A whole lot of folks look back on their childhood with fondness. I wonder whether my kids will ever do the same. After what I saw last week, probably not.
You see, last week our family was on vacation — eight days of 82-degree weather, a sea and a pool in sunny Mexico. While the grown-ups basked on lounge chairs slurping frosty piña coladas, my often-grumbly younger son was turning into a child I didn't recognize.
"Mom, wake me early! I don't want to miss a minute of daylight!"
Those are words I never had heard from him before, because on weekdays, getting up early only means getting ready for school. On weekends, it means texting, calling and Facebooking his fellow eighth-graders to find someone willing to toss a ball. Yes, really, that's his life — trying desperately to lure other 13-year-old boys to the park.
He has to do this electronically because no one gathers at the park spontaneously. Yet once everyone is on the computer, even to respond to "Let's go outside!" messages, it is hard to get everyone off and out — my son included.
After school, it's a related problem. "Let's play football!" is answered with "I'm busy," "I've got homework," "I've got to get to (fill in the blank with an organized, overpriced activity)." Or the response is, "No, I'm too tired," which, I'm told by reliable young sources, translates into "I'm going home to watch funny videos on YouTube."
But during that wonderful week in Mexico, he was surrounded by vacationing kids who weren't busy at all — possibly because it cost $15 a day to get Internet service and their parents wouldn't pay. Possibly because it cost extra money to get phone service and their parents wouldn't pay. Or possibly it's just because there was nothing else to do — no math sheets, no travel hockey — so the hours stretched before them like ... well, that's the thing.
They stretched before them the way out-of-school hours used to stretch for most of us codgers.
What my son could not get enough of was once as common as dandelions. I'm talking about play. My boy zinged to the beach because he knew he'd find a gaggle of kids, 6 to 16, ready to play volleyball, football, soccer. Some adults would join in, too, because it is fun to play.
If today's answer to "Meet you at the playground!" were anything like what we heard as kids — generally some variation on "Hurry!" — I think my son would be a lot more like the boy I saw on vacation — eager, happy and so tanned his eyelids looked weirdly white. He'd drop exhausted into bed at night (early!) and throw off the covers in the morning.
Instead, I have a boy who dreads a full day of school followed by a nearly full afternoon of homework followed by a weekend of friends balking at the idea of leaving their room.
It's easy to romanticize our childhood, but it's also a fact that kids today play outside a lot less, especially on their own. The reasons range from the lure of electronics to the fear of predators to higher academic and extracurricular expectations. But the result is the same. My son, at least, will look back on his childhood as a stretch of frustration, broken only by vacation — a magical time when kids got together and did this rare thing, sweeter than any piña colada: playing till it got too dark out to see the ball.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)" and "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.