Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It used to be

It used to be, that you could hop on your bicycle and ride all over town with your buddies. Somewhere, there was a corner store where you could get soda and candy. Also, possibly in the same location, there was an arcade where you could spend hours playing your favorite video games. In between there and where you lived were parks and schools and trails and all the places your friends lived. All told, if you were like me, you put thousands of miles on the tires of your bike during a 3-4 year period in your life. What’s funny to me is that those places were found because you explored them with your friends. Your parents didn’t drive you there first. They didn’t ride around with you to check out the trails and parks to make sure they were safe. They didn’t take you to that arcade and show you how to play Galaxian. Or at least I hope not.

We joke about the state of things in the world today on a regular basis, when compared to when we were young. Like the old joke about having to walk uphill both ways to school, in the snow, with no shoes on; we love to reminisce about those days. For those of us that have kids, we let them venture out so far but in this day and age we send them out with a phone so they can call if there’s trouble. Right now I’m making this face that wonders where all these phones were when we were kids. Oh, right, they didn’t exist….that’s it. I guess there were rudimentary bag phones back then but can you imagine slinging that over your handlebars? And don’t get me started about smart phones. If we would have wanted a computer with us it would have required hooking up a trailer. And then, if we wanted power to said computer, we would have had to hook up a second trailer for a generator! Hopefully you appreciate the visual I created.

It seems to me that things were much simpler then. I am sure my parents could echo the same sentiment, of looking back to a time when there were less pressures and stresses and no schedules to keep. Of course, this would suggest they could remember back that far. We can all do it to some degree and make comparisons of then versus now. Of course, my kids think the weight of the world is on their collective shoulders because they have to pack their own lunches each day for school. I think we call those, ‘first world problems’, and truly, I think my kids often lose sight of just how good they have it. Oh crap, I probably sounded like my dad just then.

What I remember the most though, is how much fun we had. There was always a group of us and we did so many things together. We climbed fir trees that were as tall as skyscrapers, we swung on rope swings that probably should have hurt us badly, we raced down steep hills with no helmets, we played tackle football in the snow, we biked and skated on homemade half pipes, we rode five to six miles away from home at age 12 just to go fishing, we drove golf balls across a baseball field just to see if we could clear the busy street on the other side and we played Jump 21 like there was a championship on the line. We did all of this and more and at the end of each day we went home, got some food, slept and did it all again the next day.

More than anything, I wish I could bottle those experiences and give them to my kids. Personally I have nothing against video games since I enjoy them myself, but as a kid, they didn’t exist, so they were not a draw for us that would have kept us inside as opposed to out. Truth be told, we might have all been gamers had Nintendo been around when we were 11 but honestly, I am thankful we didn’t have that distraction. This is not to suggest that my kids just sit at home and play games all day. Fortunately, I am still incredibly active so my kids are so by proxy. We have biked, hiked, run and camped together more times than I can count. My kids both love to play hard and be outside, but they are also drawn to the electronics of their generation. The allure is strong and at times I wonder if the benefit of convenience is outweighed by the toll it takes on a soul that doesn’t experience what the world has to offer beyond the glow of a screen. Balance continues to be the key to such things.

A couple of days ago, we let our son walk to the store with his buddy. The store is about a mile away and the two of them have shown themselves to be rather responsible so this seemed to be a good opportunity. My 10 year old did just that. He got a soda, walked home and it was as if this were a regular occurrence. And this did my heart good, for it reinforced the idea that kids do well to “fly away” for brief moments only to quickly return to the nest, and that by doing so they not only develop proper independent thinking skills but they discover the freedom that comes from being outside the immediate vocal reach of their parents.

Maybe this is all just a rite of passage and what I am seeing now is the beginning of my son finding some new freedoms. For him I am excited and I look forward to the next couple of years as he discovers little things that will set his generation apart from the next. I’m pretty sure Galaxian won’t be involved.

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