Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Childhood Lost

My friends and I have always liked movies about old fashioned kids, like Goonies and Huckleberry Finn. To me it seems like some kind of brilliant paradise. If only I could live like that-drop my backpack by the door, summarize my school day for my mom, and take off who knows where until dinnertime.
I've heard stories-real stories-about people living like that. My dad's first home was located on an orchard. Whenever I ask him what he liked to do as a kid, the answer is always, "Looking for frogs and toads."
Frog under Water
When my mom was a kid, a bunch of older kids gave her and her friends custody of a secret underground fort they had built. They played in it until some adults built a church on top of it. When the machines were clawing up dirt and dumping it into their hideout, they found an old wooden box sticking out of the dirt heap. There was nothing inside, but that didn't stop them from passing it around until somebody eventually stole it from my mom's house.
I talked to Brandon Mull, author of the Fablehaven series, a few weeks ago. He shared a story about a group of friends whose stated purpose was to find treasure. They dressed up in camoflauge and crawled across grass fields to infiltrate their neighbor's barn. They discovered old cars and radios, but never any pirate gold.
Did people really get to live like that once? We can't just play outside anymore. Outside is where the ax murderers are. Also speeding cars. And large bugs. When we go out, we take our cell phones with the parental GPS installed.
Wait a second. Large bugs existed back in the dinosaur days (1970's) while cell phones did not. How is it some of you old people survived?
Out of curiosity, were you allowed to keep them as pets?
We play indoors, where it's safe. And boring. Have you ever realized how little entertainment is created directly for teenagers? The only 'teenage shows' are on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, and nobody really likes those. We're left watching Psych and The Office like everybody else. For music, we have Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and the grown up Disney stars. They're alright, but that leaves a lot of Adele and Bruno Mars. Nearly all teenage movies are based off YA books. Think about it. Hunger Games, Twilight (ugh), Harry Potter, Percy Jackson (sigh). The remainder are either cheesy feel good movies or Project X. Adults really have a screwed perspective on what teenagers actually do in their spare time, especially the ones in charge of the entertainment industry.
Video games. What's between Mario and Call of Duty? Exactly. Games rated T for teen. That's all you give us, and then you complain we sit around and do nothing else.
I don't live on a farm or small town. I live in a dinky suburb big enough to have its own high school and small enough that nobody sixty miles away has heard of it. Fortunately, there's this stretch of wilderness between my dinky suburb and next dinky suburb. This space contains a river, a pond, four bridges, two walkways, one ending a gazebo, two parks, trees, substantial undergrowth, a jogging trail, foxes, deer, evil cats, the random cougar, and a well drilling site. My dad said it will eventually be a thousand feet deep and they've been drilling for almost a year. I haven't been able to check. They have this wall around it covered with a tarp that's always tied down. What's the point of having a thousand foot hole practically in your backyard is you can't throw stuff down it?
I know six people have who have played out there in the last fifteen years: me, my friend, and my four brothers. I've climbed a few trees, built some makeshift forts, invented a game using only a tree and something that might have have been a softball in a former life, figured out the combinations on the park bathroom doors (they shut them off after four. It's quite inconvenient), and renacted the Hunger Games with real bows. And sometimes real arrows if we can get away with it. Otherwise we use sticks, which don't fly nearly as well and wouldn't be any help if and when the friendly neighborhood kidnapper took a stroll down the trail.
I've been able to eek out something of a traditional childhood, but what about the next generation? What happens when the new crop of parents have no experience with nature, no reason to shout at the kids, "Turn off that dadblamed digital device and go hit a tree with a stick or something."
Is outdoor play going to vanish forever?
Yeah, probably.

1 comment:

  1. Very thought provokiing, and yes, I think outside play is going to disappear. Not that I want it to. But I think it will.