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©December 2000

Carol Jane Remsburg



The Conundrum




Every generation laments the former—they are lazy, they have no drive or direction, they have no common sense, they can't think for themselves.  Consider all this has been said again and again from the beginning of recorded time.  You can easily find these same thoughts in diaries back in the 1800's.  However, in today's world of instant on, instant access, and instant everything, we've raised our kids within our sphere or by another that watched them as closely as we do—they never go unwatched, or free.


Way back, you were considered a lazy child if you loafed after your before-breakfast chores of dealing with the cows and chickens and hauling in the water and firewood.  Chamber pots had to be emptied, the fires re-stoked, and food prepared.  If you lived in the house, you had work to do if you weren't in diapers.  The break of day had still not broken.  Life was hard back then. 


Creature comforts are much better now.  However the lament rings stronger and truer now.  As parents and grandparents, we suffer over how our children and grandchildren will fare in this new and wonderful world.


"When I was a kid . . . " it always begins.  Every parent has said it, some more than they need.  Still, it's a truism.  When I was a kid, once our chores were done, if we didn't up and disappear immediately and out of her hair, our mom would find other chores for us to do.  Thus we hie-tailed it out of the house and away, preferably on our bikes if we had them, if we didn't, we just ran.


During the summer we'd visit a few weeks with our grandparents who gave a token nod to our comings and goings.  Often, we went.  No one thought anything of a 10 year-old taking out the ancient, leaky wooden rowboat for a day of fishing and for the kid to be gone for 8 hours or more.  No one checked and no one worried.  If I hadn't come home by dark, then someone would go out looking, but that never happened and the nagging precautions were never labored over.  You went, you knew what you had to do, and you did it.  If something unexpected occurred, you dealt with that too.  If some truly fantastic horror occurred, then the obits would list you next week or so.  That was life.  It wasn't something anyone thought about.


Nowadays, any strange adult who smiles at a precocious kid in the next grocery cart is viewed as a threat.  Our children are born, outgrow diapers and become potty-trained.  Then we put diapers on them of another sort, of a type we disallow them to outgrow.  It's called parental vigilance.


When our little ones are small, we don't let them run about the house with knives or scissors, and we don't let them play in the street.  As a matter of fact, we don't let them play much unless it's with an "approved" toy and never alone.  If they are alone, they might be up to mischief; better to park them in front of the TV to watch programs we trust or perhaps with a 'parent-approved' book.  When they play on the computer, we disallow any Internet activity; we wouldn't want some bad person to get ahold of them.


The bicycles we gift them with will never see pavement because we can't allow them to ride about the neighborhood; "Honey, remember the backyard is best.  It's where we can see you and keep you safe."  This gives the term dirt biking a whole new venue.


We interview their friends and their parents—just in case.  They have no moment or breath without that watchful, governing, and judgmental eye upon them.


Our kids can't learn this way.  They have no freedom to make any of their own choices either good or bad.  What's lazy and irresponsible?  What's good judgment?  What's common sense?  How do our kids learn this if they are never in a situation where they have to think for themselves?  The obvious answer is that they can't.


Thus we've finally evolved into a culture that disallows our children to grow outside of rigid strictures.  They are governed and regulated as tightly as utility companies.  Children no longer play with abandon, all must be safe and overseen by a trusted adult—extended family need not apply.  Remember we have our suspicions about them too.


I guess the conundrum is that when we feel we finally can manage a safe and comfortable home for our children without the drudgery, we cut off innate freedoms.  Even while watching them 24x7, the boogieman still lurks in the shadows.  Our children will never be free to grow, to learn, to make mistakes and fail, or even to die, unless we untether them. 


As adults we know the world isn't a safe place, yet we knew that as kids and never gave it a second thought.  Can we not give our own children the same right of passage?  Negligence, no!  Information, yes! 


I think it just comes down to us being brave enough.  Allow the cowards of us all to arise to the task.  I'll be there with you.  I'm still scared.


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