Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Street Light Kid

This is one of those, "When I was a kid..." blogs. I've been thinking about this a lot. In fact, I had a serious conversation with my 17 year old, Isaac, about this just the other day. The conversation came after an extended afternoon of me chatting with him while he had his head down and his thumbs flying over his phone. It began when I picked him up from school. He was texting before his butt was in the seat. He was still texting when we got home. He wasn't listening to me, he wasn't engaging in our conversation at all except to look up on occasion to answer a direct question. This isn't even remotely unusual and it certainly isn't limited to teens: 20 somethings up to grey haired adults have been lured and captured by an addiction with Instant Communication. Still it's the teens that I am concerned about: kids are texting their lives away, all the while, losing, I think, the art of conversation, leisure and camaraderie.
I have been writing a lot about my childhood lately (you know, for that unpublished book that's lurking in my head). I've been thinking about things I haven't thought about in a long time and when I lay my childhood up against what kids can accomplish today it's pretty amazing. I feel like the Ancient of Days. Yesterday my friend, Catherine, told me her daughter, Jenny, will be spending her summer as the videographer at a camp that teaches kids to swim with the dolphins somewhere in the Florida Keys. My friend, Aran, was also there. Her daughter, Jasmine, is currently in Barcelona. She traveled there from England where she is living and going to school for a year. I feel special when I make it to Bar-Stow. The opportunities our kids enjoy, the access to the world through the internet, the ease of travel, the vast sums of information our kids are confronted with on a daily basis. Incredible.
So here it comes... wait for it... "When I was a kid... my brother, Andy, and I would come home from school. I would change into play clothes and then we would go outside to play. We had a secret clubhouse behind our garage and we would collect things in jars to display like a huge bumble bee or a lizard. There were what felt like a zillion kids on our street and we would play every kind of game you could imagine: Kick the Can, Freeze tag, Hide and Seek. We'd have bike races and we'd have battles of various kinds. The rule, of course, was that the minute the first street light came on, Andy and I had to go in. We were the only ones who had to go in when the FIRST light came on which was completely demoralizing to us. The other kids got to stay out until ALL the lights came on. Some got to stay out as late as they wanted.
Lots of times we'd go to the local park which was about a mile away. We'd walk or ride bikes. If we wanted other kids to go, we'd go to their house, knock on their door and invite them along. Or we'd just wheel our bikes in front of their house and yell. "Hey, Billy! We're going to Neff Park. Grab your bike and come on." Billy or Jimmy or Tommy or Susan or Linda or Debbie (but NEVER an Ashley or Haley or Brittany or Michael or Josh) would come dashing out, yell back at his mom, "I'm goin' to the park" and off we'd go for 3 or 4 hours. Of course, Andy and I would need to gauge how late we could stay at the park and still be home by the time for first street light came on. There'd be heck to pay if we were late.
In the summertime, things were much freer, especially when we would go visit my grandparents in Sedona, Arizona. Before any harmonicas converged, or aliens landed or weirdos arrived in Sedona, it was a sweet, beautiful artist colony/retirement village of about 500 people. My grandparents retired to Sedona from Flagstaff in 1963. They had a mobile home in a neighborhood that backed up to the open red rock country. It was heaven on earth. After breakfast, Andy and I would say goodbye and head out to the rocks. My grandpa had only two rules. If it's cloudy, stay out of the natural washes in case of a flash flood and always look before you put your hand down in case of rattle snakes. That was it. Andy and I would scamper out in shorts and tennies. No sunscreen or hats, no forms of communication, no first aid kit, no bottled water. Just the two of us and the most gorgeous country in the world. We'd go hiking and climbing and exploring for hours on end. We'd climb so high up the rocks that the community (and my grandparents' home) looked like tiny miniatures below us.
But in today's world, if we forget our cell phone, even just to run to the market for some milk, we feel lost or naked. We text and Twitter all the time. But converse? Face to face? Or better, yet, leave the phones behind for some freedom from instant communication. That's become a rarity.
I think it's all good. I love that I can play (and beat) my brother in Scrabble in a constant on- going tournament even though he is in Reno and I am in Corona. I love that this morning my son, Jordan, sent me a picture text of the falling snow at Fort Hood where he is currently stationed. I love that long, long lost friends of mine have reconnected with me on Facebook.
But this is a cautionary tale: Good, meaningful conversation is at risk, I think, of becoming a lost art. Speaking or writing in full sentences is valuable and worthwhile. Looking someone in the eye while you converse instead of the constant "text glance" is respectful. And even more, adventures with someone you like or love, set free of phones or Blackberries or laptops or whatever other gizmos we have become addicted to is worth every minute you give it.
Nothing earth shattering in these thoughts. Just a wistful feeling that we are losing something precious. Will our kids ever experience the freedom of non-global communication? Here's a thought... How about creating a new policy at home: no more texting once the street lights come on!