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Where Have All The Children Gone?
I have had a recurring thought for quite some time now.
While out driving over the weekend through several neighborhoods, it occurred to me that I'm not seeing any children. I see no children playing outside, nor do I see any adults. It seems as though I've entered a twilight zone of sorts, with nothing but empty houses sitting on empty streets. I never see adults outside cutting the lawn, getting in or out of their cars, toting groceries, or chatting with neighbors. I never see children playing ball, playing with a dog, bunches of kids splashing in a pool, or riding bikes. I see no signs of life. This observation has been made practically everywhere I travel.
It brought to mind my own childhood. Ok, so I realize several decades have gone by. I was fortunate to live on a dead end street, which was surrounded by a field, woods and a railroad track. It was quite safe to be outdoors playing, as there was little to no traffic to concern ourselves with. The train that went behind our house was a freight train, which didn't come by every day, only once in a while.
On Saturdays or after school, the kids would empty out of their houses and call upon one another to come out and play. Within a one block radius, in my neighborhood, there were 23 kids. The boys generally got a ball game going, or would hop on their bikes and go riding. A lot of times, they decided to play a game of cowboys and indians which they played in the field behind our house or at the end of the street, over the tracks and into the woods. Sadly, the tracks held a fascination for the boys, whose idea of fun was to hop the freight cars while the train was moving. If I recall correctly, we lost two, if not three boys to the wheels of the train. The story of the day was that the doctor who was called to the scene, vomited and left. Even with those tragedies, it didn't stop the other boys from continuing to jump the freight cars.
Let me paint the lost picture for you. When I was a kid, all you would see would be neighbors talking over fences, sitting on porches sharing lemonade or a morning coffee, teaching a child how to ride a two-wheeler or engaging in pushing a lawn mower and/or gardening. Everyone knew everybody. It was a friendly, noisy atmosphere with children laughing, dogs barking and parents talking.
The girls opted to play jacks, hopscotch, jump rope, hide 'n seek or they would bring out their favorite doll and play house. Sometimes boys and girls chose to play dodge ball or a game of tag, but generally, the boys played with boys and the girls played with girls. Playing outside was the be-all and end-all. There were no computers, Ipods or any of the modern technologies. We listened to am radio, 8-track tapes, and if we were very fortunate, we owned a record player. TV was a privilege, with allotted times to be able to watch it as well as what could be watched. The best was Saturday morning cartoons. I recall with fondness Tom & Jerry, Felix the Cat and Winky Dink. Winky Dink was cool because all it was was a piece of pliable plastic which you placed on the tv screen. As Winky's adventure began, you were instructed as to how you could help him get through the precarious situations he found himself in. If he was on the edge of a cliff, you were to draw a line on the plastic to the other side, and Winky would then be able to get there safely. It had me fascinated :)
When the weather was bad, we had indoor games we could play. There were cards, modeling clay, finger paints, water paints, puzzles, board games and books. Yes, we actually read a book with real pages. It wasn't all fun and games, however, as we had assigned chores to do as well. I remember cleaning my room, vacuuming, dusting and helping my mom bake or prepare a meal. Doing dishes was another chore, with my mom washing, me drying and my brother putting the dishes away.
What ever happened to imagination? I, as a child, remember putting on plays, making dolls, putting on a puppet show, or playing house. My best friend and I took ballet and tap dance together. We imagined ourselves to be prima ballerinas. In fact, one day, we went into my yard, with our grass skirts on, and danced on a picnic table to the Hawaiian War Chant. Apparently, I made a misstep, and my friend elbowed me to let me know I goofed up. The best thing, or not, is that this was filmed, and my brother now has it on a cd. I don't think I've ever shown it to anyone, not my friends or kids. I probably should because it would give everyone a great laugh. Another time, my best friend spent the night at my house, and she and I stayed awake all night long making sock dolls. We had a great time sharing our imaginations about what each one would become.
A lot has changed since my childhood. The old, wonderful trees that lined our streets were taken down, having been replaced by new ones planted. It gives the town an austere look. The railroad train that ran behind my house is now defunct. A good thing, given the fact that my small town has probably almost doubled in population. Lots that were empty are now filled with new houses, both single and two family affairs. The empty field behind my house, between the old tracks and my yard are now filled with houses. The woods at the end of the street made way for a parking lot. I sorely miss the old home town I knew and loved.
So, I ask, where are the children today and what are they doing? I fear it all has to do with modern technology. Certainly, there is a lot to be said for our modern conveniences. The computer, while extremely entertaining, is also a wealth of information, and I'm sure many people put it to good use, children included. However, there are more, I believe, that would much rather be glued to a tv, computer, or their cell phones for entertainment. Sadly, parents have succumbed to these activities as well, and have allowed their children to do the same. I for one, am guilty of spending tons of time here at my computer. As much as I loved being outdoors as a child, I've become almost the complete opposite, choosing, instead, to be in the comfort of my home. I do think what we have today is wonderful, however, for many it has become an addiction and an escape from living. There needs to be a balance. Finding it is the trick.