Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Recess from the Recesses (a response)

[From my Facebook page, J. pointed out that many children still enjoy going outside, and gave examples.  She says that adults still produce playground sets (albeit "safer" ones) and create the memories that children produce for themselves.  In the end, she says, "Each generation must move on to make room for the next, yes?"  This is my response.  I agree with much of what she says, with two exceptions. That, one, I don't hold the same optimism that children will, in the future, be running around in their neighborhoods using sticks as wands or weapons or whatever. And two, that the equipment that we played on is just as good for this generation as today's "safer" replacements.]

I do hope you are correct in your evaluation of today's children. That in the areas where we live there are still kids that yearn to go outside, to play on playgrounds, to wield a stick as a sword or a staff, to find a copse of trees and turn it into a quiet hut,  a mansion of greens.  But I just don't see it happening that way.  Imagination is taken up by video games, by television screens, or transformed into competition in the form of organized sports.  When I was in middle and high school, there were few kids that "came out to play" in the summer, as they were all being bussed off to soccer camps and constant practices for organized sports (soccer in my neighborhood was the most time consuming). If they weren't into sports, they were inside playing with video games or whathaveyou.  And my neighborhood was as barren as most ghost towns. 

When I go back even farther, I look at the playgrounds as one of the few places where I actually half-way interacted with other kids. Not that I did that well, but I did have a few friends and we played our make believe games from the popular TV shows at the time.  The playground equipment became the models for our spaceships, our fortresses...etc. I realize that any brand of equipment could do that, whether it be plastic, or wood, or be it abstract, a mere shape, or constructed to look like a castle.  The importance of the specific rocketships I talk about are because of the memories that we had of those particular playsets. It is a selfish notion, really, that those metal structures could stay rooted into the ground for all eternity, for every child to experience those exact memories.  We are living our lives through them.  But it's precisely that selfish notion that makes us hold on to old things as much as we do. 

Take a look at one of my older blogs, from July of last year, which analyzes a conversation between Lt. Commander Data and Dr. Soong, his maker, from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's very applicable to this one, as we tend to hold on to old things, the crumbling buildings of southern towns, those like the ones in Milledgeville towering above the old Governor's mansion, with missing roof parts and piles of old psychology files stashed about.  Or to look at it another way, the loft apartments at the Mill in Porterdale. Living there would be an absolute treat, as the old factory walls would still retain the echoes of decades before, mixed in with the waterfalls of the South River.  We hold on to our ties with our pasts, yearning for them to stay eternally on, comforting us, reminding us of our semi-permanence in this world. For looking back to our past gives a sense of continuity, of a chain of humans living from one century to the next.  What if, traveling back to Oklahoma some time, and seeing my old playground at Mustang Valley, with the old rocketship monkey bars shining in the sunlight, and there on it was a child reaching up to the top of the set, and seeing his face as he reached the top.  That would be me in another life, but it would also be me now. It would be joy continuing down through the years.  So yes, it is selfish, but it is perfectly human to wish the old structures of our youth to continue existing, for us or for others, forever.  It gives us a sense of immortality. It's why I write these blogs, or why anyone creates anything, as it provides a link to the future.  After I am gone, there will still be these blogs for people to read, to know about my life.  I had hoped that there would still have been that rocketship for people to play on, to find the same excitement as I did. Let the children make the memories of their own worlds, at least I still have mine.

Something I think needs to be added.  When we talk about why Mustang Valley's playground was replaced with brand new sets, we have to look at the potential for lawsuits for "unsafe" playground equipment.  The large monkey bar sets at Mustang Valley were fastened into concrete, as were the teeter totters.  The swing sets were just outside on barren dirt, often which had holes underneath where kids' feet had swung, and when it rained, you got tadpoles swimming about in the holes under the swings.  The rocketship was also in the dirt.  They did not have the recycled tire clippings, or safe rubber ground to keep children from falling and skinning their knees and breaking an arm or whatever.  Truth is, the skinned knees is part of what made those sets fun.  There was danger involved.  Nowadays, if anyone is put in danger, the school system gets sued.  It's the litigious society that we have that keeps children from actually being children.  Would, in the middle ages, children have been allowed to work as apprentices for blacksmiths or become squires for knights if the people thought they might get hurt, and hence, the shop owners would get sued for negligence or something... of course not.  If, as a kid, I burnt my finger while trying to touch a hot iron, to see how hot it was, the pain afterwards was a lesson in life.  In taking away the pain, we take away the lesson involved.  I'd rather have the scars than be blemish free, and have learned nothing. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree. More, though, I'll agree here.

    An anecdote about letting your child explore, as unhindered as possible:

    My kids are very physically adept, and my son is a helluva climber. At a year and some months old, they had already learned how to climb on tables. They would climb the benches to our kitchen table and then climb to the surface of the table and then stand on top. He would go first, and she would follow behind, insistent that her brother not be more brave or able than her. More than double their height, you could see the joy and wonder on their faces at this accomplishment.
    They would crow, and dance a jig once there, happy as can be at what their bodies could accomplish.

    I have many pictures of his and his sister's table dances. It never failed to make me laugh and smile right along with them.

    Other people lost it whenever they saw it, though. At a year old, they were both too young for me to successfully teach them cause and effect or any sort of obedience to safety. I could not go in two directions at once, so I worked at letting them learn how to do these things themselves.

    Instead of pulling them off the table, I pushed the table against the wall, so it was only open on one side, and therefore much harder to fall off of.

    I'll tell ya, though, they never fell. Those kids have balance, and I'm pretty sure they gained it by having me stand back and let them learn without interfering.

    And a related anecdote: toddlers have to learn to navigate stairs. It's tricky, and one of those things that parents rarely mention casually in conversation because it's just one amongst hundreds of things you help them learn.

    We learned quickly that if we let them navigate the stairs without us standing right there, they did it perfectly. No tumbles. No missteps.
    If we were there, on the other hand, they often fell. They were more sure of movement when no parental hand would guide a misstep, or catch a fall.
    It's a metaphor for life, but also a guiding principle that I use in parenting. I try to always be there, but I try to step back.

    I will be a playmate, and I will give hugs and kisses.

    Oh, and? My kids love to play with sticks. :D