Monday, May 28, 2007

Childhood and Boys Stuff

This morning in The Vancouver Sun, a columnist I enjoy reading wrote about "the days when kids once played outside in the dirt until the street lights came on" as a "nostalgic flight of fancy."

No more glass jars with air holes in the lid to keep the insects. No more pockets full of live worms. No more mud puddles or garter snakes. No more... well, boys, of the traditional Huck Finn, Stand By Me, and Peter Pan type at least.

She wrote about this loss because of a book that is selling like hotcakes in Britain and has won the British Book Award. It supposedly gives instructions on everything a boy needs to be a boy, including instructions on marble shooting, skipping stones, building a tree fort, and putting together a bow and arrow. You will notice that playing on the computer doesn't enter that list.

And then she wrote this:

"But it's also a bit sad, leafing through the pages with their unrelenting reminders that child's play was once just that, and realizing that our kids really do live in the artificial, antiseptic and often lonely bubbles we have built around them."

I wonder if she was writing about her own kids, but I hope not. I do not know any urban, computer-loving kids that fit that description. I know lots of little happy, laughing kids (and teens, for Paris's sake) that play with their neighbours, play with their parents, play with their bugs and dolls and bikes and buddies.

In fact, if I look at what our family got up to over the last 10 days, here is what it would look like:

1. Turned over rocks on the beach looking for crabs and sea stars
2. Chopped wood, whittled sticks (with a real pocket knife), lit a fire, and roasted marshmallows
3. Jumped on the bed
4. Had a tickle fight
5. Played badminton in the backyard and made up our own rules
6. Rode bikes along the train tracks
7. Looked for crickets and grasshoppers around a pond but found orange eggs under a leaf instead. Of course, we took them home and placed them in a glass jar with holes in the lid
8. Fed the ducks
9. Fished for rainbow trout, bonked them over the head, cleaned them and pan-fried them for dinner (no, I did not do this myself)
10. Sprayed each other with the garden hose
11. Had a soccer tournament in the backyard
12. Raced down the back alley as fast as our feet could go
13. Read the Dinosaur Dictionary (and pronounced all the names correctly)
14. Bounced on the suspension bridge in Lynn Canyon
15. Went for a SCUBA dive, looked for octopus and lingcod
16. Ate ice cream before dinner
17. Blew dandelions into the wind
18. Got our hands dirty picking up garbage on the streets
19. Took our socks off and went barefoot on the grass
20. Climbed on the monkey bars and slid down the fire pole
21. Raced around a dirt track on a BMX bike
22. Built a model of a motorcycle from a tool box full of mechanical pieces
23. Chased the bee around the room until it flew safely out the window
24. Smacked and killed a blood-sucking mosquito
25. Chased the black cat around the house

Okay, so you get my point. Well, I don't really have a point except that I don't like it when people generalize and then write about it in the newspaper. I think it kinda makes me defensive. (I hope I am a typical parent in that respect, and hopefully that statement itself isn't a generalization.)

And yes, our list also included:

26. Watching Peter Pan and Go Diego Go on the tv
27. Playing Runescape on the computer

But I don't think the computer makes our kids "the new isolates...whose definition of play is often a singular computer link." Even if they are on there for a few hours, they are chatting, laughing, playing with their friends online, on the phone, on the chair next to them. They are being social.

I guess if you can't even write 10 outdoor fun stuff from the last 10 days (and girls, this includes you too), you should get a copy of The Dangerous Book for Boys. Hopefully it isn't a sad book for you.

As for myself, I just wish I thought of it first. I have a feeling our family could have been able to write a few chapters, like how to chase bees and bounce on bridges and walk along train tracks. Or chop wood and get a new cloak online in Runescape.

If you get a copy, can I read it after you?

1 comment:

Mika Ryan said...

I have a theory, people like to talk about the good old days - but if you look at the statistics of child abuse, abduction, etc. you will find it is similiar to our modern life. We are just better about talking about it.

I did all of those nature based things, as did my son - but I lacked all of the wonderful cultural experiences that are open to him. For example, in 5th grade while doing a report on Gorillas, he was able to have an on-line conversation with the Diana Fossey institute in cool is that!