Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Olly Olly Oxen Free

Days like this don't come around every day in Arkansas. Well they do, but not until October. In July, the combination of cool temperatures, low humidity and intermittent breeze falls somewhere between a gift and a miracle. Which is why I did what I can only assume all good mothers did today: I locked my child out.


At first, it was a bit like a prison break in reverse, him and his pals searching for breaches in the security and sneaking back inside. At one particularly low point, I even caught them crawling through the doggie door. But I was undeterred. I ignored their protests, shooed them back out and wedged heavy furniture in front of all points of entry. I won't kid you, there were a few moments when I was in serious jeopardy of mutiny. But they're really too short to do much damage, so I persevered.

A little later, a neighbor girl noticed the signs of life on the lawn and came out to investigate. Her nanny conscientiously came over too, to see if maybe we were evacuating because of a fire or carbon monoxide leak. When the little girl decided to join the boys in the yard, I felt a tiny surge of success. Right up until I overheard her say, "My nanny said however long I stay outside, that's how long I get to play Wii when I go in." Of course she did.

I'm coming to the unnerving conclusion that children are losing their ability to play. It makes me wonder: Has Kick the Can kicked the bucket? Has Donkey Kong killed Pin the Tail on the Donkey? Has Hide and Seek gone into hiding? Or is it our children who are in hiding? When our kids are holed up on the couch, playing video games or watching TV, there is comfort in knowing that they're safe. Our neurotic fears of kidnappers and child molesters and 16-year-old drivers texting behind the wheel get to take a breather. But I don't believe kids are really any more at risk out in the world today than we were as kids. Since 1993, crime rates have actually been steadily tumbling. It's just that we've developed an insatiable hunger for coverage of the crimes that do occur. How can we help but imagine every horrific way our child could be harmed when television pumps an endless stream of images into our brains. And we refuse to look away.

There are dangers out in the world to be sure, but to my mind, the greater danger is in not sending them out. We may be protecting their bodies, but we're killing their souls. What seeds can a child plant in the fallow land of his living room? It is only beyond those four buffering walls where discoveries are made, where unique thoughts are cultivated and sown. Toy manufactures know this, and take names like Discovery Toys and Creative Playthings. But what discovery can be made when another human being has already done all the creating? Children need to explore the world with their own eyes, not experience it through a facsimile of someone else's perception. They need to feel the cold lake on their toes to know boundless possibility. They must hold the wriggling frog in their own hand to know the pulsing energy of life.

Rachel Carson never had children, but she understood nature well enough to know, "A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood." Parents stand with their hand powerfully poised before the dimmer switch. We can choose a low setting, or we can throw open the back door and send our children intrepidly into the big, bright, limitless world.

If we don't, who will design the video games for their children?


Alecia said...

thought provoking post-sounds like you are having a good summer

blupencl said...

(Grr I am trying again). Your post pretty near perfectly describes my childhood, with the difference being that we would not have THOUGHT of coming in unless we were being punished. We played outside. We ran and got dirty and sweaty. I am sure we stank (I know Danny and Rick did!!). We were in for lunch and supper. The boys smelled so bad I could hardly sit next to them (I was big then, of course). I can still smell their stinky heads!

That was life. We played outside and loved it. There were no nannies, though. All the mothers were home.

Soozietoone said...

Remember the New York mom who let her son -- gasp -- read a map and ride the subway on his own? You would have thought she beat him and rubbed salt in his wounds before torching him from the reactions.

Jomama said...

Good for you--you are SO right! I remember LONG summer days, and nights of playing tag on the front lawn with the neighborhood kids. We didn't have video games back then in the stone age.

Our young are in summer camps, so we know they are getting some activity there, but even so, the video games are encroaching the recesses and the bus rides.

You've motivated me to try a little harder...