By BOB WIRE
I’m fomenting a revolution.
Summer camps. Play dates. Dropping off. Picking up. Enough.
It’s summertime, for cryin’ out loud! It’s officially the Season of the Kid.
But when I look around, instead of seeing the neighborhood alive with summertime action, what I see is kids penned in their own driveways, playing four-square against the garage door. Or they’re in the air-conditioned living room, watching TV or staring at a laptop. They’re waiting for their mom (or maybe dad) to consult their calendar, pick up the phone, and make all the arrangements for a scheduled play date.
The play date has become the norm for childhood socializing. Kids can’t just get together and hang out anymore. Parents live in fear of the Amber Alert, even here in sleepy little Missoula. No one’s ever seen that windowless van with “Free Candy” spray-painted on the side, but everyone knows it’s out there somewhere, right?
Play dates are almost always one-on-one. And they’re more complicated than the Affordable Health Care Act translated to Mandarin.
First, you have to determine which allergies the visiting kid has, what style of discipline the parents are using, which video game platform the kid uses at home, whether or not they’ve had a nap. Also, what is the kid’s safety word? (Oops, different kind of play date.)
The host parent will need a signed release from the parents with their doctor’s contact information and the child’s medical history. Three emergency contacts must be provided as well, and a urine sample and immunization records would be nice.
Once the child’s nutritional background and food allergies have been passed along, lunch and/or snack can then be planned. No processed foods, please, and organic if possible. Free-range chicken nuggets can be served, but the tater tots must be dolphin-safe, and have to be prepared without trans-fats.
No soda, of course, and any juice served must be made from sustainable fruits, and the iced will be made with filtered water. And before they eat, the kids will wash their hands and forearms with antibacterial soap, and dry them off with towels that have been washed in a solar-powered washing machine with a dye-free detergent.
All activities are planned out, and usually include some complex, expensive educational game that has won at least three national awards.
Now, I know it’s a different world today, what with child-porn kidnappers trolling the suburban sidewalks, drug-pushing miscreants selling spiked Kool-Aid at roadside stands, and lawyers parachuting in from all over the world so neighbors can sue each other for using the wrong shade of cement in their new driveways. It’s crazier than that weird guy on the dessert show who looks like his face was designed by Dr. Seuss.
But one of the reasons I moved to Missoula twenty years ago was that it truly is one of the safest, most wholesome places left in the West to raise kids. So, having realized that it’s us, the parents, who have created this clamped-down culture of childhood, I have decided to take action. I want to start moving back toward making my kids’ summer vacation a time of freedom and exploration. And less of a pain in my ass.
When school let out for the summer when I was a kid (here we go…), my mom knew she wouldn’t see much of me for the next three months, except to supply food, sunburn treatment, and the occasional run to the ER. I’d get up in the morning, shovel down a few bowls of Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch cereal, and burst through the screen door to go join the neighborhood crew. And you know what we did all day?
We messed around.
That, my friends, is the all-encompassing, non-threatening, technical term for our wide-ranging activities.
We all had bikes, of course, so transportation was up to us. I still remember riding six miles along city streets to a certain little market because they were the only store that sold Now and Laters for a penny. Naturally, we ate them all Now. And we were towing a wagon full of returnable bottles with which to pay for them. If we’d scored a big pop bottle cache, outside the Home for Obese Orphans, say, we’d toss in a few Nutty Buddies.
We’d strap fishing rods to our bikes and head down to the pond to harass bluegills. We’d build jump ramps out of scrap plywood and see how many trash cans we could clear on our bikes. We’d have races. We’d ride to the edge of the woods and tramp around all day, scouting for a good tree in which to build our tree fort. Or we’d go the other direction, and dig out huge pits in the forest turf, making elaborate underground forts where we’d hang out and plot a water balloon assault on another crew.
We didn’t have schedules, pick-up times, or any of the modern manifestations of hand-wringing and worry. When we got hungry, we’d simply descend on the nearest kid’s house and his mom would feed us baloney-and-potato-chip sandwiches on white bread. We’d suck down a few gallons of Hawaiian Punch, then mount up and ride off to our next adventure.
Dinner was a bit more structured, as each kid would return home to prove to his family that he hadn’t drowned or had his eyeball shot out with a BB. After a hearty meal of meatloaf and canned green beans, we’d all congregate in the early evening as the streetlights came on, and continue to mess around until, one by one, we were summoned home by our mom’s plaintive warble drifting through the summer night as she called our name.
But now, in this era of registered sex offenders, meth whores, transients, weirdos, drummers, gang-bangers, gay-beaters, and just plain scary people, it’d be foolish to just let our kids be gone from can’t-see to can’t-see, even in Missoula.
Still, I think the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of ultra-scheduled, hyper-vigilant, super-healthy lifestyles created for our kids by the helicopter parents who leave absolutely no room for spontaneity or serendipity.
You know when kids have the most fun? When they achieve the most growth, make the best discoveries, experience the purest joy? When we leave them the hell alone.
So my revolution starts today. No more camps. No more play dates. It’s summertime, kids.
Get out there and start messing around.
Wanna laugh ’til your sides hurt? These ought to do the trick: Parenting Sucks. And I Love It., For Writing Inspiration, Head to Missoula’s Bark Park, and The Guitar That Saved My Soul.
Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.
Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.
Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.