The Wonder Years

Daily Foglifter:  The number of computer and video games sold in the United States in 2009.  273.5 million.

Do you remember your childhood?  Do you remember the long summer days when you only saw your parents at mealtimes because you spent all your time roaming the neighborhood, building forts, climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek and baseball, or “swimming” in the kiddie pool in the backyard?  And that was just the daytime.  When the sun went down, there was Spotlight, going to the house down the street to watch scary movies and running for your life when it was time to go home and every tree branch was an arm reaching out to grab you, impromptu slumber parties with marathon dance sessions, hair fixing, movie watching, and so much giggling your stomach ached.  Well I remember it and that set of memories has a voiceover, done by Daniel Stern of course, and its own theme song, “With a Little Help From My Friends–the Joe Cocker version.  Not very original, but unavoidable as “The Wonder Years” was, and is, my favorite television show of all time.

Does this kind of childhood exist anymore?  I haven’t seen it.  Now everything is scheduled.  Playdates, baseball, soccer,  after-school programs–the list is endless.  There isn’t time for the kids to do anything on their own.  If there were, they probably wouldn’t be allowed to.  It’s too dangerous.

In every mother’s mind there is a fear of our children getting hurt.  By something.  By someone.  It’s up to us to protect them.  But are we doing them more harm than good?

When I was in elementary school, I was basically given free rein of my neighborhood.  I relished it.  I loved running around all day, returning home only for lunch and  at dusk to eat dinner, take my bath, and fall into bed.  Do we give our children the same freedom?

When I was in middle school, I began babysitting.  I watched babies and toddlers while their parents were at work–all day.  It was good to have the money for when my mom would drop me off at the mall with my friends, alone–for a couple of hours.  Will I allow my daughter to do that?

The answer, of course, is no.  But why?  Pure unadulterated fear.  What if something happened while she was babysitting?  What if the house caught on fire?  What if a stranger busted in the door and took her?  What if she invited boys over?  What if she was in with the wrong crowd and started drinking and doing drugs when she was left to herself?  The possibilities are endless.

But what happens when we’re so worried about our child’s well-being that we don’t allow them to grow up and learn to make their own decisions?  What responsibilities are we willing to leave in their hands?  When is it time to loosen the reigns and see what they do?

During my home school experiment, I frequently left my 11-year-old home alone while I went to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment, never more than a couple of hours.  I felt like I was committing a crime.  When I went to get my kids at the bus stop, at the end of our short street, I would leave the 1-year-old in his care, for 15 minutes at the most.  I felt like Child Protective Services would be knocking down my door.  It was ridiculous.  I know my son.  He’s smart and responsible enough to follow some simple rules.   Don’t answer the door or the phone.  Don’t let your sister out of your sight and don’t let her put anything in her mouth.

When I took my four-year-old out of his booster seat, I feared being pulled over by the police.  I was vaguely aware of safety guidelines, but not sure what was law.  It was ridiculous strapping him into a harness when he got on the bus every day without even a seatbelt on his way to preschool.

I don’t want to be a helicopter parent.  My job is to teach my kids how to function independently in the world.  Making every decision and treating them like helpless toddlers is not going to teach that.  At some point, they are going to have to make choices and suffer the consequences.  All I can do is teach them the best way I know how and let go a little at a time.  Eventually, they’re going to have to find their own way.

While looking around at a couple of mom blogs, I came across one that I found very interesting.  Some of her ideas kind of scare the crap out of me.  Mostly, it’s just plain common sense.  It’s called Free Range Kids.  Check it out.  I’m sure everyone will have an opinion.

“Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you’re in diapers, the next day you’re gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house like a lot of other houses, a yard like a lot of other yards, on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back, with wonder.”  ~The final line of  THE WONDER YEARS.

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3 thoughts on “The Wonder Years

  1. You are forgetting one important part of this scenario and that is knowing the parents of the kids they hang around with and being able to feel comfortable inowing the kids are with other kids with some sense of right and wrong. We would stay out in an environment that could kill ya “seriously ” . Being the mean little cusses we were, we took care of ” things” on our own.Nobody invaded our end of the road ! we were more like
    ” Stand By Me ” I guess as generations go each could be described by some Iconic group. whether its Spanky and Alfalfa or the Breakfast Club. Now theres a group.An Example of the Institutionalized kids that never get out of the house. The kids you want to lead in a round of follow the leader through the cow pasture ! And Oh Yeah, Nobodies cnildhood is better than your own .

    • Yeah, but even as kids we knew who not to hang out with. There were always houses and families we avoided. The point I’m trying to make is that we don’t even give kids a chance to figure it out. We pick the kids, the time, the place, the activity. At some point they’re going to have to figure it out. I’m not saying if they choose wrongly, just go with it. Parents are the final authority, but they have to learn to fend for themselves somehow.

      • Your kids are learning more at school than you know. They know the bully, the weirdo, the sicko ~ they know ! What would surprise you is THAT THEY know !
        Some things you just don’t talk about with your parents. Like locking the Old pervert in his garage and letting him explain to his wife WHY we locked him in there ! Brother’s who taught you to punch someones Lights out with the first JAB, And not to take crap off no-body !
        Sometimes if they aren’t killing each other its wiser to let them fight it out ~ they learn each other’s limits, and even more they learn when the little ones get big enough to Take ’em down ! I think most parents get in the middle just to regain that peace and quiet ~ and yep ~ you are changing the playing field, by making it even ground all the way around. But what happens when you are no longer around to keep the Whaling kids off their back ~ the playing field even, and they go for that job interview or that promotion, and they expect it all to be FAIR ?
        Really What was it, that was so Great About your Childhood ? Take a look at where I grew up, and the territory I had to cover. Your life was really a fish bowl, What have you done to your children ? How much smaller could you make their world

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