobeenie
Oooh bop bop, boleenie
Atchee, catchee, liveratchee
I hate boys!
Give me a peach, give me a plum
Give me a piece of fruity gum
When the teacher rings the bell
All the children scream and yell
No more paper, no more books
No more teachers’ dirty looks
Just sit down, turn around
Don’t move, just freeze!

Suzy & Me. Wedding Day!

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