Tuesday, July 19, 2011

people observation #19: kids these daze.

I work too much. But with the way I eat spicy salmon rolls and the way my car eats gas, not having a job has always been out of the question. So I am currently spending my summer as a daily babysitter for a family in Lewis Center who I absolutely luuuuurve. I'm in my fourth year, and watching the kids play reminds me a lot of when I was a kid.

From age three to age seven I had a super cool babysitter named Sarah Pinkerton. (She drove a white Honda and sang Backstreet Boys with me and brought over her Care Bears and played the guitar and went to Ohio State). Sarah would let us play outside all day with the 324 other kids that lived in our neighborhood. I was always the youngest- always trailing behind with my training wheels and streamered-up handlebars as the other kids rode ahead on their big bikes with breaks and gears and pedal-backwards abilities.

For some reason in the middle of suburban golf community, behind my neighbors' yard and through a grove of trees, there used to be an old trailer (double-wide actually). It was a faded gray color, had once been white, and the yard was dirt with random dying foliage scattered here and there. What I remember most clearly was the massive pile of godknowswhat that my friends and I dubbed Trash Mountain. (cue epic music). One day out of mild curiosity, but mostly boredom, we decided to climb trash mountain. Forget its likely maggot infestation or the imminent tetanus we were signing ourselves up for, Trash Mountain had sat in our backyard for too long without being pioneered.

We climbed for a good time (which was really probably only like five minutes, but in kid time..the entire day) and then one of my friends got this brilliant idea to throw rocks at the house. I, always being the voice of reason, opted out of this experience and sat on top of Trash Mountain arms crossed while my three neighbor friends one by one picked up stones and threw them at the gray-white siding of the trailer, as if it wasn't already one thunderstorm away from completely falling off altogether.

Naturally, the owner of the house came out all like WTF and chased us out of her yard. And naturally, we ran like hell.

I have a vivid memory of her red and curly, Annie-esque hair style.

I also have a vivid memory of her holding a shot gun.
Who knows if she actually had a shot gun. Perhaps it was a metaphorical one my little kindergarten mind invented to hyperbolize the situation, but I'm pretty sure it was a real-life, something-gage, doom capability-having shot gun.

We ran as fast as we could to Matt's who lived farthest away (aka three houses down). Trying to catch our breath, we made the unanimous decision that we had just barely escaped death that day.
And just like that, four minutes later you could find us eating popsicles on the curb outside the cul-de-sac.

The thing is my days were filled with crap like this. My brother and I spent many hours riding down the stairs head first in sleeping bags and jumping off of our loft and onto the couch below. I cannot physically imagine what it would have been like to grow up without a sibling or neighbors, and if you fit into that category of readership I'd like to apologize on behalf of the amazing childhood like mine you missed out on.
Back to 2011, my parents have just (nearly) finished remodeling their kitchen. They knocked down the irrationally low 1980-style ceilings and redid the whole mofo with pretty new cabinetry and counters. Of course along with this new kitchen came enough boxes to recreate a Hooverville (too soon?). My parents, swimming in cardboard, asked the neighbor kids (roughly seven-years-old, but my age-guessing has been pretty off lately) across the street if they wanted to have the boxes to idunnobuildafortinorsomething?. They declined.



I found myself heartbroken. Not just for the hours of pure childhood joy they were completely and voluntarily missing out on, but for all things children in America, 2011. I found my head spinning through memories of massive cardboard forts and tunnels and haunted houses and playhouses and Barbie houses and best friends and slides and sleds and furniture and suits of armor and helmets and swords and shields and crowns and treasure maps and pirate ships and planks to be walked and mazes to be built.

And just then I found myself shaking my head in dissappointment and repeating my grandfather with three words I once swore I'd never say. "Kids these days."

Now I'm no parenting expert, but I do believe very strongly in the power of play- kids need those hours of being well, a kid. Getting into trouble, getting bruises, that kind of stuff is important to childhood- it teaches kids social skills (which seem to be lacking lately), keeps them active, and also important, it helps them with problem solving, so they'll know how to deal when they come across real problems later in life.

Since age 16, I've worked part-time at the Child Center at Lifetime Fitness. The Child Center is built on the fundamentals of play; it gives kids free reign of the entire facilities: sweet gymnasium, tons of balls, Mac Pro lab, outside turf area, giant indoor jungle gym, etc.

A kid's entire life is completely scheduled. But Lifetime gives kids the opportunity to come in and work with other kids and organize their own games and make up their own rules. It's amazing the things they'll come up with when given the opportunity to actually, get this, use their imaginations. And I love seeing the kind of craziness they come up with.

So some kids these days are complete social idiots. You try and hold a conversation with them and they just melt into a pile of goo on the floor. You try and offer them your breathtaking collection of cardboard boxes, just oozing with potential playtime, and they'd prefer to spend their days inside pushing buttons on one of those gaming machines.

I do seem to have found an outlier in the kids that I babysit. They spend the entirety of days outside in the yard with the neighborhood kids, and they come up with the most interesting of games. The other day the basement was filled with a solid ten neighborhood kids playing a game called "teenagers." I don't know exactly what the game entailed, but I do know that it involved Bruno Mars and lockers and a controlling mom who grounded you for ''stepping out of line.'' If all kids were like these, I'd say the whole children being the future thing was looking optimistic. Unfortunately, unless we get kids playing I don't find that to be the case.

Of course, I guess I'm not completely done cookin yet, so it's no telling how I've turned out. Maybe all the playing I did when I was little has made me crazy. Maybe it's made me a product of a perfectly executed childhood. But I'm not sick, and I'm not stealing from or killing anyone, and I'm not addicted to anything (coffee perhaps). I'd say so far so good.