Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Where Do The Children Play?

Think back to your childhood ... Where did you go after school until the family gathered around the table for dinner? Where and How did you "play?"

I am cursed with an abnormally good memory, so those days from the 1970's replay with a hazy clarity. When I departed Cooks Corners Elementary and that big yellow school bus delivered me to my childhood home at 304 PowderHorn Drive, my mom greeted me -- she was a Music Teacher and usually home when I arrived. We sat around the kitchen table with an after school snack and talked through my day. Then I went out to play.

I walked or rode my bike from PowderHorn onto Hemlock, abandoning it in the driveway of my best childhood friends Cathleen Bolde or Tammy Blasingame. Or, they rode their bikes to my house. Bedrooms and inside play was typically not permitted unless it was cold or rainy. At Cathleen's house there was a pop-up trailer in the backyard. Tammy and I had swing-sets and jungle gyms. If none of those pleased us, we got back on our bikes and rode to the school playground. We took bike rides around the area. Sometimes I played Tennis with one of my other friends. Whatever the case, outside was the place to be.

Cathleen, Tammy and I "hung out." We were friends at Cooks Corners, Thomas Jefferson Junior High and well into our days at Valparaiso High School. In junior high we went roller skating. In high school, we attended football and basketball games and carpooled (or in high school drove) to either Shakey's Pizza or the Dairy Queen. Our interests took us different ways eventually but we were friendly all the way through school. 

I don't remember exactly everything we did during those after school afternoons. But we played outdoors or in my basement with dolls, board games, record players and dress up clothes, Barbies and my doll house. Video games were non-existent and we didn't watch TV. Wait, I do remember a summer of General Hospital during the Anna, Robert, Duke drama. We'd watch an hour and then go back outside. 

And sometime before dinner, I made it home. 

I didn't have a Cell phone. I didn't have a GPS tracker on my bike. I wasn't "connected" to any device. If we changed houses, we always called our moms to let them know our locations altered. We made plans on the telephone or just stopped by.

I don't think my mom worried when I left the house. She knew I was out playing and that I'd be home at the designated hour for dinner. We had fun. I have lots of good childhood memories with Tammy and Cathleen.

Kids today play differently. I so looked forward to the days my kids would come home from school and sit at the kitchen table for snack, telling me about their day. But they don't. They tell me they need "down time" after school and turn on the TV or retreat to their rooms. They have electronics and 300 TV stations and Twitter and Facebook (tho' I'm told that's dead for teens) and Nintendos and computers and itunes/Spotify and thousands of exciting locations that can thrill them sitting alone at a desk staring at a computer screen. Heck thanks to Wifi, you can take that "connection" with you wherever you go. 

You don't need people. You don't need a Tammy or a Cathleen to play. You can just log-in to Temple Run or Candy Crush or Facebook or Twitter and stimulate a warm, fuzzy virtual connection.

Stimulate or simulate?

I'm sorry, but that isn't connected and it isn't playful. It's stressful. It's exhausting to manage all the apps to keep up to date on my daughter's behavior at school. Why is there an App for that? Am I the only person to find it annoying to receive "texts" about schedules and homework and meetings? Am I the only parent who doesn't check my phone all the time to play helicopter with their kids? When I was a kid, my parents didn't need text updates about my homework. Somehow I got it done without that reminder. For my activities there was a printed Rehearsal Calendar ... a printed Cast List ... a printed Team Roster with phone numbers and contact detail. Oh, I'm told that I'm more connected than ever with Skype, FaceTime, Twitter, School Texts and Facebook updates ... so why do I feel so disconnected to the people who truly matter?

Why do I find myself wondering if all this electronic communicating is actually not helping but stressing out our kids? Do our kids know how to "play" anymore? When we'd play, we'd use our imaginations. We'd shut out the world. We'd laugh and engage with others. 

In the olden days, I had a 20-minute phone limit with my friends. The phone was the only media available and it was attached by a cord so my parents were always in earshot. Strange that my son rarely uses his phone to talk, just to scroll, text and tweet. He's never without it. He admits he's addicted to it. But I worry that he doesn't know how to "connect" because of it.

I miss getting phone calls from friends. I miss writing and receiving letters in the mail. I miss sitting across from someone I care about and looking them in the eyes. I'm exhausted and stressed by electronic communications. I find I scan emails more often than truly read them and miss more information than I absorb.

Where do the children play today? On "SmartPhones." On X-box games. On Internet sites. On Apps. Inside? Parks are empty. Libraries are simply means to get wifi. Bookstores are closing as electronic media dominates.

I want to disconnect to connect. I want to unplug, delete my FB page and remove myself from "Social Media" since I don't really think it's very social and it's overwhelming my senses in its constant bursts.

But, then I think ... I'd be completely cut-off from my kids commitments if I didn't sign up for Text 101. I'd miss invites to birthday parties, weather updates from Ballet class and other events my kids hope to attend. If I didn't have Facebook, I wouldn't know that my friend had a baby or see any photos. If I didn't have the internet, I couldn't go to the RO Drama page and download the photos I need to get to the press to announce the upcoming musical. If I didn't check email, I'd miss the coupons from Pet Supplies Plus for my kitten's favorite food.

I remember knocking on Mrs. Bolde's door and asking "Can Cathleen come out and play?" I didn't text in advance. I didn't check her location on Facebook. I just knocked, made eye contact and posed the questions with words ... face to face ...

Where do our children play? How do our children play? When does Social mean what it used to once again? Is there any hope for a simpler way to be friends? Last night my daughter was playing with her dolls in her room and "imaginating" some contest with teams and prizes. I felt a burst of hope at that moment.

And is it a contradiction to admit that I found both Cathleen and Tammy on Facebook and that we "stay connected" with photos and IMing across the miles? 

Can we find a balance to connect and play? Can our children?
                                                                                                         -- Jenni

P.S. Incidentally, I wrote this blog on paper with a pen before typing it into Blogger ...