Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Empty Swings and Quiet Streets

There are certain things that show us that life exists. In people, a pulse is one of those things. It's a good thing to have.

In a town, it is the human connection. Greeting neighbors, waving to people we know out walking their dogs, meeting folks for dinner, conversations with a stranger at the super market are all things that verify life exists outside our home, or our cars.

Even little activities we mostly overlook show us that life does exist. The guy painting his house, the woman mowing the lawn, a lineman servicing a wire on a pole all are indicators that the little part of the world we inhabit is alive, and keepin' on.

For life , there has to be continuity. Someone to replace us when we are gone. This where children come in. They are the continuance of life. The insurance policy that what we do here now will carry on, and hopefully made better. Each generation hopes for that.

As we get older, we look around us at the children, and, for the most part, feel comfortable that things will be well taken care of. Of course there are those children that make us just shake our heads when we see them and wonder how the heck the human race will ever survive. I was one of those children. In fact, I believe I still am.

Yes, children are our future. Cliche, I know, but true. My question is, where are the children? I know they live close by, there are schools for them, and each morning I see the yellow buses. When they are not at school or walking beside the carriage at Wal*Mart, where are they?

There was time when the sound of kids running around the neighborhood, riding their bikes, roller skating, playing games would echo off the houses from early in the morning till "the street lights came on". There would be small groups walking down the sidewalk on the way to shoot hoops. Bicycles would be leaning against , or lying in front of the toy store.

No more.

We hide our children.

We send them to school in the morning, and arrange for them to stay inside after school until we get home from work. We arrange a ride for them to dance class or home from basketball practice. We keep them close, within arms reach. We shelter them from the time they are born. We guard them from predators that lurk in our towns. We protect them. That is our job.
When they are infants we assign them music to listen to. Beethoven, Bach, and more Brahms than a lullaby.
When they are old enough to focus, we teach them sign language, because we can't wait to "hear" what is on their little minds. but, mostly we want to tell them what is on our minds. The earlier the better.

Society has shown us that we must be vigilant. We must be constantly aware. As a result, our children come home from school to mostly empty houses, and reach out. They go online, they text, they may even use a telephone. They are reaching for voices that they don't hear at home. They gossip, and form gangs online at social web sites. They post photos and videos of things we can never imagine. Some actually do homework.

On weekends they are scheduled for karate at 8:30 AM,and soccer practice at 11:00. Their friends mother will pick up a bunch of them around noon, swing by Wendy's, grab some lunch, and then it's off to their house to play video games till 2 or 3:00. Maybe watch a DVD.

Our children mostly sit. And, when they aren't sitting, they will dance, run, skate board, play ball, and then they sit again, and wait till the next time they are scheduled to move in safety.

Our children have started to tip the scales. Their energy levels drop lower than the Dow. They look for excitement without expending a great deal of effort, so they move their thumbs in seizure like patterns and "talk" to friends on their cell phone. Without moving more than a few phalanges, they keep in touch with their world.

This is not the way life was meant to be.
This is not the fault of the children. Since they were six months old we fell victim to arranging play dates, and play groups for them. Artificial environments that often stick children in a place with others they are forced to interact with. Socialization is forced, not taught. Disappointment flows from a parents lips when the baby won't play nice. Seldom are walks to the playground taken. The swings are mostly empty. The laughing voices are all but silent there now.

This training is coming back to haunt us. Our children were taught by example how not to be self supportive, or reliant. Their earliest friends were chosen. Their activities selected. They escaped into a controllable world of texting and the Internet when they weren't at karate class.
When they leave high school, and go on with their lives, they soon begin to trickle back home. Once, twice, a half dozen or so times before they are thirty they end up back home. It's safe there. It's organized there.

They are thirty three years old, single and living in the same room they grew up in. Strawberry Shortcake is still on the shelf. A bucket of Lego's still beside the bed.

What have we done?

In our valiant attempt to keep our children safe, and to fast forward their brains, we have made them dependant on us for the duration.
Many have adapted well. Relying on nature rather than nurture. Not every child has succumbed to the bubble wrap we have clothed them in.
I don't think there is a solution. Not yet anyway. I do know that I miss the giggles and laughter on the playground, seeing kids walking down the street, fishing along the river, and doing most anything not orchestrated by a grownup. I miss seeing their freedom of play. Their freedom of interaction.
So, until we figure out just how to set them free again, continue to keep them safe, keep them well, and teach them the very best of what you know. Memories are meant to be kept forever, especially those of our children. Regrets are not.