Friday, July 16, 2010

The Death of Childhood

If it isn't dead, we've tamed childhood beyond all recognition. We've scrubbed it, made it put on shoes, and given it a cell phone. 

I drove through a neighborhood yesterday and didn't see a single kid outside. Not one. Come to think of it I can't remember the last time I saw a group of kids playing outside. Bright shiny bikes without cards and clothespins on the spokes (what kind of kids are these?) sat in driveways alongside basketball goals unused by this new and disturbing breed.  The city could probably save some money by taking down the "SLOW Children playing" signs, because they are not. The only time you catch a glimpse of one of them is walking from the house to the car. 

I didn't have to think very hard to imagine where these phantom munchkins are; I know. They are lounging around on leather couches in something new called a "media room" watching a movie they've seen a hundred times or playing a video game with some other pathetic excuse for a kid in Amsterdam.  

These are kids who aren't allowed to drink from the garden hose because the new super annoying breed of adults who are in charge make them drink purified bottled water. (What self respecting kid wants anything purified?) They've never MADE a toy or MADE UP a game. They abide in rooms that could stock the local Toys R Us and whine of boredom, the kids not the rooms. Every activity is organized and supervised by adults, who complain about being micro managed at work then enter the front door at the end of the day doing the same thing. 

A mother who locks her kid out of the house so she can mop the floors can get reported to Human Services (interesting name) and a dad asking Jr. to cut the grass is going to find out that the kid expects to get paid and knows about something called a "Child Labor Law".  A bunch of kids trying to do the natural thing and throw dirt clods or snow balls at some other kids are likely to get in trouble. 

I feel sorry for them. I used to get up and leave the house as the sun came up, but we knew how to be kids then. We'd roam the neighborhood, climbing all the best trees, playing tag, or statues, or hide and seek which is great fun when you live next to some woods. We sat in the grass and ate clover (no parents I ever knew would have paid to have some chemical company come and spray their yard) and knew whose mom would give us Kool Aid or Popcicles if we promised to stay outside. We made clover chains and went home around dinner time to choke down our food as fast as possible so we could get back outside to catch lightning bugs and play flashlight tag. 

Being inside was something our moms threatened us with. Who in the world wanted to be inside? Nothing good ever happened inside. If you went in there and your mom got a good look at you she was liable to make you take a bath.  I didn't know anyone who had a pool. What you had if you were lucky was a sprinkler and a dad who cared more about you occupying yourself than he did about the muddy mess you were making in the lawn.  Outside was where you could stretch out in the grass and look at clouds and talk about very important things like whether or not you could really dig a hole to China, or could Superman beat up Batman, or what was the best way to annoy your big sister when her boyfriend came over. 

Grown ups seemed to have lives of their own back then. Oh what joy! I'm not sure what they were doing but I do know that it didn't involve watching us every moment of every day. A dad could come home and ask where we were and a mother could say she didn't know. No self respecting kid would have wanted to carry a device by which an overzealous mother could reach you wherever you were. I suspect a cell phone would have come in handy while playing Star Trek but it would only have been your mother calling and not Captain Kirk.  What could possibly have been more annoying than that? 

I don't remember any kid ever being abducted (we would have called this kidnapped). I'm sure they were but we didn't have a 24 hour news cycle to terrify our mothers into thinking it was going to happen the moment she turned her back.  Thank goodness. And sex, the only thing we knew about it was what we heard from some other kid who heard it from an older sibling who was probably making it up, unless someone's dad was careless hiding his magazines and then we were just confused because we'd seen our mom in her underwear and she didn't look like THAT. 

But now the little darlings are supervised, organized, scheduled, managed, and instructed into the most unadventurous boring excuse for children possible. Surely a backlash is coming. I hope it arrives before I have grandchildren so I can lock them outside to play tag and make them drink from the garden hose. They will love me for it.

1 comment:

  1. I remember, on hot summer days like yesterday, there was NOTHING better than water from the hose! We didn't have "heat indexes" - we just stayed in the shade... listening to a tiny, transitor radio with one speaker...and AM radio. We played games that we made up as we went along. We shot at each other with real BBs. And how many clothespins did we lose on those spokes? :) ( for that kids even know what a clothespin is for???? )

    Ah, Michelle... you've said it perfectly. You took me back to when it was simple and fun.