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In the Snow, With No Shoes, Uphill, Both Ways

Reflecting on our own childhoods, and the things our children may never understand

We’ve all heard it from our parents. I used to walk to school, barefoot, for 12 miles, uphill both ways. Every generation has its hallowed tales of how tough it was when they were a kid.

In our family, we often talk of the things our children will think odd that we lived without as youngsters. For example, I can recall getting our first microwave. It was a really big deal to heat up food and make popcorn without a stove or oven.

I remember the first computer I’d seen in a classroom wasn’t until after fifth grade. Even then, all we could manage on it was to play Word Munchers or Oregon Trail. (Man, I loved those games.)

I’m sure most parents our age have identified the obvious. Our kids will wonder how we ever remotely functioned without the Internet or a cellular phone. My son is 7, and has mastered the use of both. He has his own phone, iPod touch and laptop computer. He probably knows more tricks on all three than his dad and I combined.

They'll always have had Google instead of the library and Wikipeida instead of encyclopedias.

There are little things that pop up that we giggle about too in our family. I once told my kids to “roll up” their windows. And my son wanted to know how pushing a button required any “rolling.” It hadn’t occurred to me that they’d likely never been in a car that had manual window controls.

We are also penny pinchers in this house. We each have our own piggy banks for collecting loose change. The kids, once their banks are full, get to bring them down to the bank and dump then in a rather fun machine that sorts, counts and tallies your coins for you. When done, you simply hand a slip to a teller and are handed over your paper cash.

I once told the kids, they could save up a “whole roll of nickels” and they asked what a “roll” of coins even was. Again, I’d never considered it, but they’ve never seen the paper rolls my mom and dad used to give us to count up our savings as kids.

My kids won’t know what it was like to only have three television channels. They’ve never seen a giant dial to control said three channels, and can’t fathom leaving the couch for changing them.

Children today won’t have to know what an eight-hour car trip was like with no hand-held video games, in-car televisions or our own music sources held in the confinements of our own pockets.

They’ll never likely ride in a car that had no seatbelts. They’ll hopefully never ride in the back of a pick-up, either.

I remember moving into our suburban house. The two things my city baby, then age 2-and-a-half, marveled at two things he’d never seen. We had GRASS in our yard! He’d never leave the blanket. He found it creepy. We also had a mailbox. He’d only seen one on Blue’s Clues and thought it was magical we now owned one right in front of our house.

There are sadder considerations. My children will always have a locked down school. You’ll always have to buzz in and show identification to enter the building. They also can’t walk, as I did (I swear it was only uphill ONE way) to school on their own. At age 6, I could get myself the two blocks to my kindergarten class, and today I’d never dream of allowing them to go solo.

Some things are smart. My kids have helmets when they ride bikes, seatbelts in their cars, booster seats and even those sharpened outdoor games like Jarts have been fairly well banned. (Who did think it was wise to arm children with projectile spears to go "play" anyhow?)

On the plus side, my kids can read sight words and write their name before kindergarten. I only had to know shapes, colors, numbers to 10 and the alphabet before moving into second grade.

On the negative, they seldom play a pick-up game of Wiffle ball (without the parents’ all organizing a play date) or ride their bikes until dusk, like we used to do as kids. Many complain that they seldom even see daylight thanks to new technology, television and video games.

Whatever the differences, one thing remains the same. Your children will never live the life you did as a kid. Their kids won’t live the lives they did. The world is full of change. Some of it changes for the better and some of it for the worse.

As parents, it is up to us to make it all balance out at the end. So, even if my tots never have to count their pennies into paper rolls or manually roll down their backseat windows, I know they’ll still be good kids because I’ll push them each day to do their very best and learn to be adaptable. I’m a mom. That’s my job.

Donna Doherty January 24, 2013 at 02:14 PM
I work with children of all ages all day long. One of the saddest things that I have noticed is that children no longer are able to amuse themselves. If there is not a adult directed activity given to them, after thirty seconds they say they are bored. Growing up in the "olden" days, we were left to our own devices, our own imagination, our own thoughts, and we were never bored. Children today are not given these opportunities because they are given movies in the car, handheld devices any time they have to sit and constant distractions from boredom. This is the part of childhood that this generation is missing out on. Learning to think and dream and create through boredom. I am glad I grew up and then raised my children in the "good old days!
Helen Aulenbach January 24, 2013 at 02:34 PM
Donna, you are so correct about all of this. Nowadays, children aren't allowed to cry it out and figure that no one is going to spoil them and then they don't cry so much. I guess part of this problem is that these children grow up in apartments where they have to be quiet.
Stephen Eickhoff January 24, 2013 at 05:35 PM
My school must have been a lot tougher. Every kid knew the alphabet and could count to at least 10 in kindergarten. You learned to read in 1st grade if you hadn't already learned by kindergarten. It may have been because we had an experimental system that split the kids into fast and slow learners with different teachers and classrooms. Is it that you're not allowed to let your kids walk two blocks, or you are afraid to? Gee, I wonder why kids are fat and bored all the time.
Stephen Eickhoff January 24, 2013 at 05:35 PM
At least they can still play Oregon Trail. Hopefully, they won't die of dysentery as much as I did.
Don M January 24, 2013 at 06:21 PM
Progress will always change our lifestyles, preferences, conveniences, comforts and challenges and we aren't the first generation nor the last to reminisce of the old days. The question is this: what is this "progress" doing for (or to) our children? Arguably, the ability to think critically and creatively, not take things at face value, being self-motivated, interacting and exploring are no longer innate skills of kids as they are losing the environment that fosters them. Carry that forward into their adult years and what do we get...? Though this is more angled toward nature I find this video illustrates what is missing "nowadays" and its direct impact on children. Broaden your interpretation of this to include unsupervised playtime, riding bikes just a bit further than they should and performing an intentional power shutdown such that their gadgets would no longer work, and I think this is very relevant. At about 3:30 into the video it briefly discusses (and legitimately dismisses) the reasons. http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child/videos/ We need not long for the past, just take better advantage of our present. BTW, I am not compensated nor a representative of Mr. Louv, I have never even met the man other than reading his book. If you like the video you will love the book.

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