then and now

May 23, 2012

last week i completed an online survey for a study being conducted by some boffin out of mac uni.  it turned out to be a thought-provoking exercise.

mostly it was a bunch of ticker-box questions about the permissiveness and panic that parents get into over their kids.  questions like “do you let your child play in your front yard without you supervising?” etc, etc.  ‘course that question would have been answered very differently three years ago when we had no front yard, just a rat-run, speed-way lane three steps from our front door.  now we’ve gone to a great deal of effort and bought a padlock to make our front yeard safe and secure for tally tornado.

towards the end of the survey there were some open ended questions to be answered as you liked.  the first was something along the lines of “what activities did you do as a child that carried some risk?”  as i was writing my answer i realised the question could more accurately have been; “what damn foolish things did you get up to as a kid that you now, as a parent, would suffer palpatations over?”  i did qualify my answer with the explanation that i grew up in coastal and rural areas where adults were busy doing the stuff that kept life trundling along and kids made the fun they made pretty much only in each other’s company from sun-up to sun-down.

to illuminate… what did i do that i would have a spaz over if percy or tally tried to do the same?…

1. swim in flooded creeks with branches, logs and sometimes whole trees tumbling past at a rate of knots,

2. throw rocks at snakes to get them to move off the bloody road where we were trying to ride our pushies sans shoes and helmets,

3. dig cubbies and tunnels in soft sand cliffs,

4. spend the entire day horse-riding, sans helmet, beyond the reach of screaming for help, without anyone knowing where i was,

5. driving too fast around paddocks with dickhead friends in beat up utes, particularly fun at nite around bonfires, (do we still count as kids if we have driver’s licences?)

6. slaughtering and butchering animals, actually i took a role here that might best be described as “superivising!”

7. swimming in bass strait,

8. climbing rocks and cliffs barefoot and fancy-free…

you get the idea.  is this a case of “then and now?”  were these things inherently less dangerous 25 – 30 years ago?  i don’t really think so.  i also think our parents grew up with parents that were too busy doing the grown-up stuff to mind them 24/7, hence they didn’t do it to us.  do we, the parents of the 21st century have more time on our hands?  certainly i’d say from our grandparents we now have more time/labour saving devices (dishwashers etc.) but not so much from our parents.  or is it a country/city thing?  between the ages of 7 and 9 we lived in a rather remote part of rural nsw, known as “up the gulf” aka, the gulf road, angling north-west out of a little town once known as vegetable creek, renamed emmaville after the mayors’ or doctors’ or some other such dignitary’s wife.  population of emmaville when i lived there, circa 500.  up the gulf our second nearest neighbour was five kilometres along the dusty, worn-out, potted road.  lucky happenstance was that these neighbours included a girl of my own age (hi cheron) and we became friends.  it was in the creek behind her house that we dared the downed trees to drown us, flung noxious weeds on each other, scampered after the goats and tried to influence the behaviour of snakes.  the gulf road was inhabited by perhaps 10 families and just wore out to bush by the end of it.  hence the five clicks between us was so untravelled grass grew between the tyre tracks and animals used it as a convenient by-way.  what i’m getting at is there was no danger of us being driven over or coming across strangers.  our current address is in a street of over sixty houses less than 600 metres long, visited constantly by cars, in the midst of an international city of over 4 million permanent residents.  it’s not comparing apples to apples, is it?  i wouldn’t let percy ride her bike immediately outside our house without me in grabbing distance, my parents thought nothing of sending my brother and i five kilometres away entirely unattended.  (perhaps when she’s 8, i’ll just need to be in shouting distance.)

the second open-ended question in the survey asked what i got out of engaging in those risky behaviours.  my answer was something like “independance, a sense of adventure, a lot of scars, sunburn, life-long friends, a desire to see what’s always over the next hill and an uncanny and unfailing sense of direction.”

obviously i think these are things worth having, minus perhaps the scars!  my knees weren’t destined to be un-scabbed and rubbingly smooth.  you don’t list the things you don’t want to remember, or be remembered by- loneliness, stubborness.  so do i want these worthwhile things for my kids?  yes, of course i do.  do i think they won’t be able to achieve or attain them because i won’t let them swim in deadly bass strait without life guards and a rope nearby?  well, maybe…  i do think risk-taking and unsupervised activities and even shenanigans that i won’t ever be told about are important to develop the individual and unique strengths of my children.  i worry life in suburbia won’t give them thousands of hectares of wild to stretch and push themselves in.  can the experiences that will do that be found in physically constrained places?  i suppose so, i just have no personal history to prove it to me.  i do know many brave, adventurous, battle-scarred people raised in suburban settings… it must be possible!

a final question in the survey was “what do you fear most for your children?”  gawd, talk about stop you in your tracks!  do the people that compiled this survey have kids?  i sat and i thought, and i thought a bit more… and finally i answered:

“in descending order;

1. loss of life, 2. loss of ability (mental and physical), 3. loss of freedom, 4. loss of desire, 5. loss of opportunity”

i didn’t elaborate in the survey but i think i will here.  loss of life is obvious.  loss of ability nearly as obvious; i fear for them to have to live their life hampered by disability.  loss of freedom encompasses from “wake-in-the-nite-in-a-cold-sweat-from-a-bad-dream psycho kidnapping them to losing the freedoms we associate with democratic systems.  loss of desire means the loss of the love of learning, seeing, doing, asking, reaching, exploring, adventuring, turning the corner, cresting the hill, poking your nose in, caring, anything ending in an ‘ing’ really, as well as the loss of love.  and loss of opportunity to me means losing the chance or the right to try something even if you are willing and able.  for instance living in a dictatorship or a war zone or a religiously dominated society, or being barred from climbing to the top of uluru or not hugging old growth forest trees because they’ve all been chopped down.

are these pretty standard fears and hopes?  would each generation answer much the same?  i suspect as much may change between “then and now”, a good deal of it will stay the same.

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