Friday, August 17, 2007

Childhood & Parenthood

There’s a big push on to get today’s kids to exercise. These days they seem to be content to lie around the house, watch television, play video games, and hang around on the Internet.

I have to admit, I don’t think that’s entirely their fault.

Times have changed since I was a kid 40 years ago. When I was growing up, going outside wasn’t a big deal. Now “outside” isn’t necessarily safe. More than that, there doesn’t appear to be much “outside” left to go to.

Parents have to be concerned in this day and age of what is going to happen to their kids while they’re outside. I don’t know if the world has necessarily gotten meaner, I think the problems with child abduction and child murder have always to some degree existed, but they weren’t as prevalent.

When I was growing up, people had more of a tendency to watch over each others' kids. When I was with my buddies and we got in trouble, someone’s mama – anyone’s mama – would get on to us. We would all get an earful and be sent home. By the time we got there, that mama that chewed us out – if it hadn’t been our mama – would have called our mama. The mama grapevine back in those days was a deadly thing. And you could bet they would punish by committee. Whatever one kid got, we all got.

Nowadays if you look at another person's kid wrong, you might get a lawsuit slapped on you.

I resented the mama grapevine back then. It kept me from doing a lot of cool stuff. Or at least it kept me from getting away with doing it.

On the other hand, nobody dared bother kids because they knew the mamas were watching us.

And when we finally got deep enough into the woods where the mamas couldn’t watch us, we were in our element. There isn’t a creature alive who is as much a part of its environment as a kid who’s been raised in the woods. We could vanish in an instant, faster than ninjas. We could run through the trees with the wind and never slow for a second because we had radar better than a bat's. And we knew the terrain, every tree, bush, hill, pond, and interesting hole that we found. No one could catch us except another kid.

But there aren’t really any woods around where kids are growing up these days. Not in the metropolitan areas and suburbs where most of us live. I doubt my guys would be able to tell the points of a compass by the shadows of trees on the ground. Nor would they know to chill out during the noon time till the shadows leaned to the east instead of leaning to the west as they had in the morning.

When I grew up in Seminole, Oklahoma and later in Francis, Oklahoma, there was always government land to explore. Acres and acres of untamed wilderness loaded with blackberries, green apples, occasional pears, and water that – while it wasn’t exactly healthy – was healthy enough for a kid. I don’t remember us getting sick as much back then, and I know we had plenty of reasons to. There was always poison ivy, poison oak, bee stings, wasp stings, cuts, scrapes, and bites from creatures that sometimes you couldn’t quite identify in the woods and in the water.

Come to think of it, if my kids were growing up in that type of environment right now, I’d have to admit that I would be more than a little freaked out.

So space is another issue. Kids have parks to go to, but they’re inconvenient to get to. They’re not like going out into your backyard, then vanishing into 80 acres of government land to trail deer, beaver, and wild turkey. Parents have to take kids most of the time these days.

And a new kind of predator that we never had to deal with prowls parks. So it’s hard for kids to go without parental supervision.

More than that, kids that go out into the wilderness these days don’t seem to have quite the knowledge that we had when we went. The floods that we’ve had in Oklahoma this year have claimed the lives of children and teenagers who wandered out into unsafe waters.

When I was a kid, we got used to the water gradually. We wandered through streams and creeks, fished for minnows and crawdads, and learned a healthy respect for water. We were around it enough that we knew and recognized our limitations. Maybe we built rafts, but we knew better than to get into fast water with them.

Fast water meant canoes, and none of us back then could afford canoes, nor were we talented enough to build one. That could actually float, I mean. We did dig out logs Indian-fashion, but both times we put them into the water they sank like rocks. That wasn’t overly impressive, but we had a good time hollowing out the logs.

Kids and parents today depend on structured activities like baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and other sports and activities. However, those get to be a pain because you have to have your kid at a certain place at a certain time, and the coaches or activity directors frown on the fact that you’re late. Not exactly a friendly environment for the time-challenged. Can I have just a little more stress?

And no one had to mention exercise to us when we were kids. We had chores. Daddy raised pigs, which meant I had to feed and water every day. Watering involved carrying five-gallon buckets of water to troughs, then wrestling the pigs out of the way while I poured the water into the trough. If the water spilled, I had to make extra trips. I learned a whole new enthusiasm for bacon -- it was like I was getting revenge (one bite at a time!) for all the aggravation and extra work those pigs caused me.

Daddy never did put in a water hose, but least I didn’t have to pump well water.

Other times I had to go out with a knife and chop Johnson grass to feed the horses and cows. Daddy would never buy hay as long as Johnson grass was growing. I had to carry armfuls of the stuff a long way because the animals ate everything that was near their pens.

When Daddy bought five acres down in Francis, he had me and my younger brother start clearing it with an ax. I was fifteen. After we chopped the trees down, we took the limbs off and used the logs for fence posts to build hog pens. We didn’t use a hammer and nails because Daddy didn't want to buy them. We put two fence posts close together, then dropped more poles sideways between them to create the fence wall. For a while there, I felt like I’d been born with posthole diggers and an ax in my hand.

Exercise, sunshine, and fresh air (well, maybe the fresh air was a problem after the pigs arrived) were part of my everyday life growing up.

Our world has changed, and it’s fascinating to see the things we now have to worry about. When I was growing up, you didn’t have to worry about what a kid was eating. We ate everything and still couldn’t keep the weight on because we worked and ran and played till sleep claimed us at night.

I don’t know if our lives are in the better now than they were, or if those times were the best times. I do know that kids have more opportunities to learn these days than we ever thought about, and they’ve got much cooler toys, but I suspect there’s been something of a tradeoff.

As parents, we have to know so much more than our parents did. I don’t think my mom worried about nutrition much beyond making sure I got my Flintstones vitamin on a fairly regular basis. Now it seems I’m reading boxes and food reviews all the time.

But it’s all worth it. I wouldn’t trade my childhood nor the parenthood I’m going through now for anything. It’s just interesting to see the differences between then and now.


Rinda Elliott said...

We purposely looked for a place outside of town with a lot of trees. This summer, my ten year-old son ran the neighborhood with his buddies and the moms all kept tabs. The boys even have a secret hide-out behind the neighborhood by a creek.

But during school months, he spends a lot of time on the computer and playing video games. Except for football. We have acre lots and several have long stretches of soft, green grass--so the boys play football a lot and will continue into the cold season.

I remember going out in the morning and not checking in all day. My son gets grounded for doing so--he checks in every couple of hours on the all day play days.

But I remember kids going missing when I was kid--I don't think it's worse. I think we hear about it more with all the new media alerts in place. I even remember a girl scout trip being canceled because some girls went missing. I never did get to go after that.

DesLily said...

I can pinpoint 2 things that hasn't helped kids of today with the weight problem.. One is that most schools stopped Physical Ed. and in times like now with all the computers and reasons to sit on our duffs..well.. we need Phys. Ed back in schools..and MANDATORY..every day! Add to that: schools install soda machines and snack machines! (gosh how did I ever survive school without those?!)
The other is the fact that with sky high prices there are fewer and fewer that can afford not to have both parents working to afford their home.. thus enters "fast food"...Waaaay tooo much!And even if cooked at home it's what is quickest to eat (because both parents have already had a full day of work) is generally not very healthy..which is ok ..but only to a degree.. the amount of quick foods or "eating out" is way past what it should be.
It will remain a problem..

Mel Odom said...

Yep, I agree with that too. Just didn't think of it.

Katie said...

This is a great post Mel. And your so right about kids not being able to do some of the things that you grew up doing.

When we lived in Spain I could wander all I wanted. We would go down to the beach at midnight and build tree forts. But once we moved back to the States things changed. Living off base ment less freedom because, like you said, the mom's didn't look out for everyone's kid, just their own. I still did a lot of things as a teenager here, wandering the creeks and river... that sort of thing.

I can't image what my childhood (as well as my teen years) would have been like without the trips to the creek, swamp, or bamboo forest. How do kids these days survive without that connection to nature?

Ron Simpson said...

I grew up in Tuttle, sort of country, but not back woods. My grandma had a 180 acre farm in Chandler. It was surrounded by plots her size or larger. I spent the summers there as a kid. I did the whole farm routine. Fed the animals, weeded the garden, fished and hunted. I enjoyed life back then. Every day was an adventure. I remember when I was 13 I decided I wanted to go get some ice cream. The nearest place to get some was in Chandler, about 10 miles or so away. So I walked to Chandler and bought ice cream. I have a lot of family there. My aunt and cousin found me at the ice cream shop and asked where grandma was. When they found out I walked there by myself, the freaked out and drove me back. Grandma just shrugged and said walking would do me good.
Today I live on a street that has a city bus route go through it. I don't want my kids to play in the front yard or in the street because I cannot control the people that drive like idiots or the bus driver. Ever try to stop a bus on a dime. It does not happen. Plus thanks to the internet, I know we have a registered sex offender living two streets over. Nope. No way. The kids do not play without me beingt with them. Not until Nate can carry a baseball bat and knock the snot out of anybody that trys to get him. And since Nate is not even 8 and wears 12 year old clothes, he is gonna have one heck of a swing.

Bill Bennett said...

I remember those times too. Great memories running the creekbeds, streams, and rivers here in Mustang. We'd take out in the morning and not show up until we had just enough time to get the chores done before my parents got home from work. It seemed like we were always building fence or a shed or clearing underbrush and even cut wood for winter for 10 or 11 saturdays in a row one year. I wouldn't trade those times for anything.
I get a bit nervous letting my 15 & 12 yearold walk to the park which is about a minute away from our house, and we live in a pretty decent and quiet neighborhood. There are so many weirdo's out there that can lure your kids away and bam their gone. The thing you have to remember is they are professional predators kids are just kids, but you can't hide out all your life. Teach them well and find a happy balance.
I agree the weight gain is not totally their fault. It'spart of the world we live in.