Summer 1974. I’m 9 years old. By 7:30 am, I’m up and out of the house, or if it’s Saturday I’m up and doing exactly what my father, Big Jerry, has told me to do. Might be raking, mowing, digging holes, or washing cars.
Summer 2018. I’m tiptoeing out of the house, on my way to work, in an effort not to wake my children who will undoubtedly sleep until 11 am. They may complete a couple of the chores I’ve left in a list on the kitchen counter for them, or they may eat stale Cheez-its that were left in their rooms 3 days ago, in order to avoid the kitchen at all costs and “not see” the list.
If you haven’t noticed, we’re getting a raw deal where this parenting gig is concerned.
When did adults start caring whether or not their kids were safe, happy, or popular? I can assure you that Ginny and Big Jerry were not willing away the hours wondering if my brother and I were fulfilled.
Big Jerry was stoking the fires of his retirement savings and working, and working some more. Ginny was double bolting the door in order to keep us out of the house, and talking on the phone while she smoked a Kent.
Kids Stayed Out of the House
Meanwhile, we were three neighborhoods away, playing with some kids we’d never met, and we had crossed 2 major highways on bicycles with semi-flat tires to get there. Odds are, one of us had crashed at some point and was bleeding pretty impressively. No one cared. We were kids and if we weren’t acting as free labor, we were supposed to be out of the house and out of the way.
My personal belief is that the same “woman with too little to do”, that decided it was necessary to give 4- year old guests a gift for coming to a birthday party, is the same loon who decided we were here to serve our kids and not the other way around.
Think about it. As a kid, what was your costume for Halloween? If you were really lucky, your mom jabbed a pair of scissors in an old sheet, cut two eye holes, and you were a ghost. If her friend was coming over to frost her hair and showed up early, you got one eye hole cut and spent the next 45 minutes using a sharp stick to jab a second hole that was about two inches lower than its partner. I watched my cousin run directly into a parked car due to this very costume one year. He was still yelling, “Trick or Treat” as he slid down the rear quarter panel of a Buick, mildly concussed.
When my son was 3 years old, we had a clown costume made by a seamstress, complete with pointy clown hat, and grease makeup. His grandmother spent more having that costume made than she did on my prom dress.
At some point in the last 25 years, the tide shifted and the parents started getting the marginal cars and the cheap clothes while the kids live like rock stars.
We spend enormous amounts of money on private instruction, the best sports gear money can buy, and adhere to psycho competition schedules.
I’m as guilty as anyone.
I’ve bought the $300 baseball bats with money that should have been invested in a retirement account, traveled from many an AAU basketball game, or travel baseball game, to a dance competition in the course of one day, and failed to even consider why.
Remember Hank Aaron? He didn’t need a $300 bat to be great. Your kid isn’t going pro and neither is mine, but you are going to retire one day and dumpster diving isn’t for the elderly. My brother and I still laugh about how, when he played high school baseball, there was one good bat and the entire team used it.
Remember your clothes in the 70’s? Despite my best efforts to block it out, I can still remember my desperate need to have a pair of authentic Converse shoes. Did I get them? Negative. Oh, was it a punch in the gut when my mother presented me with the Archdale knock-offs she found somewhere between my hometown and Greensboro. Trust me. They weren’t even close. Did I complain? Hell, no. I’m still alive, aren’t I?
We’ve got an entire generation of kids spitting up on outfits that cost more than my monthly electric bill. There were no designer baby clothes when we were kids. Why? Because our parents weren’t crazy enough to spend $60 on an outfit for us to have explosive diarrhea in or vomit on. Our parents were focused on saving for their retirement and paying their house off. The real beauty of it is that none of these kids are going to score a job straight out of college that will allow them to pay for the necessities of life, brand new cars, and $150 jeans, so guess who’s going to be getting the phone call when they can’t make rent? Yep, we are.
Think back; way, way back.
Who cleaned the house and did the yard work when you were a kid? You did. In fact, that’s why some people had children. We were free labor. My mother served as supervisor for the indoor chores, and the house damn well better be spotless when my father came through the door at 5:35. The battle cry went something like this,
“Oh, no! Your father will be home in 15 minutes! Get those toys put away nooooow!”
The rest of our evening was spent getting up to turn the television on demand, and only to what Dad wanted to watch.
On weekends Dad was in charge of outdoor work and if you were thirsty you drank out of the hose, because 2 minutes of air conditioning and a glass of water from the faucet might make you soft.
Who does the housework and yardwork now?
The cleaning lady that comes on Thursday, and the landscaping crew that comes every other Tuesday. Most teenage boys have never touched a mower, and if you asked my daughter to clean a toilet, she would come back with a four page paper on the various kinds of deadly bacteria present on toilet seats. Everyone is too busy doing stuff to take care of the stuff they already have. But don’t get confused, they aren’t working or anything crazy like that. Juggling school assignments, extracurricular activities, and spending our money could become stressful if they had to work.
I don’t recall anyone being worried about my workload being stressful, or my mental health in general. Jerry and Ginny had grownup stuff to worry about. As teenagers, we managed our own social lives and school affairs. If Karen, while executing a hair flip, told me my new Rave perm made me look like crap and there was no way Kevin would ever go out with my scrawny @ss, my mother wasn’t even going to know about it; much less call Karen’s mother and arrange a meeting where we could iron out our misunderstanding and take a selfie together.
Additionally, no phone calls were ever made to any of my teachers or coaches. Ever. If we sat the bench, we sat the bench. Our dads were at work anyway. They only knew what we told them. I can’t even conceive of my dad leaving work to come watch a ballgame. If I made a 92.999 and got a B, I got a B. No thinly veiled threats were made and no money changed hands to get me that A. Ok, full disclosure, in my case we would be looking at an 84.9999. I was the poster child for underachievement.