Category Archives: Kids

Tuesday, April 7: The Coronials

A million years ago, back in mid-March, when the coronavirus was still a bit of a joke in America, predictions were made.

Cute, but now the actual plague-borns are here:

A pregnant South Jersey mother took matters into her own hands Friday after her husband was turned away from a hospital due to new coronavirus rules. .. The couple returned home when the contractions returned. Her husband suggested calling 911, but there wasn’t time. So she gave birth in their tub.

All of us are, in our own way, newborns this spring. The process for the rest of us is just a lot harder, and may not fully succeed.

Right now, the disruption of the school year is on everyone’s minds. New York State just cancelled the Regents’ exams. School-from-home (as opposed to home schooling, a different animal) is already running into serious problems. And these are just really “problems” (tech problems) not the actual freaking problems of: kids not getting their school lunches. Kids in the way of abusive parents. Kids in the way of parents who weren’t ever abusive, but might become that way due to the stresses of unemployment. Kids who can’t even use Zoom anyway because they don’t have a computer. Kids who will not learn to read properly. Kids who will get hit by cars on their bikes or start taking drugs or never get mental or medical help that they need… well, I have to stop here. I don’t even have kids and my mind is racing.

For two decades or more, American children and teens have grown up in a culture where almost all of their experiences are mediated by adults. Except for the promise of new technologies, the parameters of the world they would enter were clearly known. If they were among the more privileged half of their society, they would play on expertly designed playgrounds under the eye of attentive parents or nannies; go with their families on vacations to Disney or Europe, where everyone else had already been before them, and already posted on Instagram; and prepare to be selected for college by compiling the recommended collection of extracurricular experiences. They only thing they needed to improvise was how to deal with whatever private inner despair they were feeling with the well-trodden paths they were required to navigate. This is the story of every generation more or less, but each generation has seemed to have less and less of a vital wiggle room that is hard to define.

Suddenly, everyone — the adults included — have been plunged into a completely unmediated experience. Right now, everyone is still in the “weird, but fun” bike-riding-in-the-street phase. Later, as the economic pain hits the adults in the pocketbook, the kids of the 21st century will be left alone, unmediated, to become whatever they have to become. They will be smart and they will be tough. And the “Old Future” will never be theirs. The goals that their parents might have been training them for will become as relevant as whale-powered ocean travel.

As forward-thinking as I like to be, I cannot go there with them. But it’s tough. We’re now all Coronials. I’m on Day 19 of “work-from-home” and every day I wonder how we are all ever supposed to go back. The “New Future” seems both horrible and appealing. The “Old Future” is receding more by the day. (How weak a claim it had on us?)

Meanwhile, a hot topic of discussion is how educational delivery systems will evolve to meet the needs of getting kids educated. While the adults discuss this among themselves…

As Pauline Kael said about this movie,

The war has its horrors, but it also destroys much of what the genteel poor have barely been able to acknowledge they wanted destroyed.

5 things I miss about summer

1. Slushie mugs. I don’t know what other people called them, but you froze them and then stirred Kool-Aid or the drink of your choice until it suddenly and magically congealed into slush. They said you couldn’t do it with carbonated drinks. I defied this. My favorite was root beer.

2. The magical last day of school when the halls would be strewn with paper as everyone “cleaned out their locker” (ahem) for the year. Not so magical for the janitor I would imagine.

3. Having my dad get us up on the roof of the house to watch the lousy Fourth of July fireworks being set off behind the mall, which detonated once every sixty seconds and came in only three colors — red, white and… green.

4. Popping tar bubbles on the street on hot days. Fighting with my sister over the big ones.

5. Me, my friends, a tape recorder and a fresh scenario (i.e., “Biker chicks tea party,” “Interview with Charlie’s Angels” or “Entire school day featuring our least favorite teachers”). Where did the afternoons go?

Enough talk about free-range chickens…

…How about free-range humans?

This article from the U.K. confirms what many have suspected: the personal range of children has shrunk drastically over the last century.

When George Thomas was eight he walked everywhere. It was 1926 and his parents were unable to afford the fare for a tram, let alone the cost of a bike and he regularly walked six miles to his favourite fishing haunt without adult supervision… Fast forward to 2007 and Mr Thomas’s eight-year-old great-grandson Edward enjoys none of that freedom. He is driven the few minutes to school, is taken by car to a safe place to ride his bike and can roam no more than 300 yards from home. Even if he wanted to play outdoors, none of his friends strays from their home or garden unsupervised.

The article has an interesting graphic showing how the “roaming range” of the generations of this particular British family has shrunk little by little. No doubt this is true in America as well. I’m not sure if this automatically means that children are being raised to be less street-smart and less curious. Certainly my “range” as a kid (which was no more than a mile, I would estimate, if that) wouldn’t be very impressive to my grandparents’ generation. (Although there were limits in the old days too: my dad once as an 11-year-old decided to ride his bike from his Syracuse home to his cousins’ farm in Stockbridge. This produced mighty consternation.)

Do parents of any generation ever realize how many scrapes and even hair-raising incidents occur to their kids even within the safe zones? (The article touches on this.) Well, kids rarely talk about them to grownups. They’re too afraid that their freedoms will be taken away. I recently compared notes with some people on this and it’s true — everyone has childhood experiences (yes, even some involving unsavory people) that they never bothered to tell Mom and Dad about. What happened? Either your radar was working and you avoided any damage, or the sibling protection system kicked in (your smarter, older sibling or friend warned you away from the danger), or some alert adult was looking out for you. But then, of course, we have learned all too much about the worst case scenarios where kids’ wits weren’t enough to protect them, so…

I just wonder why the trend of declining “ranges” for kids (and people in general maybe?) is tied to a discounting of the factors that used to keep kids safe. In my dad’s case, by the time his epic bike ride became known, he was halfway to Madison County and his parents were torn about what to do. Should they stop him, or let him go? In the end, they figured since he was already more than halfway there, they’d just let him go.