Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Good Old Days

Are you raising an unbearable child? Probably.

When I was a kid I split time between my Mom's house in the woods and my Dad's farm just down the road. From relatively early on we had pretty much full independence. On a nice day we'd be sent out in the morning to find our own fun. I cannot tell you the number of hours I spent up in the hayloft (which was literally suspended from the second-floor barn ceiling some 20 feet above the floor) or amidst the shards of metal and glass all over the place. Barbed wire was just another impediment -- or better yet an addition -- to the forts and tunnels we created. We'd climb the machinery and dangle from beams. We'd run around like we owned the place and I don't remember my grandmother helicoptering even though she was always in the house and occasionally would pop out and give us a shout offering a popsicle. We'd run down the hill behind the barn (the one that was perfect for sledding in the winter) at full speed to see who could get the furthest before wiping out.

In the woods we'd climb trees and jump from the branches. Or in the nearby fields we'd play tackle football, or baseball complete with hit pitches and in one-on-one or two-on-two games it counted as an out if you threw the ball and nailed a runner between bases. We had boxing matches with winter mittens as gloves. No one chased us around to make sure we drank enough water (we ran into the house when we were thirsty) or had enough to eat ("your arms ain't broke" is something I heard on more than one occasion when I whined about wanting a snack.) We'd chuck iceballs at one another in the winter and attach little sour apples to sticks and whip them at one another in the fall. We'd fight when angry.

And mine wasn't some sort of antiquated, mythological childhood. Everybody I knew did this stuff. And I'd bet anyone in my age range has similar stories, catered to the suburbs or the city or what have you. I probably sound like an old man romanticizing the good old days, and I never want to be that guy, so I suppose that there are things I missed that I didn't even realize. When you grow up poor or working class there are all sorts of disadvantages that you internalize, and my kids (touch wood) will have all sorts of advantages including me probably helping them to schedule them beyond free time while I hover and coach and beam. It's a different world now just as it was a different world then from what my parents knew, a world they always put up as being somehow tougher and more authentic just as their parents surely did for them.

Nonetheless, I know that my kids (again, assuming it happens) will never run on the farm or get to enjoy seemingly endless expanses of woods to explore. And so I'll tell them stories, about the time I tried to jump from a tree onto the back of a friend's speeding minibike, or about taking an iceball square in the nose (my first broken bone!), or about jumping from the neighbor's roof into a pile of leaves that proved insufficient to cushion the fall, or about that time we . . .


El Aguila said...

I think the problem with being middle class, and even worse with being professional intellectuals, is that we think too much. My parents would lock us out of the house in the late morning and not let us back in until the end of the day when they were leaving for work. They slept during the day because they both had night jobs-the next closest house was a few miles away. I used to play entire baseball games by myself.

I always imagined living in a neighborhood where there were kids my age to play with-kinda of where we live now. My kids love it because they have many neighborhood kids to play with all the time. They will not have the same childhood experiences that I had, but I think they will be equally fond memories. The boy is right now playing BB with a group of friends, I am a little envious, nonetheless.

dcat said...

EA --

I do see enormous advantages to living in a place like the one you do, especially because of the proximity of schools and such. But I imagine you see even more of the helicopter parenting than I do, the sort of thing it's clear that you and I never experienced. I am sure some good comes from that too. I'm just glad I was sent outside and didn't have much interest in going back in until threatened with physical harm if I didn't.
And when I did want to stay inside it was because I wanted to read, which seems like a pretty fair tradeoff.

Ho Ho Ho --

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story about your childhood...I have never put much thought into how I was raised until I had Ada and all the I know agonize over what school she will attend, what activities I will allow her to get involved with in the future, and this girl is only 5 months, going on 6 months old.
I must admit or rather my mom would hate to admit, but I was a latch-key child, sometime left to my own devices, which at times turned out to be a wonderful experience for me, but for my mom, who raised me as a single mother and now me raising my girl as a single mother it was probably for my mom something that she would have liked to have been different.
I would like my circumstances to be different, but being a college instructor I feel like my schedule and especially holiday schedule leaves me enough time to spend quality time with Ada! Cheers to teaching!!!

dcat said...

T --
I think we can romanticize the virtue of autonomy as well. It would be nice to be able to split the difference of childhood independence of necessity and the helicoptering that goes to the other extreme today.