Saturday, December 20, 2008

Adult Supervision Required

The Christmas excitement is building in this house.

It probably doesn’t help that Nate keeps adding links to his paper countdown chain instead of subtracting them, just for the joy of creating something. Every time Toby looks at it, it’s longer, and he breathes a long-suffering sigh far beyond his four years.

Also not helping? Snow days. Two in the last five school days…and with scarcely an inch of actual snow on the ground by this point. Of course, my teacher friends are always thrilled with news of school closures, but here in my house, it means three ecstatic children bouncing off the walls without enough of the white stuff to actually play in, and one grouchy mother suddenly finding herself sans writing and running time.

I think the school district powers-that-be are going soft. When I was growing up in the California Sierras, school wasn’t called off unless you literally couldn’t dig yourself out of your front door, or your power had been off for at least eight hours, and even then, you were expected to show up by mid-day. Kids would drive up in their dads’ pick-up trucks equipped with snowplows attached to the grill, skidding and spinning across the roads, snow bibs hastily pulled on over pants. Indoor recess? Forget about it! We were shoved outside with our noses running and our caps pulled over our eyes to wade through the drifts. Within minutes, snow would cake into the gaps between our boots and our pants and our gloves and our wrists, but there was no relief in sight until the bell rang and we could file back inside to drip in front of the radiators, our skin an angry red as we stripped back the layers of clothing. While we played outside, the janitors would be up on the school roof, clearing the powder off in great sweeps that would bring ten metric tons down upon our heads…and we loved it. By mid-winter, the excess snow would be plowed off the blacktop and pushed into 6-10 feet high birms that would freeze like miniature ice peaks ringing the playground. We’d climb them, fingers stiff with cold as the gloves came off, and push each other off onto the sheet of ice below that passed for a basketball court.

It was the best of times.

Now? The recess monitors at my kids’ school are instructed to tell them not to run. Not to run! We parents drive them right to the curb at drop-off, where they’re ushered through the doors by traffic monitors holding big umbrellas when it rains. Dodgeball, tackle football, and the trading of unwanted lunch items have all been recently banned. I ask you: how are my kids supposed to have a childhood, with these kinds of safety measures in place?

When I was Nate’s age, around nine, I used to ride horses bareback through the woods by myself, falling off and narrowly missing large boulders. I used to cruise for miles on my bike with friends my own age; I certainly didn’t have a cell phone with which to ‘check in’ and I can say with certainty that I never once wore a helmet. I would have laughed at a child forced to wear a helmet. So would have my mother, for that matter. Now? I don’t allow my kids to so much as sled without one.

Are children safer these days, in the age of booster seats and peanut allergy segregation? I think we can say with certainty that they are. But we parents? We’re missing out. Right this minute, for instance, it’s 8:30 am on the Saturday before Christmas, the roads are slick with ice, the sun is non-existent, and two weeks of school vacation are stretching out before me. What I wouldn’t give to be able to stuff the kids unceremoniously into their jackets and push their overexcited, holiday-crazed selves out the door, telling them not to return until lunch…and to, by the way, keep an eye on their littlest brother while they‘re at it.

Instead, I’m plying them with gingerbread men and brand-new markers and paper just to get a few minutes of work accomplished. Later, I’ll need to put it aside to assist with the construction of homemade felt ornaments.

After all, scissors and glue guns cannot be used without careful adult supervision.
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