Enjoying Down-to-Earth Adventure, Fun
One of the things I absolutely treasure about my kids right now is that they are still too young to be affected by anyone else’s definition of “cool.” The concept of peer pressure doesn’t apply to them yet.
At 5 and 3, my boys don’t do stuff because it is the “cool” thing to do. They do stuff because it is just plain fun — choo-chooing around the house with their GeoTrax trains, sailing the seven seas with their toy pirate ship and eating platefuls of spaghetti topped with Scooby Doo fruit gummies. This lack of peer pressure allows them to choose their own adventures.
In the same way, they don’t yet care about (or even know) which clothes are in style. Heck, if I told them to close their eyes and then asked each what color shirt they were wearing, I’d bet neither would have the answer. Such material matters aren’t on their radars.
Of course, I do know that “the day will come.” The awareness of cool and uncool will arrive. Their schedules will become busier.
The urge to conform will be powerful.
We live around the corner from our local middle school, and I see it every day: Packs of 12-year-olds hustle by our house decked out from head (boys in baseball caps) to toe (girls in Ugg boots) in their trendy de facto uniforms. With few exceptions, the kids conform to a self-imposed dress code — one that screams, “Yes, I am as cool as everyone else!”
After school, the kids talk on their cell phones as they walk, checking in with Mom or Dad to say where they are and where they are headed. Many of them are off to their next scheduled appointment — music lessons, sports or tutoring. It’s a fairly regulated and monitored life kids lead today.
I don’t say any of this with scorn. I’m certainly a member of today’s generation of parents that facilitates the regulation and the monitoring. But I do say it with just a bit of longing for the past, when parents didn’t have to be so cautious and kids had more opportunity to choose their own adventures.
Go back 20 years ago or so, and I was one of those middle schoolers. My favorite memories from that time are jumping on the bus, then transferring to the rapid transit train, as my older brother and I made the 45-minute trip across town to watch baseball games in downtown Cleveland. (Our parents were fully aware we were doing this.) We’d return home at dusk, or later if extra innings were involved or if we stayed to get autographs after the game. We never ran into any trouble (thank goodness) and it never dawned on me at the time what it meant to have the freedom to head into the big city. All I knew is that it was a fun adventure.
Now, as a parent, it definitely occurs to me that was a big deal. I can’t say I’d be too thrilled about my own preteen boys traversing a major city on their own for the sake of adventure. But, like I say, times are different.
Go back a few more decades and that’s what life really was all about for kids — finding adventure and being industrious. I recently happened upon a copy of a magazine from the 1940s called The Open Road for Boys.
What a great, and fitting, title. The publication was filled with swashbuckling tales of adventures at sea and flights around the world. It also had advertisements encouraging youngsters to become entrepreneurs (a printing press costing $5.85 was billed as a “marvelous money-maker for bright boys”) and salesmen (selling subscriptions to the magazine could earn boys fantastic prizes, from movie cameras to glass-blowing kits to live flying squirrels).
But that’s not all. For the really adventurous, and voracious, boy, the magazine included some interesting recipes. No joke, there are instructions in the magazine for preparing Porcupine Scrapple. “First catch the porcupine — a fat, young one is best,” begins the recipe. I’ll spare you the gory details, but after adding a few handfuls of yellow cornmeal, you’re ready to “fry for breakfast.” Now, that generation knew about adventure!
While I won’t be sanctioning any porcupine hunts around my house, I do hope that as my boys grow, they’ll continue to create their own adventures — just as they do now. I hope they’ll come up with their own definitions of “cool” and not be limited by what others think.