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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Soldier On

Greg likes a Facebook page called Forgotten Chicago that shows a lot of scenes of old Chicago, many of them from the time we grew up there. I imagine the Chicago I knew is long gone. But he shared one picture that reminded me of the old apartment building I grew up in. (Only mine was in worse shape!) 

My apartment building had old gray back porches. They were rickety wood structures with loose boards, missing steps, and a long drop if you happened to live on the top floor like we did. Back then we used to balance on the railings and jump over the missing steps to get to the next landing. 

Of course, my mother didn't know this. Any intelligent kid knew not to tell his mother about our death-defying stunts. None of us wanted to be grounded for eternity.

We had another apartment building kiddie-corner to us. We could jump on a lower flat roof of a connecting building and then onto the railings of the next building. This was our playground.

No one thought to complain to the super if we scraped our knees on the tarred roofs or stabbed ourselves with rusty nails. No one sued if a kid got hurt. If anything, we chided the kid for being clumsy. 

Another strange phenomenon about our group is that no one got bullied either. Oh, occasionally a new kid would join us and try to take over the show, but it's hard to be a bully if no one pays attention to you. They either buckled down or took their bully business elsewhere.

There were leaders in our group and there were followers. The leaders (aka: the older kids) made sure no bully ever got a foothold in our group.

I'll be the first to tell you that MANY of the things we did as kids were stupid, reckless, and dangerous. And yet, I feel like I was safer then than any kid is now with all the laws, cameras, counselors, and social media watching him.

Why? I think there are two reasons.

1. Our friends. We looked after each other. One time a friend got hit by a car. He seemed fine at first but within three days he was dead. No one knew it at the time, but the accident had left him with a punctured appendix. 

Patrick was one of our "leaders" so his loss was keenly felt. Yet we didn't need counselors to talk things out and understand our feelings. Even the youngest among us understood loss. We grieved and then we moved on.

2. Our selves: I have to tell you, we were a heck of a lot more self-reliant than kids today.  It scares me that so many are dependent on technology and adults. I used to think I led a sheltered life (compared to my rowdier friends), but it's nothing like how today's kids are sheltered.

We learn from experience. Buffer that experience even with the best intentions and you lessen that kid's ability to solve the problem. It's a fine line to protect your child yet give him enough freedom to figure things out for himself.

A dear friend who was a generation older than me used to tell me stories of when she was a kid. She lived in the UK during WWII. One of the stories that fascinated me was when she had to go to school the next day after an overnight bombing. She and her brother would walk around the dead bodies and rubble. 

Dead bodies? I asked her. Of course, she said. We had to soldier on, didn't we?

That generation was even tougher than mine. I admired their resolve.

Do you think kids are more sheltered than when you were a kid? Is being a kid today better or worse?


Angela Brown said...

You know, as a child who was bullied for being the four-eyed kid and the nerd of the projects, I honestly don't know if the kids these days are more or less hardier than a generation or generations before. A strong part of me says less hardier. I recall a Sociology class I took many years ago. I remember the teaching making a comment that stuck with me. He said (I'm paraphrasing) that if one studies the framework of a society, you'll notice a pendulum effect. We start at what seems one extreme then take steps to correct that extremity only to find that we missed the suitable middle and swung society toward the opposite extreme. Maybe that's what's happening, in effect.

Stacy McKitrick said...

Sheltered? Possibly. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact kids aren't outside PLAYING. They have their electronic toys, their smart phones, their what-have-you. I see a LOT of over-weight kids.

Yeah, kids in my generation watched too much TV, but I do remember getting outside and playing. My friend and I rode our bikes trying to get lost ON PURPOSE! I hardly see any kids riding bikes outside nowadays. They certainly don't ride them to school.

Maria Zannini said...

Stacy: With six kids, I know my mother wanted us outside. LOL! We had a lot of restrictions (unlike Greg) but as long as she could hear or see us in the alley, she was happy.

It's when we were too quiet that she'd come looking for us. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: Your sociology teacher was absolutely right. Culture does swing on a pendulum. Any student of history can track its patterns. But technology also plays a part. No matter how far that pendulum swings, we'll never go back to being the hardy stock of the 1940s. Technology has changed us.

Re: bullies
It amazes me that kids would make fun of someone with glasses. I mean...glasses. :shakes head:

I've worn glasses since I was 6 years old. I can't recall anyone mentioning my glasses and those pink harlequins were beyond ugly. :)

Darke Conteur said...

When I was in gr 4, we moved into a townhouse complex that was shaped like a square with one side open. There were two 'courts' like this with a playground set in the middle of each court.

I was the youngest of five kids who hung out together. They were all two years older, but treated me like someone their age. We did reckless things; throwing snowballs at taxi's (not a good idea. they chase you till you drop), and kick golf balls up the local golf course(until the attendants shot salt pellets at you with a shot gun). One winter there was a really bad storm and the school closed early. All the kids from the 'courts' were gathered together and sent home. Myself and the five older ones were in charge of making sure the younger ones stayed together and got home safely. You wouldn't see that now.

There was never any bullies. We were all friends. It was the best two years of my life.

I agree that kids don't get out to play that much, mine included. My fear, someone will kidnap him. You hear about it so much in the news; kids kidnapped at parks or playing by their house. The only safe place for them to play is at school where they're supervised, but even schools can be dangerous now.

I really wonder if there's any place kids are safe any more outside their home. :(

Maria Zannini said...

Darke: Group dynamics are different for everyone. I'm glad you had such a good one. They seem few and far between nowadays.

And kidnapping is indeed a good reason to keep an eye on kids now. I'm stymied as to why it seems more prevalent now. Is it because there's more news coverage? Or do we have more people? We did add another billion in the past few decades.

Not that we didn't have kidnappings when I was a kid, but I think we (as a community) were more vigilant. The neighbors were all nosy. They always knew what was going on in their neighborhoods.

Jenny Schwartz said...

I wish I could remember the jargon, cause then I could google and share a link -- but I read a couple of years ago a new strand of research that suggested the increasing surveillance of society (especially security cameras) is actually decreasing humans' natural tendency to self-organise and take responsibility for stuff. The article was talking about policing and raising the possibility that removing some of that Big Brotherishness might actually make some streets safer.

Your comment on children self-policing to squash bullying attempts reminded me of that.

There's also a strand of thought that says we require a certain level of risk in our lives (different levels for different people) and that the more safety is imposed on us, the riskier the behaviours as people "balance" it out.

Not sure I agree completely with either idea, but some interesting possibilities.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

There are so many avenues and opportunity for kids but I think most of them are pampered. It's up to parents to help them be tough enough to be on their own.

Shelley Munro said...

We used to go off for the day, make huts or explore caves or do heaps of other things. We also had responsibilities on the farm from feeding the chooks to boiling up the pig tucker, digging out thistles and shifting stock.

These days kids seem to have everything done for them. They're driven everywhere. Walking to school seems like a thing of the past.

Mike Keyton said...

There are some fabulous pics on that facebook page - some remind me of old Liverpool. I like Greg's favourite, too.

Ref the general message we were awash with danger as children, playing on old bomb-sites, wearing discarded gasmasks, helmets, and sometimes live ammunition, catapults, bows and arrows, rope swings from railway embankments, swimming in canals, old quarry pits, and climbing buildings we shouldn't. As I said, in one of my blog posts, parents who'd experienced World War 11 and the Blitz were not overworried over relatively petty dangers. Unlike some here, I was bullied, but that has it's uses too. My childhood, adventurous and stoic. And stoicism is an under-rated virtue

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: It's no surprise to me that technology makes us lazy.

I used to remember scores of obscure tidbits of information, now all I have to do is Google it. Wouldn't my brain be more exercised if I didn't have to depend on Google?

Maria Zannini said...

Susan: And yet, it's the parents that are pampering kids. What I want to know is why. Is it because we have more money than our parents/grandparents had? Or do we want to make life easier for our children?

Personally, I feel no kid should get a free ride. But that's just me. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Shelley: Oh, your childhood sounds idyllic! We did our share of exploring, but it was always the back alleys and abandoned buildings.

That's a good point about kids being driven everywhere. I hear parents complain about being chauffeurs all the time. I can see the necessity where I live, the closest school is 30 miles away. But people who live in the city shouldn't have that problem what with public transportation.

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: That's a good point. When you have a war as a backdrop, everything else is small potatoes.

Re: bully/stoicism
Greg would agree with you. He used to tell me that every kid should get beat up once. It teaches you to learn how to lose and how to pick yourself back up. I never looked at it that way, but it's true.

Sarah Ahiers said...

It's hard to tell the forest from the trees, you know? I don't know that sheltered is the correct word. I certainly didn't have to worry about being shot when i went to school, or saying or doing something stupid, only to have the internet remember forever. I think each generation has their own hurdles, you know?
And i see kids outside playing ALL THE TIME. I live down the block from a middle school and next door to a park. I see kids on bikes, or on foot constantly. So they're there. You may just not be looking in the right place

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I lived on a farm as a kid, pretty far from any other houses (too far to walk) and with only one sibling who wasn't exactly friendly. I remember being very lonely except for my dog. I also remember ranging quite far through the forest that bordered our field, staying out all day sometimes, just exploring. My mom would only only worry if I was out after dark.

As for kids these days, it's easy to blame parents, but media and advertising are constantly barraging parents with fear. Be afraid of people who want to do unspeakable things to your children, which leads to fear of the outdoors, fear of public transportation, and even fear of other children. Ads on television and in magazines are constantly telling parents that if they're not securing their home, or vetting every piece of media their child consumes, or looking up their child's friends on Facebook, or buying the right peanut butter, they are ruining their child's entire life.

And it's not just media. I've got a lot of friends with kids who say that some other parents can be the most judgmental people you'll ever come across, giving you the stink eye if you even so much as mention that you once left your six-year old briefly unsupervised.

Peddling fear to parents is now big business, and it's sad that some of them have bought into it so much, but I can't say I blame them. Societal pressure can have a huge impact on someone's life.

Gwen Gardner said...

We were definitely more independent as kids than the kids are now. We ran the streets and took care of ourselves, without running to our parents for stuff they didn't want to be bothered with. They'd just say, "deal with it." I think hardiness is an individual thing. Some are, and some aren't, regardless of what era you came from.

Maria Zannini said...

Sarah: A lot depends on where you live. Minnesota is going to be a lot different from say Chicago or New York. It's a little rough out there even when I was a kid.

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: I hear you about other parents. I listen to some of the stories from my friends and I can't believe how bullied they can be from other parents. It's terrible. And they wonder where kids learn it from.

As you can imagine, I always wanted to grow up on a farm. I got here as soon as I could. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Gwen: That's true. There's no way to make a blanket statement. But as a general rule I think every generation gets a little bit softer than the one before it. Maybe it's because we have more technology.

One of my older friends used to tell me how he used to ride his mule to school. I even saw a picture of him back in the early 40s. Can you imagine anyone doing that today?

Anonymous said...

This post deserves a post in response. I may get to that, LOL

As a parent, I know I worry more about my kids than my parents had to worry about me. Growing up we lived a few blocks from a major freeway. For us kids to ride our bikes down to the gas station for candy was a regular occurrence. Did anyone worry about one of us getting snatched? No. Was it because we usually traveled in a pack? Perhaps. Was it because it was a more innocent time? Maybe. I do know that wouldn't happen today.

It's a fine line. I want to allow my kids the freedoms I had at their age. And if they have their cell with them, let me know where they're going and who with, I try to do that. But the fact of the matter is, there is too much info out there. I'm not under any kind of illusion if someone wanted to find my kids, they could. Just that happened here, the very first week of school.

My parents lived through the Great Depression, my step-grandmother lived through the Blitz in London, and I grow up on "deal with it" and "solder on." I just hope I'm conveying that to the wee beasties.

Maria Zannini said...

Raelyn: From reading your blog I'd say you have a pretty strong influence on your kids. Your stories remind me of another friend who had 3 sons (now grown). When they were little I'd visit with her and her kids would be running around like hooligans.

All of a sudden someone would fall and by the look on the kid's face you could tell he was about to let loose a scream. She calmly called him over. He'd limp over and let her examine the scrape. But what surprised me is that she'd take a wet nap and clean off the scrape and then tell him, "It's nothing. Go on."

I was shocked! It looked pretty bad to me. LOL.

She told me she deliberately makes light of minor injuries so they'd stay tough. Only broken bones or gushing blood required immediate attention. When we got home she cleaned him up and bandaged him. Not a peep out of him.

She really taught me something that day.

Cate Masters said...

Bullying has certainly changed since I was a kid. Technology seems to have magnified it, unfortunately.
Kids adapt so easily to new technologies, it's amazing and a little frightening. But that's the world they live in, so they have to be on board.
I bet the pioneers of America would've made fun of us for not knowing how to navigate by the stars, lol. But they wouldn't have had the skill as a kid to whip out a cell phone, snap a shot of a would-be abductor that resulted in his capture. I'd say it's a trade-off. In some ways, kids are way better off, but I personally wouldn't give up the childhood I had to relive it today.

Maria Zannini said...

Cate: I'm with you. I guess we're all better suited in the era we grew up in. I just feel sorry for kids today. I wish they could experience some of the stuff we knew as kids.

Rum-Punch Drunk said...

Back in the day kids had to be much more creative in everything they did. Games were made up in the school playground and they could play for hours using their imaginations They didn't have calculators to work out maths, they used their own brain. Children learned how to hand-wash clothes but nowadays people get stuck if the washing machine breaks down. Children were taught to cook using basic ingredients but nowadays it's packaged up in pretty little containers and you'd be surprised just how many young people don't know how to cook anything. The list is endless. I could go on and on. The older generations knew how to look after themselves a lot more.

On the other hand, technology has made things a lot easier for us all but I still feel that children should also know how to do things should the technology fail.