Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On the road again this morning, I heard something from a (generally) not-so-favorite commentator Frank Deford which sounded very similar to something else I had read recently...

Mr. Deford commented:

During summers back home, we improvised at games. People who are either Depression Babies or War Babies always boast about how they just went out and played stuff, without any supervision.

It was the Baby Boomers who started getting all kinds of organized sports in the summer — Little League and what-have-you. The Boomers needed parents to drive them places and coaches to coach them.

And he goes on about how summer camp specialization and organization of activities has reached new heights. While the purpose is different, it certainly reminded me of a portion of the Chapter IV installment at The Distributist Review :

When I was a boy in New York City, we lived in an old brownstone apartment on Manhattan’s west side. We did not have a car; nobody on our street did. However,for 15 cents we could buy a subway token, and for that fee the cultural and recreational wealth of New York City was ours, even as small children. My brother and I loved to go to the American Museum of Natural History to see the great skeleton of Tyrannosaurus Rex that dominated the lobby, or the great blue whale that hung in the basement. Or we would go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see the armor exhibit, with knights in shining armor mounted on steeds covered in steel plate, lances lowered so that, when you entered the room, they looked like they were charging directly at you. Or for the same fee, we could go to the beaches at Coney Island or Far Rockaway. We were indeed men of the world at the age of seven. But mostly, we were independent; we were free. It was a poor neighborhood, but we were rich in cultural and recreational resources. By contrast, my children grew up in an affluent suburb in Texas. Everybody on the street had at least two cars, but my children had very little transportation. The means of transport were not available to them independently, and hence parents and children were bound together in a relationship similar to that of a lord and his chauffeur; both children and parents lost some of their freedom. It was perhaps good that there were so few places to go, and that the major cultural resources were the mall and the movie theater.

In one case, there was a scarcity of means and an abundance of ends (transportation), and in the other an abundance of means and a scarcity of ends. In one case, cars were scarce and transportation abundant, and in the other cars were abundant and transportation scarce.

Looking back at my own childhood summers, those times spent at home playing in the neighborhood and with my siblings (I remember one summer my sister and I spent almost every day setting up an Indian tent and carving sticks and collecting nuts "for the winter" and learning Indian sign language) were much more magical than the two weeks I spent at a summer camp in NH a couple years.

Now, we don't live in a neighborhood with a lot of kids, or in a town with lots of organized activities. I am grateful for this based on the trends I saw when we were living in the city and did have occasion to witness parent behavior at some of the "organized opportunities".

Our kids pretty much fend for themselves in the outdoors, and I daresay get more exercise in the outdoors than many others of their contemporaries. They make their own bows and arrows (and their own stretchers) and hike in the wide areas which surround us (at least when it's not hunting season.)

When they get together with friends (mostly found through our parish community), it is often in a get-together of families; but even then, the games just happen without the parents micro-managing everything (although sometimes we do organize, but then most often we are also participants, not managers). They are learning far more than they are aware of-and having more fun.

Whenever I start thinking that maybe I should feel guilty about denying them Little League or ballet lessons, etc, I think of the stories they tell of their own (mis)adventures with their siblings and friends, and rest knowing these would not happen if we spent every day carting them to next "opportunity". (I don't mean to say all organized sports/clubs/lessons/etc. are to be avoided. But it is better to err on the side of less than to err on the side of more; and that for us, who have a scarcity of means, has not resulted in a scarcity of ends.)

Oremus pro invicem!

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