Uphill, both ways through 5 miles of snow

13 08 2009

The way of today and youth is clearly not the way of youth twenty years ago when I was one.  The examples range from what is considered standard today but would have been reserved for the wealthy when I was a child, to mannerisms that my father would have put me through a wall for thinking much less acting out or saying.

When I was a child, we had one television in the entire house and I was allowed only to watch it on rare occasions when movies such as Old Yeller were showing, or when my mom would let me sneak into the living room to catch MacGyver with her.  My father had some method for the television I never could figure out, even as an adult, where he would tune the old Zenith television to some channel that could never be again accessed.  So hence, when I turned it on, the television was on a staticky channel of 42 that we did not receive, and if I changed that channel, he would know because I couldn’t put the tv back on that channel.  Eventually I learned how to just flip the breaker in the garage so it would appear we had some minor power outage, which would reset the channel of the tv to 3 on its own.  I don’t know why my parents were so aghast at the idea of me watching television, even with their supervision, but I can’t say it made me any worse for wear.  I learned to love reading and researching as my toys were books and encyclopedias.  It also made me relish the trips to my grandparents all the more where I could lay back all day and watch Little House on the Prairie and Mister Ed til I fell asleep from lethargy.

As for computers, we had a Tandy computer that was locked away in the spare bedroom / office of our house and the hallowed black screen with green flashing text was reserved for only my parents to use.  I can remember sneaking in and feeling like some CIA agent on a secret mission when I would turn it on and watch the codes scroll by.  The office door was always locked, but with a credit card I could slip the door open by wedging it between the panels.  When my parents would leave for the evening, I would slip out of my room in stealth and like some espionage agent, I would slither down the hall and slide the card between the door and panel and pop open the door with a creak.  Pause for a moment for sirens or bells or whistles, then creep in and press that tantalizing little button and watch the screen flicker to life.  I didn’t know any of the DOS codes and it would just incessantly blink C:/ back at me, but I felt like some mad scientist on an energy high.

And the phone, ah yes, the phone.  It was not a cell phone, nor even my own phone line.  It was an old white AT&T phone with a corkboard unit that rested on the wall in our kitchen.  I was forbidden to use it and I can remember practising the art of redusting it with flour after a late night chat with a boyfriend while my parents were out.  My mother would carefully lay the receiver into her flour bowl, and until I learned this trick myself, she could tell if it had been lifted from its resting spot by looking for disturbances in the caked on white powder.  I don’t know why, but my favourite position to talk on the phone was lying on my back on the kitchen counter, a move that was difficult as it stretched the cord to its full reach.  We never talked about anything beyond what had happened in class that day or music we enjoyed.  The longest part of the conversations were the ‘you hang up’ ‘no you hang up’ moments.  By eighth grade I was permitted to use the phone for emergencies only, but unfortunately in my house there were rarely any emergencies I would claim ownership of.

And from the age of six on, I was a latchkey kid – which was just another way of saying a child abandoned to their own resources for three or four hours til her parents returned home.  They were an active couple too, with a social life, so many nights they would leave me at home alone from seven until they returned.  Relatively speaking, I was a good kid whilst unsupervised, but I did things that if I thought my own children were even contemplating I would have them sent away for years.  The most dangerous was when I would go out onto our balcony, which was a wooden structure I had helped my dad make (by handing him nails and supervising his handy work) and the railing was a 2 x 4 beam series.  This is where I would practise my high wire act while my parents were away, from a little more than two stories high I would somersault and balance beam my way across the rails.  Somehow I never fell, lord only knows why not.  Only once did I take a vehicle for a spin, one loop around the block and miraculously back into place as the damn thing stalled out.  Other than that, I was relatively good.  But I didn’t have keys to get in, I would break in to my own home in broad daylight, signalling the means and methods to anyone who chose to watch and learn.  I could go outside and play once my homework was complete and never once did my parents ever call to check and see that I was home and safe – besides the phone was off limits anyhow.

But my children have had a television in their room since the tender age of three.  My ex’s mom bought them their first television, a neon purple unit with a VCR player equipped.  It’s been replaced over the years a few times to the point now that they have a unit that is 40 some odd inches, complete with DVD and VCR players, and of course 3 different types of playstation-esque gear.  The very thing my father would never even allow to be hooked up to our television when I was a child for fear it would burn the images of Donkey Kong or Frogger into the screen and his viewing of MASH or Hawaii Five-O would be forever ruined.

The computer has been a fixture in my children’s lives for almost as long as they have been alive and for over half of those years they have owned their own.  Usually it was a hand-me down of mine that would see the curb by any other choice upon my upgrading.  Spray painted pink, or decorated with stickers, they have made these machines their own and been allowed free reign over certain limited territories of the web.  Now granted, I won’t permit them to have email addresses of their own, which has caused friction and at one point they had created them on their own, but Mommy’s fairly smart and after playing detective for about an hour they found themselves stripped of computer privileges for a month for having an email address.

The phone has been glued to their ear for years, my youngest more so than my oldest.  But even my oldest, almost 14 now (god don’t I feel ancient) even has her own cell phone for two years now.  I swore I never would get her one, but when her after school electives left me sitting in a parking lot for hours waiting to pick her up, I bought her one.  Now she can call me when she needs a ride, or text her friend 76 times in one day to make sleep over plans.  I am still baffled at the latter.  I pay to maintain the phone, she has to buy additional minutes or text plans.  And it’s fair, I think.  But I can’t imagine a moment of the kids not being able to chat on the phone.  And the first time a boy called here, you would think a bomb dropped outside for all of the intense shrieking that went on.  They’ve never had to sneak the phone or lay it into some baking goods to hide the fact they used it.

As for being latchkey kids though, this is something that I am not more lenient than my parents were.  In fact, I don’t allow it at all.  The very idea of leaving them alone at home horrifies me.  What ifs race through my mind at lightning speeds and play out every possible Friday the 13th type scenario in digital surround sound.  A few trial runs have been tested of leaving them home, but only just since my oldest turned 13.  And even then only an hour here or there with calls for check in every fifteen minutes.  The world today is too scary a place to leave a child alone, much less let them walk home from the bustop.  I don’t know how my parents managed to mentally survive me coming home alone and staying there unsupervised.  But then again sexual predators were not the hot topic of the news and a neighbour on every other block.  Kidnappers and rapists were people who did random acts of violence you only heard of happening in some big city a million miles away, not the six o’clock news at least once a week.

If there weren’t shows like Maury to show us what some kids are doing in their free time, mixer parties might not be something that are saved til the later teen years.  I can remember going over to my boyfriend’s house unaccompanied and unsupervised and continued doing so until I had called my mom from there once and my boyfriend put his finger into a hole in my jeans and I told him to stop fingering my hole in case he made it bigger.  After that, for some reason I could not figure out at the time, my mother cut out all visits.  But if we as parents lived in that bubble and still thought like our parents did, that the world was only moderately evil – I think our kids would live lives we once did.

I don’t spank my children, but my parents did to me and I am no worse for it.  I learned to fear that hiss as the wind ripped through the holes my father had drilled into the 2 x 4 paddle.  It was that wind speed that cut through your flesh like no other, you know.  But in today’s world, child abuse is a bigger issue, rightfully so, and kids are encouraged to talk about it, rightfully so.  But as with beauty, abuse is in the eye of the beholder.  If a case worker from today had seen my mother scrub my mouth with a bar of Lava soap for saying the ‘d’ word, or my father ‘busting’ my butt for getting a C on my report card – I would have been transported to the nearest safe haven and my parents in prison for multiple life sentences.  Yet, when I was a child, it was expected that you would discipline your child through whatever means was necessary to get their behaviour in check.

I don’t know whether the world we live in has changed around us so greatly in twenty years or if it is merely that with technology we are now more aware of it than ever before.  If my parents had been able to press a few buttons on that old Tandy and pull a list of all of the sickos with sex crime offenses from the bustop at Lake Edwards Drive and Blackpoole Lane to our house, they would have never let me even look out the windows, I’m sure.  If I didn’t have that access, my kids would probably have the freedom to ride their bikes all over the road with no hands and no supervision and feel that freedom I remember.  I can remember riding bikes with my cousin from his parent’s house on one end of town clear across the riverbed and a few miles away to our aunt’s house; but today I am peeking out the window when the kids walk together to check the mail.

Our world is not changing, the two decades since my youth haven’t served as some time warp of the centuries – it’s merely that we now live outside of our bubbles in an informed world and while knowledge is power, it is also the stuff that fear is made of.

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