I’ll admit it, I probably ate dirt. I played with bugs and lizards and frogs. I climbed trees, played on metal playground equipment and landed on the ground instead of shock absorbent padding. I stayed out until the street lights came on and honestly, I probably did NOT wash my hands every night before dinner. I used to get so filthy that my mom would insist on hosing me down in the front yard before she let me in the house. My brothers and I had all manner of pets. Birds, bunnies, dogs, a little snake, hamsters, ducks, even a cat I hid for 2 days in my room before my mom found it. I ate junk food; I watched questionable things on television. I rode my bike without a helmet, and I lived in the early stages of the cell phone, my first phone had 1 game and it sucked. My brothers and I fought, a lot. We watched Saturday morning cartoons (the good kind like X-men and She-Ra and the Bugs Bunny and Tweety show) and we got hurt. Often. Well mostly me, I got hurt. Often. My point is this….I have vivid memories, some of the best times of my life, of engaging in activities that by today’s standards would be considered cruel and border on child abuse. That is complete and utter bullshit.
When Bean was just over 1 I started taking her to the same playground my brothers and I went to as children. Well, geographically it is the same playground. But physically, it’s a playground designed by helicopter moms. God forbid your child fall down and get a boo-boo. I got to see firsthand the degradation of a childhood icon due to “safety concerns”. No one was concerned about our safety when we were playing on a metal (rusty) contraption akin to that of a medieval prison. No one seemed to be overly worried about us playing in a hollowed out plane from the early 70s that they filled with concrete and then let children climb all over it. My parents never said a word about “tetanus”. In fact I recall my own mother telling me that if I got my head stuck in the bars, then I had to pull myself out. I mean honestly, a swing set in my own backyard was the cause of my very first broken bone. A swing set and an asshole younger brother.
My grandparents were a whole different level of awesome. They gave us weapons! Croquet mallets, a bow & arrow. My Poppy gave us coffee! So not only were we armed, but we were caffeinated! They let us try to prop a pool raft on the side of the pool to construct a makeshift pool slide. Can you guess what happened? Scraped up the top of both thighs. No one tried to stop us. And oddly enough, no one thought I was abused at home. No one thought they needed to involve CPS.
As strange as it might sound, I want Bean to experience that. She needs to. Childhood isn’t what it used to be. Childhood used to be adventurous. It used to be a deathtrap. And kids learned several key skills that they aren’t learning now. We learned to be resourceful. If you didn’t have enough Nerf guns for everyone to play, you all played with sticks. We would get home from school and my mom wouldn’t see us until dinner, and sometimes later than that. Homework was something that got done after dinner because kids belonged outside in the sunshine. Now it’s like pulling teeth to get kids to play outside an entire afternoon, let alone a whole Saturday. I feel like the best mom in the world if a whole day goes by without Bean asking to watch cartoons.
We learned to be tough. We didn’t run home crying with every bump or bruise. We learned to think on our feet. If you didn’t think of something fun to do, your friends would go home or go to a different friend’s house. We had to be in shape. Manhunts, tag, hide and seek, climbing trees. The need for agility was vital. Now kids just need good thumbs.
Have you bought a box of Legos lately? They don’t require any imagination. None. Zip. Zilch. They come with a plot. It’s kind of pathetic really. When we were kids, we had buckets of Legos. Yes some came with the intention to be made into planes, but the rest was left to our imagination. Now kids days are jam packed with play dates, violin lessons, soccer, organic chemistry, etc. And those children will have no time to foster their imagination. They will grow up lacking creative thinking skills, lacking the ability to solve problems. Those kids don’t even know who MacGyver is.
So do yourself, and the rest of the world, a favor, although at first it may not seem like it is a favor. Turn off the TV. Take the batteries out of the video game remotes. Hide the iPads. Make those little monsters go outside, because when I’m old, I don’t want my fate resting in the hands of someone who can’t make a coffee pot out of a paper clip, a rubber band and a magnifying glass.