The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, September 28, 2007

Mourning the Lost Luxury of Benign Neglect

by Melissa Bell

I have always considered myself one of the lucky ones. I spent my childhood in a smallish town, ignorant of sex offenders and school knifings and...well, what are some of the other things that make young life a dangerous place these days? Lead paint from Chinese toy manufacturers? Sharp-edges on playground equpment?

I walked to school by myself, usually meeting up with other kids along the way. At the end of my day, I'd go home and ride my bike around the neighbourhood and get back in time for dinner. If it was the summertime, I'd often go off for a walk after dinner or take a book or a Richie Rich and climb a tree and read. We had a ravine near the back of our house - a perfect place for exploring and finding bugs and seed pods and cool rocks. On occasion I would fall and scrape something and need to go home for a Band-aid, and my mom or dad was there to give me one and then send me on my way. If it was a rainy day, I could hole up in my room with some construction paper, some scissors (real ones) and glue (real glue). Or my Barbies. Or some sewing or kntting. Egads. I sewed and knitted. Around lunchtime, I would emerge for a baloney sandwich and some cartoons, and then go back to my project.

There are little kids who live on my street here in Toronto. It's a street that is a dead end. No traffic other than the the slow drive in or out from the residents. But the kids are never outside without their parents at their side. I never see a group of young children crossing the street to go to the convenience store to load up on sugar - in fact one would never see a young child walking anywhere by themselves. It would be enough of a rare sight as to create alarm in the viewer. Why is that child walking unaccompanied?

What has happened between then and now? Are there more "bad things" likely to happen to a young person in today's world than the one in which I grew up? Sure, tragedies did occur and kids did get into trouble "back in my day", but that was just life. Now it appears as if everyone is always expecting the worst to occur at all times, and it's a national catastrophe when it does.

I meet the kids of my friends. Their days are scheduled to the teeth - huge days. School. Then usually soccer or swimming or gymnastics. Something that involves some huge energy. Then homework. I never had homework until middle school. Not ever. I don't know why we didn't, but we just didn't. Everything we needed to do we did in class. I can only assume, given what I read in the news, that a lot of class time must be used for other issue-based matters these days. Like grief counseling. Gun control. HPV vaccination discussions. Cell phone calls.

It must be so hard being a parent these days. It's not even 10 a.m. yet as I write this, and the television is saturated with material that is certainly not kid-friendly. If I'd run into something like The Maury Povich Show at the age of 8, I would have been one of those kids that sees something so shocking they stop talking for about ten years. Jeez, the old black & white Frankenstein movies sent me over the edge (although I loved them, of course), but to see the things - the real things - that show up indiscriminately all over the TV at all times - lipsuction procedures and morbidly obese toddlers - I'd be a neurotic, quivering mess. That was one of the disadvantages of the freedom I had during my own formative years - I developed a profoundly overactive imagination. My parents needn't have worried about "bad things" happening in my world - I worried enough about them myself. But I worried about things that were unlikely - decapitations and vampires and my dolls coming to life to take revenge if treated them unfairly. A brochure at the dentist's office convinced me I had childhood leukemia.

So while I'm thankful that my childhood world was one created mostly by my own spontaneity - the only scheduled activity I can recall was a weekly piano lesson - and even that occurred during the lunch hour during the school week - I grew up to encounter a world that comprises all the things I feared were out there, and much worse, anyway.

Knitting helps. And lots of garlic bagel bites. For the vampires.


Anonymous Colin said...

Thanks Melissa. I consider myself one of the lucky ones too, growing up on a farm with lots of play space and me time. Your post reminded me of the little girl I saw yesterday morning as I was riding my bicycle to UVic. She was dragging one of those rolling suitcases, holding on with the other hand to a person a couple of steps in front of her that I suppose was her mother. I smiled but her expression didn't change from the frown she wore, and I was wondering what the thoughts were behind it.

Fri Sep 28, 11:46:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Our kids are exposed to too much reality today, whether it's from an entertainment show or the news. Back in the day, the same bad stuff was happening, we just didn't have a clue. It's good and it's bad. What can I say. It's great that we're more informed, sad that our kids have to grow up so quickly.

Fri Sep 28, 02:53:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

That is one creepy doll!

The ignorance=bliss factor is relative of course; I was just discussing this with a friend the other day, who is struggling with her teenager. She reminded me that she, in fact, had a crueler-reality of an upbringing than her daughter, which is actually the cause of much of their problems, b/c anything the daughter goes through is nothing compare to what the mother had to suffer through, so the daughter says nothing.

Tough scenario, either way.

Fri Sep 28, 03:33:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I don't why parents today seem much more afraid to let their kids out of the house. They must get more warnings about all of the bad things that could happen. It's a miracle that my kids grew to adulthood.

Fri Sep 28, 04:21:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I meant to say: I don't know...(sigh)

Fri Sep 28, 04:50:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger moonlight ambulette said...

You know what's interesting? I live in Brooklyn, NY -- land of the neurotic. And yet, there are tons of kids in my neighborhood (it's known for being particularly kid-friendly, actually) -- and I always see little kids running around, whizzing by on scooters, playing baseball in the street, running into the corner bodega, etc. Their parents are usually down the block or something, but it's still nice to see a little pack of children racing by on a sugar high, seemingly unsupervised, sometimes.

Fri Sep 28, 05:59:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

Sure, I ran around until sundown when I was a kid, because we had nothing else to do. The parents controlled the home entertainment systems.

With the increase of traffic, even in our small (medium?) town, I worried about my kids and didn't allow them to go to the store until one of them was at least ten years old, and they had to cross at the lights.

Later, they'd go to the park, and the buddy system was still enforced. I had these keen little 3-way radios, so one of them kept one in a ziploc bag in her pocket in case they got hurt or something. But I let them go. As a matter of fact, I encourage them.

Now it's cell phones. They still go out alone, at 18 and 16, but not often. They're such homebodies, but they're not afraid. At least, I hope they're not.

Did my parental fear rub off on them?

Fri Sep 28, 11:19:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

My co-parenting partner and I found ourselves a wonderful co-op to live in when we were raising our family, so that our kids could have the kind easy relationship with the world that we grew up with. Playing outside for hours at a time. Knowing everyone in your neighbourhood. And even, when they were toddlers, running around outside in the nude! Also, we severely limited television and other media until they were teenagers. Or tried too. (You shouldn't get fanatical or you make it too attractive.) Our kids turned out wonderfully well, if I don't say so myself.

Sun Sep 30, 06:22:00 pm GMT-4  

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