Back to School

MCMTuesday, September 5, 2006

This will sound mean and evil and a tiny bit cruel, but THANK GOD SCHOOL IS BACK. When I was a kid, I remember summer was the best time for me... playing outside, building crazy car contraptions out of broken (and unbroken) bikes and wood, general mayhem and a mini soap opera every other day. School was always "aw man, not again". Might've been because school came with snow and cold and misery, but I think summer was more fun for a variety of reasons anyway.

These days, kids can't walk down the street without an armed escort. You set up "play dates" if your kids want to socialize with their peers. Nobody just "goes to the park", they arrange it weeks in advance and confirm with broadcast emails the night before. There's no spontaneity anymore.

I remember running down the street to my friend Kirk's house when I was 7, ringing the doorbell and waking up his mom. She would stumble to the door, probably resisting the urge to beat me to death with the coffee mug she was holding on to like a life preserver in the middle of the Pacific. My friends and I would be out the door and running around (chasing squirrels up the sides of houses with nets... that was the best fun ever) as soon as we were dressed and had eaten enough to not collapse before lunch. The only time parents were involved was when there was no way around it, and that was the way we liked it.

[Eventually Kirk's parents installed an intercom thing in their house with one speaker outside the front door, and at least two others in the kitchen and the master bedroom. I never understood WHY they'd pick such dumb places, but now that I think about my own routine with kids, I finally grasp the importance of being able to tell neighbourhood children to bugger off from the comfort of your bed.]

For her birthday, we got our oldest daughter a new bike. She desperately wanted one, and when she got it, we were out basically nonstop for a whole month while she got used to riding it. And then, once my quasi-vacation was over and there was a schedule to stick to again, the bike sat unused for weeks on end. I don't think she's ridden it in two weeks or more. And I thought to myself: my kids don't ride their bikes nearly as much as I did. They must not be into that kind of thing. Scary to think I'm more athletic than they are. Yeesh.

But then it popped into my head that my kids are just as potentially-athletic as I was at their age, it's the world that's different. It's not that I can't let my daughter go out with her bike on her own at age 7 (because I happen to think the fear of kidnapping is somewhat overdone lately)... but I know from (awkward) experience that if I let my kids so much as walk to the end of the driveway without a chaperone, I could get a visit from the police for child endangerment. I can't let my kids ride their bikes for fun, so they have to wait till there's time in the schedule. And the schedule is complex.

It seems to me that somewhere along the way, the need for ultra-busy parents to slot family time into a schedule ("we'll go to the park for 45 minutes and LOVE IT, DAMMIT!") has forced everyone else into the same boat. There's no such thing as spontaneity anymore. No such thing as the kids doing their thing while the parents do their own. It's not a neglect thing... how many adventures would I have had as a kid if I've been tailed the whole time by my parents? Why are MY kids forced to put up with grown-up eyeballs on them all the time?

The great thing about school being back is that it's the time when the kids are free from us for 5 days a week, and can live their own lives without having to ask permission. Sure, they do it within the structure of the school day, but it's way more time to play than they got all summer. Real play. Play without purpose.

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