Thursday, October 16, 2014


     When I was a teenager, I rode my bicycle without a helmet or knee-pads. I fell occasionally, and skinned my knee or thigh, but I SURVIVED!

     As I child, I grew up in a valley in central Massachusetts. Snowstorms were fierce there. After the plows came through, there were drifts maybe five feet high. We regularly tunneled through them and hid in the tunnels. And WE SURVIVED!

    When I was a very young child, we lived in an apartment house. The long sidewalk outside was on a large stretch of dirt---no grass or trees to anchor it. Due to erosion, the dirt from under the starting edge of the sidewalk had been washed away. Someone had jumped on the edge until the cement had cracked---there was a large, jagged diagonal edge that stuck out. Being a somewhat "spacey" kid, I regularly ran into the crack and split open my shin. And I SURVIVED! Moreover, my parents didn't immediately rush to a lawyer to sue the landlord. They simply kept reminding me to be more careful. My mother's common-sense and non-babying response when I fell down? "Did you fall down? Pick yourself up." No blaming the floor for tripping me, or giving me a fattening treat so I'd feel better, or pouring pity all over her poor little girl. Just a gentle admonition to remind me to be more careful next time. And I SURVIVED and I learned to be responsible.

     As a young mother driving my kids around (no mandated seat-belts then), I simply depended on my "mother hand" to reach out and support my front-seat babies if I braked suddenly. And THEY SURVIVED!

     Today we hear more and more about Helicopter Parents, who hover over their children and supervise everything they do. And I'm hearing now about Lawn-Mower Parents, who have to clear a path for their kids, so nothing disturbs or upsets their lives.

     What the hell is going on here, people? When did it become mandatory for life to be perfect, and permissible for government to pass more and more intrusive laws to ensure that perfection? And whatever happened to the concept of failure, to teach children how to deal with disappointments? One of our sons was blessed with many skills, both intellectual and physical (not that our other three children aren't pretty damn terrific also!). But he alone, in his early years, met every single challenge that was thrown at him. And sometimes, late at night, my husband and I would worry---hoping that he would fail a time or two, so he could grow up not fearing an occasional failure. Can you imagine today's parents thinking that way about their pampered darlings?

     If everything must be perfect, how can they adjust to adult life without being destroyed by unexpected calamities or freak accidents? And now, with dodge ball being forbidden at many schools (destroys a kid's fragile self-esteem if he's a target? Give me a break!), there has begun an outcry against swings at school. (When tort lawyers complain, school authorities get nervous, don't you know?) Ye gods!

      When I was seven, my mother bought me a beautiful navy wool cape with a red satin lining. I couldn't wait to wear it at recess. But no one seemed to notice. So I up-ended it over my head to show off the lining. I remember seeing the bars of the swing set just beyond my vision at the bottom of the cape, and considered myself safe. Then, BANG! My nose was so thoroughly flattened that my mother wouldn't let me look in a mirror when I got home. (The teacher put a wet compress on my nose and sent me home---alone.) And guess what? My parents didn't sue the teacher or the school. And---after I got out of the hospital---I learned not to do stupid things!

     Incidentally, I have to laugh when I look back at my mother's reaction. As a mother myself, I learned that kids are positively bloodthirsty! (See my daughter's youthful reaction to death in my PLAY THE GAME OF LIFE blog.) And I still remember when my husband, an avid hunter, had come back with a brace of birds he'd shot. I'd gone out to shop while he and the boys were dressing the birds for the freezer. I came home to a kitchen swirling with feathers, just in time to hear one of my sons say, with great enthusiasm, "Chop the other head off, Dad!" Thinking back, I probably would have been fascinated by the sight of my mashed  nose!

     But today is different. My daughter recently told me about all the No-No's at her son's school. (The Food Police strike again!) No nuts at school, which means no PBJ sandwiches. But my grandson is soy-allergic, and, even at seven, he knows what he cannot eat. Can't nut-allergic kids learn from their parents what is forbidden? No cookies in lunches.  Over weight kids? What happened to parental responsibility? Milk is bad, juice is bad. No child at school without sunscreen. And if even one person complains, gotta have a new regulation! (We used to fear the Tyranny of the Majority. Now the Tyranny of the Minority---no matter how small---is intruding on all our lives.) Mandatory car booster seats till the age of 8, but recommended till age 10! And don't get me started on the "trigger" crap that has invaded our colleges---must protect near-adults from things they might read or hear that might disturb them!

      I said "near-adults" above, but actually they aren't. We are seeing more and more adolescents well into their 20s and beyond. (I want to scream when I see a woman in her fifties with a Betty Boop or Hello Kitty purse. "Oh, grow up!" I want to shout. I feel the same about water bottles being chug-a-lugged on the street.   One step removed from the comfort of nursing baby bottles, as far as I'm concerned. Are people REALLY that more thirsty in this generation than in past generations, that they can't wait a bit to drink?)

      And their lack of real knowledge is frightening. I cringe whenever I see a Man-on-the Street interview with college-age kids. They don't know diddly-squat about much that is going on in the world---can seldom even recognize pictures of our vice president or our mayor---but they can tell you all about Lady Gaga or what the inane Kardashians are up to! They don't read the news, and are often proud of that fact. It's like a child believing in magic---if I don't know something, it won't touch me. They can't deal with reality, in many cases, because they've been so coddled and protected for most of their lives.

     From an early age, we knew what was going on. Everything around us reminded us. During WWII, we regularly bought savings stamps to support the troops. Every movie theatre showed newsreels, so we knew exactly how the war was going. We kept buckets of sand in the attic, against the threat of incendiary bombs, and we had regular blackouts. We learned to deal with the reality of the world, which made us stronger. Even our movies dealt with the war, helping to explain what was happening. Today's movies, geared to our adolescent culture, are glorified comic strips---heaven forbid reality should intrude on our lives!

     And of course creativity has been pushed aside so we can all march to the same childish drumming. X-boxes and iPads, so parents can ignore their children to pursue their OWN childish fantasies. Far too many electronic toys and games---too often so programmed that they don't require any thinking or creativity. And sports regulated so no one is ever a winner or loser---mustn't make them think that LIFE is unfair. Let them find out when they grow up.

     My kids didn't have a lot of toys---we couldn't afford them. But oh, the games they dreamed up! Ice hockey in their bedroom---skimming across the bare floor in their smooth slippers, with small pucks and a  whiffle ball. They recreated the Olympic skaters with the same slippers. They draped blankets over the bunk bed and played camping in a tent. (Sometimes they could be exasperating. They decided that the "throw" pillows in the living room meant just that---and so they did! My usual complaint? "This is not a gymnasium!" It became my mantra, and I've asked my kids to put it on my tombstone----would love to shock future visitors to my resting place! Their favorite game in the summer regularly produced black comma marks on the ceiling---with grubby hands and rubber bands, they would shoot at flies or mosquitoes.) And when I see toddlers on the train, playing with an electronic toy while their parents check their own gizmos, I recall my daughter at that age. She had learned to cut with scissors and use Scotch tape. I watched with fascination as she made a large loop, then made another loop, somewhat smaller and taped it over the first one. A third, smaller loop followed, to be attached to the other two. She taped them to a large piece of paper, and put it on her head. "My hat," she said. But it wouldn't stay on. So she cut a strip of paper and attached it under the large sheet for a chin strap. Alas. Too small to fit under her chin. She cut it in half and attached a thin strip with a loop at the end to each side of the chin strap. "Handles," she said. And marched proudly around the room, holding her "hat" to her head.

      What am I trying to say? Back off a bit, people. Let kids explore, venture, fall, create. And mostly grow up being able to cope with life. Maybe then they wouldn't be so stressed or offended when everything doesn't go their way.



  1. Oh am I ever with you! People are indeed immature today and litigious. There used to be a line of demarcation between adults and children. And we've lost our common sense. No one died when as kids, we drank straight from the garden hose, played in the dirt, hung upside down on jungle gyms, and ate cake batter with raw eggs. Some autoimmune diseases are hitting more young adults than ever because these kids weren't exposed to certain bacteria and lived lives that were considered "too clean". I love "This is not a gymnasium!" and can just hear you saying it over and over and over. Your writing is so clear and conversational and I'm loving the message. Please keep it up! And where did you grow up in Massachusetts (I grew up there too)? Keep sending us your pragmatic and funny rants! They are so true!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Donna. My father was a silk-screen maker in West Warren (population just over 1,000 BEFORE the young men went off to fight and die in WWII). We moved to Springfield just before the end of the war, and then to Longmeadow. West Warren was a backwater town, even then, nestled in a valley between Springfield and Worcester, and when the Mass. Pike was built, the town was bypassed. It's now mostly a "bedroom town" for Springfield, I think. Haven't been back in many, many years, but I suspect the broken sidewalk is still there!

  3. I shopped in Warren at the old mills which were turned into outlets. I bought baby clothes for my daughter there. It did seem like a forgotten place. But some people are passionate for those small towns where they came of age. Love your perspective on life Sylvia. If you set out to offer your wisdom from experience, you're doing a good job!

  4. What I remember about the mills was the largest company in town (can't remember the name, and it may still be around today) but it was THE nationwide factory for sewing trimmings----seam-binding, lace edgings, ribbons, etc. For 25 cents, I could buy a large box of small bits---yardage leftovers, rejects, ends of bolts, etc. My dolls were well-dressed!