Dogs at Their Heels
As a kid growing up in Westchester, I lived in an apartment building on the fourth floor. No elevator. We played kickball in the backyard with the other kids who lived in the building. When the Good Humor ice-cream truck came by, we’d yell up to mom like banshees and if she had them, she would wrap a few quarters in plastic and throw them out the kitchen window. We had chores to do and did them. We didn’t get allowance. The word “no” was not an unfamiliar term. By age 12 we had jobs; babysitting, delivering newspapers or breaking down boxes and sweeping up scraps at the local butcher shop. We also had pen-pals who we hand-wrote letters to. We walked to school, the movie theaters, the mall and the beach– by ourselves. Our family of five shared one rotary phone, the kind that was attached to the wall and stayed there when we left the house. We also shared a lime green record player for our musical entertainment. Our first color TV was 19 inches. I didn’t have a computer and when I went to college, I borrowed a friend’s electric typewriter to write reports.
Behind our building was a trucking company where typically, seven or eight, 18-wheelers stood neatly parked, side by side. The only thing between us and the trucks was a simple 10, maybe 12 foot high chain link fence that was hardly a barrier, let alone a deterrent to kids with a mission. After hopping the fence, we would climb the truck beds, hoist each other up to the roof tops and jump, roof to roof down the line, just for fun. Next to the trucks was a sand and gravel yard separated by a similar fence and guarded by a team of 3 or 4 loose running dogs. Dobermans. It was a game, a quest, a challenge to quietly sneak over the fence, outwitting the dogs, climb to the top of a 15 foot mound of gravel and yell out at the top of our lungs, “I’m king of the mountain!” Of course, this immediately alerted the otherwise outwitted but now fiercely barking dogs to our location and sent us all on the run of our lives scrambling back over the fence in record time with the dogs growling and salivating at our heels. In hindsight, I’m truly amazed none of us ever got caught and chewed to bits as we feared we would. But then again, there was an unspoken code that had a “no child left behind” ethic to it among us. We helped each over the fence. I liken my childhood experiences to the day courses our kids now take at special facilities designed to teach them “trust and team building skills”. What a difference a couple of decades make.
My children live in the suburbs. My 9-year old is not allowed to leave our cul-de-sac. There are no sidewalks here. They are driven or take the bus to and from their school every day. They each have their own Gameboys, iPods, cell phones and laptops. They play their Wii games on our 54″ flat screen TV. My 12-year old son carries a pre-paid American Express picture ID card with at least $50.00 on it, in his pocket, in case of emergency. He’s never climbed a fence, let alone been chased by a crazy, barking dog regularly. He prefers to Facebook, Skype or text his friends rather than actually speak to them or meet them at the movies or a bowling alley.
I take responsibility for aiding in the provision of the latest and greatest for my kids. Doesn’t every generation strive to do better and give more to their children? Technological advancement is the key. Isn’t it? With answers literally at their fingertips, academically, my kids are already worlds ahead of me. It’s the life skills and their ability to cope that concerns me. After all, no one is immune to life’s inevitable disappointments, no matter how many gadgets they own. Sometimes I believe my childhood with less in it, may have left me better equipped to deal with life and all that comes with it than today’s youth. I didn’t need to absolutely have to have anything right now or fall prey to the instant gratification disease that so many of our young people now suffer from. I wanted things but I understood that “no” meant “no”, not maybe or tomorrow. I learned to accept that I couldn’t have everything or everything, my way. I have some intuitiveness and self-discipline as a result which has proved extremely valuable during some intensely difficult times in my life thus far. I worry that my kids are missing out on some invaluable, independent learning by not being able to roam as freely and learn to free themselves from a jam, on their own, as I did. I wonder how you can teach them these lessons without letting them or the dogs out. I hope that they will have what it takes to overcome life’s unexpected challenges; the real hard ones. I pray that they will be able to summon the courage and stamina they’ll need to help each other over the fence when the dogs are at their heels.