18 Feb The Subtle Experiences of Childhood
Sometimes I’m afraid my children aren’t experiencing a real childhood. I understand there is no such thing, but my point is I’m often worried they are missing out. I’m worried they aren’t out and about exploring the natural world enough, experiencing solitude in the woods. Where we live doesn’t allow for this type of play and time away from the house.
When I grew up we were surrounded by houses but in behind us was a big field owned by one of our neighbors, and behind that was a small wooded area with a creek. There were various wooded areas and creaks throughout where we lived and as I got older I explored more of them.
Unlike my children, I had a place not far from home to go be in another world. To find earthworms and slugs under rocks, to feel the shelter of the trees, to smell all the smells, to play in the creek water, making things, destroying things, getting lost in time.
Unless they are playing in the snow piles outside, my children struggle to get lost in time. They seem too aware of the space of their next moment that needs to be filled by entertainment or activity. Sure they can get lost in video games and television but when we are not allowing that, their ability to get lost in time is hit or miss. There is something about the natural world that allows for getting lost in time and imagination.
Maybe I’m just being nostalgic for aspects of being a kid and going off on my own. I realize my kids will have their own memories of the benefits of the childhood they had, along with a litany of complaints like all of us. Maybe they are fine and their experience is just a reason for me to reflect, but I believe they are interconnected. I am aware of wanting to provide a different experience for my children but am currently limited financially to find a new home. I trust we will get there I just hope it doesn’t take too long.
I have visions, snapshots of my hometown and all the places that became stopping grounds for me and my friends. Sometimes I would be out on my bike, alone, just cruising. I still enjoy this kind of thing in a car as well. Other times I’d be out with a friend or two. I have clear memories of playing lots of tackle football, mostly in cold weather and with neighbor kids older than me. Memories of grass and dirt stains on my knees and that smell of grass in the early cold evening; the smell of sweat on a kid who is older and going through puberty which I had not smelled before; tears from feeling the older kids were too rough on me; the excitement at catching the ball for a winning touchdown.
There were no adults around. No one making sure everyone was treating each other nicely and being careful. I had to work through playing a rough game like football with older kids on my own. You learn something in navigating the difficult world that is other kids. You also learn something in navigating the world without your parents around. While my kids are still young, two of them are getting to ages where they should be having more experiences without us around.
My son is almost 8. When I was 8 I went to a sleep-away camp in the Adirondacks of New York state for 2 whole weeks with one of my older brothers. Then when I was 9 I went by myself. Sometimes we went on camping trips and had to shit in the woods. We bathed in the lake with the other boys and grown men. We learned how to handle a knife and make things like leather belts. I can’t imagine my son doing that this summer.
I realize we live in different times and that my kids are just going to have a different childhood, one that has more technology and online experiences. I don’t know if they are equal or not. How often have generations devalued the activities of upcoming generations. It has happened forever probably. So are my kids missing something? Am I? I don’t know. Many people do believe that kids these days are missing something but we don’t really know that. My parents didn’t purposely orchestrate my childhood to be exactly as it was. And it wasn’t perfect either – lots both of us would change (myself and my parents).
We live in the culture in which we live, and children have the childhood they have. It doesn’t mean we can’t make conscious choices of how to raise children, but in our current culture we often over-think and over-analyze our parenting choices and how our children spend their time, experience happiness, or work through conflict with peers.
Either way, I’ve been more reflective and nostalgic for the more sublte details of my childhood. I’m actually enjoying the images and the memories of those subtleties. The places and people, the different ages that I remember, the way I explored the world around me on my own. The way this helped me confront adversity, other people, and new experiences. I want these for my kids who sometimes seem less resilient and less able to take on new things. But I’m sure I cannot see all that they are learning that is valueable.
It just is what it is I guess.