Saturday, May 12, 2007

Children Then and Now and a Plethora of Stylistic Capital Letters

A friend and I (hi, Karen!) were on the phone the other day having a good old rant about Kids These Days. It's difficult to rant too much on the subject, of course, because we're the parents of Kids These Days (depending on how you define kids, of course. Most of my peers have grown children but not yet grandchildren). And of course, we were talking about Everybody Else's Kids, anyway, not our own. We are a little nonplussed, in retrospect, by some of the choices we Baby Boomers made in raising our kids, but luckily most of them have turned out just fine despite us.

Back in The Day, we children had no rights and were treated in some ways like little animals. However, we were also credited with at least the same level of native instinct as is found in the rest of the animal kingdom, and that's something we overprotective Boomer parents may not have considered.

When I was six years old, I was invited for the first time to the home of a friend outside of my own neighbourhood. One day towards the end of Grade 1, my classmate Cheryl K invited me to visit her house after school. This was a big deal. She didn't live near me at all! But I followed her home, and phoned my mother when I got there, and she agreed that I could stay and play awhile. She said I should tell Cheryl's mommy to send me home by 4:30.

No, I would not be driven home or picked up by a parent. Despite the fact that Cheryl lived on a street I'd never been on before, on the far side of our school's catchment area, this six-year-old child would be sent out the door, pointed in the right direction, and expected to find her way home. Which of course I did.

Now, the safety issue is another matter. An obsession with child abduction, despite this being less likely than our child being hit by lighting, or even being hit by an anvil falling from the sky, was a defining feature of the Boomer parents when our children were small. It was primarily for this reason that we drove them everywhere. But even though I actually bucked this trend and made my children walk the ten minutes to school (uphill through the snow both ways), I did only start doing this when they were about eight years old, and I'm awfully afraid that it was because I thought that prior to that, they might get lost. Or unable to grasp the concept that cars travel on streets and are bigger and faster than people. Or distracted by shiny objects. I don't know. Why did I think my children were so stupid??

Anyway, back to the Cheryl story. We still have a bathing suit picture to explain.

After I called home, we went in search of Cheryl's mother, who inexplicably was not in the kitchen, which was where my mother lived. This was a first hint that foreign families might do things differently from us, but worse was to come. We headed out into the back yard on this sunny June day, and there was Mrs. K, reclining on a chaise, wearing a two-piece bathing suit.

I gaped at her and went puce with embarrassment for poor Cheryl. This was wrong on so many levels I was barely able to take it in. Firstly, mothers -- i.e. old ladies -- did not wear two-piece bathing suits. (Cheryl's mom was very likely still in her twenties.) My own mother's bathing costume was a substantial garment of the sort favoured by substantial women, although my mom was not overweight at the time. It was gathered and ruched and smocked the way they did to impart a sense of stretchiness before Lycra. There was a lot of fabric involved. I seldom saw this garment because my mother was a respectable woman who wouldn't dream of lolling about nearly nude when one's friends might drop by. Or any other time, either. Had I had any concept of the word "prostitute" at the time, that's what I was thinking of Cheryl's mother.

Secondly, the indolence of it appalled my pre-women's liberation little soul. My mother was never seen to be lying around, even fully clad. She was always busy doing mother things. Why was Mrs. K not? Would there be any dinner in the K house that evening? Would anyone's hair get washed? Would there be clean pajamas? Was there any toilet paper on the rolls? What if I fell down and cut my knee? Could a two-piece-bathing-suit-wearing hussy possibly know anything about putting Band Aids on? It was a frightening and disorienting scenario. I was quite happy to leave Cheryl's home at 4:30 and return to where things were done right. I felt exactly as I might feel today if I were coming home from Afghanistan or Myanmar. (I love the word Myanmar. I'll use it any chance I get.)

Well, off to clean up the kitchen, because Kids These Days think that plates just osmose through the counter into the dishwasher. Hey…maybe they are stupid!

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