Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Constructing Childhood

From the inside looking up through the soaring arches at the sky

 When walking my dog past a neighborhood park I saw a massive cave or fort created from branches of a 4-story tree in the process of being taken down.  I was so sorry I hadn’t been there for the construction of this intricate dwelling woven out of logs and leafy bows.  A beautiful thing, it was a tribute to kids everywhere for their innate ingenuity.

(Of course, I could also hear some adult yelling, “You’re going to put somebody’s eye out with that stick!”)

It set my mind at rest that not every ounce of creativity in children was being hijacked by the ADHD-inducing digital entertainment that occupies their time 18 hours a day or more.  I’m not a Luddite, and I try not to be a crotchety old bugger always talking about “when I was a kid . . . ,” but I have to admit that the ubiquity of technology constantly in the hands of the youngest ones worries me.

My neighborhood has two public schools and three private schools all within a couple of blocks, so every morning kindergarteners through adolescents traipse down the sidewalks talking on their cell phones, lugging their laptops on their backs, or staring at their handheld game players while plugged into their iPods.  When do they look up and take in the world around them?


I grew up in the era even before Sony Walkman cassette players, so fun was a little more low-tech. We played card games like “War”, and kickball, and Red Rover, and a peculiar form of football that went in only one direction on a field that stretched across our street.  You scored by racing from the Renick’s snowball bush (the elegant Annabelle hydrangea, Mr. Renick’s pride and joy) across the street, then threw your entire body at the arborvitae in the front corner of Mr. Dependahl’s yard to ricochet across the goal line.  We climbed into treehouses to read, pow-wowed secretly in the middle of a circle of junipers to tell ghost stories or share rumors about the spook house in the next block, and built snow forts for epic battles.

So this week my heart skipped the proverbial beat to see that young people haven’t changed that dramatically.  They still recognize a chance to create something incredibly cool when it’s lying all over the ground in front of them.  And I really hope that when they were finished with their architectural achievement one of those kids whipped out his or her iPhone to snap a picture for posterity.

What is the coolest or most fun thing that you and your friends ever did to entertain yourself?  What do you see today that makes you feel young people are losing the ability to create their own fun?  Or what makes you feel that they are the same, no matter the generation?  Do tell us in the comments box.

Apropos of nothing, this is the beautiful gratin dauphinois I made last night with lots of cream and gruyere cheese
(it was Fat Tuesday, after all)

You might also want to check out this post from the past.  There is always so much to discover when walking down a sidewalk.


Lee I said...

My grandma had a couple of fig trees that had lovely branches that looked just like horses to us. We galloped over the countryside by the hour on them. Slender branches on the youngest tree bounced under our weight, contributing immensely to the journey.

Melinda Farrar said...

Remember when we made "witches brew" out of spices from the kitchen cabinet and taking it out back to the bushes between our yard and the Wilson's yard? I don't know what we did with the concoction except pretend about the magical power we just created!

Remember pitching the tent and camping out in the backyard all night?

Julie Farrar said...

Lee, we used regular brooms for horses. The bristles looked like tales to me (and I'm sure we left a few dings on furniture). Melinda -- the witches brew I don't remember but the camping in the backyard was always a hit.

Scrollwork said...

Lee's comment reminded me of the two-story guava tree in our backyard. I assigned room names to the four large branches that grew outward, with the vertical branch as the tower. It's where I played house with friends, kept up my five-fruit-a-day habit and studied for exams. There was a low-hanging branch from which we'd dangle and let go, yelling "Banzai!"

Since it was in the tropics, we spent practically all year outdoors when we weren't sleeping or in school.

Nancy said...

I'm not sure it was the coolest or the most fun, but I remember playing in my friend's backyard. They had a card table that we turned upside down, then sat on it and held on to the table legs, pretending they were masts on our boat that we were sailing to some far away land.

Anonymous said...

I loved to climb an old cherry tree in my yard. Me and my 2 younger sisters would play all sorts of games in it. I fondly remember my favorite game - "Little House on the Prairie" in which I was Laura and had the uppermost perch in the tree. Because the Ingalls, of course, lived in a tree like feral children. :-)

My kids have technology available, but I do limit their screen time. My 11 y.o. still loves to play outside in the tree fort and still is very much into pretend play. I hope she hangs on to that for as long as possible.

S.M. Hutchins said...

How exciting that those kids built snow forts! I remember doing that. My clue that kids are lacking creative outlets is that it's hard to find just Legos. It used to be we'd have piles of Legos that we would build houses or spaceships or robots or anything we could think of. Now Legos are all in sets with instructions to build a specific thing.

Julie Farrar said...

Tree climbing is such a rite of passage. I remember when I finally learned to scramble up the trunk of our old elm and climb higher than the first set of branches.

Card tables -- did anyone besides Melinda (my sister) and me have those plastic tents painted like houses, etc. that you draped over the card table to make a secret hideout?

Legos -- my son was the Lego king. He still has a couple of his most complicated creations.

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