Wednesday, January 30, 2008


My tire adventure made me start thinking. Thinking about stories my Mother, Father, Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents used to tell. Stories about when they were young and the world was a different place. There was a time when children used to run free in neighborhoods from sunup until sundown; eating lunch at whoever house they were closest too. They rode their bikes up and down roads without helmets, swam in streams, went fishing and had adventures all without worrying about head injuries, drowning or strangers abducting them while they played.
If something did happen, they knew they could run to the nearest house and get help. And they knew that if they knocked on a door and said "Jimmy fell out of a tree and hurt his arm" that the person in the door would come out and help Jimmy into their house and take care of him. There would be no lawsuits. The state wouldn't get involved because the kids weren't being watched well enough. And when Jimmy's arm healed, he would, undoubtedly climb the same tree again...albeit more carefully...because if he didn't his peers would leave him on the ground while they climbed among the limbs. Would his parents call the other parents and complain about the kids "not being fair" ? Probably not. Kids learned life lessons differently back then and black eyes and bloody noses and scraped knees were common occurrences and considered a part of growing up.
While parents were still aware of what their kids were up to (my Grandmother knew immediately if my mother went further than she was supposed to on her bike...the neighborhood had a very efficient phone tree back then), they seldom stuck their noses into childhood disputes knowing that they always had a way of working themselves out. And kids knew where their boundaries were and what the punishments for crossing those boundaries would be. My mother had to go out and cut her own switch for the worst crimes. And in many ways, that was worse than the actual switching. Did she learn her lesson? yes. Did she think twice before doing it again? yes. Did she love and respect her parents? Yes.
I'm not saying there weren't kids whose parents didn't go overboard with the discipline. But in most cases the community was aware of families like this, and would make extra effort with those kids whether if be by hiring them to help on the family farm to keep them out of the house longer and give them some extra money, or simply by making an effort to talk with them while feeding them lunch. It might seem like not much, but I would imagine that if your home life was in the toilet, gestures like these, given by a whole community, would make you feel like the world wasn't such a bleak place to be.
And I guess that's what it all comes down to, Community. We've lost that I think. People are so angry and so focused on "The big picture" that there is no longer any room for their neighbors and the things going on right in their back yards. I don't know why this mass disconnection happened, I can only speculate. More and more people are moving away from spirituality, church used to the the heart of community. The Media transmits fear and hopelessness into our homes and cars day after day. the world has gotten smaller.
Kids are scared. Scared of riding bikes without helmets, swimming without an adult, going into the woods, they're afraid of the dark and of bugs and of the sun. they're afraid of toys made in China and of leaving their yards without their parents. They don't feel safe in their communities much less their own skins. They are taught helplessness and hopelessness in their schools, a place that years ago was a place you went to learn to read and to write and how to make numbers work together, now is a place where you learn how to walk away from bullies while they yell obscenities at you because if you don't and you retaliate you get punished, a place where even if you are advanced you need to slow yourself down and wait for the kids that are behind to catch up and if you are bored and act like a kid, you are labeled with an emotional disturbance or some such thing and treated differently. Its a place that if you are different in any way, you don't fit in.
Our neighborhoods have changed as well. We are a nation of lawsuits. We are so afraid of being sued that tree climbing is out of the question, letting your kids walk alone down to a fishing hole to fish is a no no, letting them ride their bikes on the street is out. We are a nation reduced to play dates. we make appointments with other parents for kids to play. And its not like they are really given full reign to play, usually there is an adult there to make sure the play is "appropriate" and many times a play date had planned activities. Children are losing their ability to make believe, their creativity. We are so focused on raising our children in a politically correct, "right" way, we have inadvertently, taken away their childhood. Most of them will never know what a scuffle in the dirt is like, they will never know how to stand up and defend themselves against a bully, and the bully will never learn what it feels like to be humiliated. Most of our children will never get to experience a neighborhood-wide game of hide and seek, one that lasts into the early evening. It makes me sad. but mostly it scares me. What will the next generation be like? I cant imagine its going to be good. Not having the hardships to overcome, never learning to stand up for themselves, and always second guessing their decisions, wondering if someone will take offense if they say this or that, how are these children going to be able to run this country? What is going to happen when someone threatens us and one of this generation is in office? World politics are nothing like school room politics. You can't just walk away from a bully and tell on them if you're running a country.
I'd like to think that there will be a movement away from this kind of behavior/ child rearing before then. That someday soon some "expert" who is not afraid of being sued or picked apart by our lovely media will come foreword and point out what a disservice we have done for our children. How our children need firm boundaries at home and in the community to help them grow strong and healthy and respectful, and mostly how our children need to learn to use their minds in creative ways and be taught to be themselves, and that means to be proud of who they are and what they are not be penned into a societal cookie cutter that molds them into what society thinks they should be. I also think we need a resurgence of community living. Support from the people around us is so important. I listen to the stories my elders tell of their childhoods, and I see how much we are missing now, how we have become so self absorbed and how unhealthy it is for us as a society. I miss having that sense of Community.

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