“There are only two creatures of value on the face of the earth: those with the commitment, and those who require the commitment of others.”

17 Dec

The wind howls and moans at the windows, snow dusting up against them. I can feel the cold without feeling it. I’m Canadian, remember? My bones can tell you the difference between -25C and -50C. The difference? At -25, you can still feel your skin and wish you couldn’t. At -50, you can feel your skin trying to fall off, and then feel nothing. My body tells me that the wind outside conspires to keep me safely tucked indoors, at least until it’s time to go home. Today, I’m glad I have to work a little late, in the hopes that the wind will die off, move along, bother Newfoundland with it’s displeasure and general scroogishness.

A few days back, one of our nicer neighbours mentioned to Mogo how much she enjoyed seeing the girls out for a walk, how she could never quite grapple with the fact that there were never kids outside anymore, not in our neighbourhood. Apparently, she wasn’t counting the hoodlums picking fights out of the low rentals across from her house.

She’s right though. You never see children out anymore, not often. We’re too busy, or too scared. And of what? An invented boogeyman, a creature the media plays up despite the falls crime rates? Those mean evil molesters, hiding in the bushes? We all know they hide out in plain sight most of the time, so what’s the fear?

What the hell has happened that we’re scared to death of our own shadows?

I have very clear memories of my mother leaving me in the backyard for hours in the winter, and I’d play my ass off. Sure, sometimes I’d whine at the back door like a puppy, red nosed, fingers stiff until she’d relent and let me back in the house. But most of the time, I was happy to be out there. Inside meant chores, and we didn’t have cable. You can only reread your books so many times.

I plan to do this myself as the girls get older. We have a massive deck (as you can see here) which is great right now since I do worry about Rosalyn running off. We have a nature trail, stream and a large field behind the house, plenty of places for kids to run and play in, and they will be let loose to do so. Not that I see many kids doing kid things back there ever. Aside from leaving garbage around, I rarely ever see any kids out and about.

It’s really strange to me, as someone who spent so much time outside. I can’t imagine spending a childhood indoors. I know things are different now-technology has changed things so much. But what ever happened to the plain and simple joy of sitting outside and finding something to do because you were bored? Thinking outside of the box to get a bottle of pop?

Even when we take the girls for walks, it’s rare to run into other kids. If we do, it’s usually a mother and a stroller. No roving bands of children, playing, yelling. Nothing. Most nights, our neighbourhood is silent as a tomb.

I don’t want their only memories of childhood to be so silent. I want them outside, experiencing the weather-the wind, the rain, the heat! One of my favorite memories from when I was younger is getting caught in a thunderstorm during a Shakespeare in the Park with my Dad, and walking slowly home. We were already wet, and it was incredible, being pelted by the rain as we giggled our way down the street, his cigarettes becoming waterlogged, my glasses useless, hair plastered to my neck. I will never forget that night, the smell of the rain, electric in the air, the smell of my skin, clammy, salty. The glare of the street lights in the raindrops, hard and heavy against the asphalt.

Should my children miss that? Should they miss the heat, heavy on their heads, because we fear the sun? Should they miss the snow, up to their waist so they have to swim it it, because we fear the cold? Should they miss the first real spring rain, delicate and tentative, because we fear the dirt?

I don’t want that for my girls. I want their feet to be firmly rooted on the ground, touching the earth. I want them to feel it in their fingers as we plant herbs, tomatoes, peppers. I want them to understand why the trees sway in the wind, and why the birds don’t fall off. I want them to understand that they are part of the earth, and are indebted to her.

We can’t raise children to protect the earth if they feel no love for it. We can’t grow people who will guard it if we never let them near it.

We must raise children to love the howl of the wind, the piercing light of a storm, the calm summer night equally, as pieces of a whole. We owe them, and the earth, at least this much.

10 Responses to ““There are only two creatures of value on the face of the earth: those with the commitment, and those who require the commitment of others.””

  1. bine December 17, 2007 at 5:00 pm #

    that’s exactly what i wonder all the time. you hardly see any kids playing outside anymore. if you see children outside, in the street or in playgrounds, they’re never more than a few feet away from their mothers.
    when i was a kid, i roamed the whole neighborhood with my next-door friend. as long as we stayed within shouting distance that was fine with our moms, and i think it did us good. we were responsible for watching how far we went and if we got lost in play we knew we’d have to report in. why is it impossible today?
    btw. the turkish kids in my neighborhood are much more independent. they go out in all kinds of weather, they get themselves dirty, they play alone, and i often see them running errands for their parents, 6, 7 or 8 year olds. i don’t see any german kids doing this. is it a cultural thing? and since when?

  2. Kimberly December 17, 2007 at 7:49 pm #

    I think some of it at least has to do with your less warm and fuzzy memories, Thor. After all, if you hadn’t been accustomed to roving outside on your own, chances are you might not have taken that fateful walk to your neighbour’s house.

    I’m honestly not willing to leave my girls outside to fend for themselves. It’s not safe. As they get older I’ll allow them out more on their own, but right now, since we live on the 8th floor, I either have to go outside with them or take them to my parents to play in their fenced in back yard.

  3. thordora December 17, 2007 at 8:07 pm #

    My issue is that I made the walk to the neighbour’s because my mother made me-good catholic girl and all-and I never had any issues while wandering the streets.
    Granted, my mother did keep an eye on me, and if we were in an apartment, different story entirely. But I believe very strongly that we overstate the urgency and deny our daughters something very essential-freedom, even if it’s just the pretend version where they think we’re not watching when we are.

  4. Marcy December 17, 2007 at 10:19 pm #

    I don’t know — I’d love to agree with you, but I’m not sure I can. Of course, right now the question is limited to do I let Amy stand up on her rocking chair even though she may tip it over — worst case is she gets a bruise and is upset, but at least she learns more about gravity and responsibility. Yeah, things are easier now, for the moment.

  5. Kimberly December 17, 2007 at 11:28 pm #

    Sorry Thor, I don’t mean to contradict your own abuse, but you’re seriously saying had you not been raised Catholic it wouldn’t have happened? Having been raised a good little Catholic girl myself–school and everything, I kinda take issue with that. I don’t think it was the Catholicism that lead to your abuse. Possibly being trained not question the authority of adults? Which in your mind got conflated with Catholic teachings? Because unless your abuser was a priest–which sadly is so incredibly possible–I don’t know of a brand of Catholicism that encourages children to meekly submit to abuse. But I’m willing to acknowledge that a) like all religious affiliations there are many different “blends” of Catholic and b) it’s your abuse and therefore your narrative.

    I’m the first one to say I worry far more about the person who knows my kids fixating on them than some weirdo on the internet. However, I live in a contained space with roughly 1000 neighbours. So no, I don’t think I’ll be sending The Ladies to play unsupervised in the backyard anytime soon, and I don’t think I’m doing them a disservice by curtailing their freedom in this way.

  6. thordora December 18, 2007 at 7:40 am #

    What I’m saying is yes, in the small town I grew up in, where most people attended one of three churches and knew my family very well, I was expected to be meek and quiet and accepting of what my parents told me to do. My mother was very domineering, and you didn’t question her (not more than once if you expected to be able to sit down the next day)

    I was also a child trying to find my faith, and trying to believe. Being helpful to the cripple next door seemed to be the ultimate in christian good deeds, and I felt, at first, that I was doing good. Then I just didn’t know what to do, or how to say no without shaming and destroying the family and the niche we had.

    I regularily use the phrase “good christian girl” because it highlights, for me, all the things the church, and my mother, helped destroy. It never taught me strength. It took it away by telling me to trust in it. I did that. And it crushed me. I don’t know many brands of christianity that help women become strong, independant people-or at least I wasn’t familier with them in the earlier 80’s.

    Besides, my abuser didn’t just pick me up one day as I walked along. He was a neighbour and fairly close family friend who was trusted. I won’t blame my mother for this-not 100%.

    And hey-living in an apartment building or townhouse complex is very very different from living in a quiet residential neighbourhood of mostly single family dwellings. I would be singing a completely different tune if we lived somewhere like that-population tends to create it’s own problems of opportunity. But we don’t all live that way. And I’m sad for places like mine, where there are never any children digging for toads or building snow forts.

    We’ve lost something, and I’m afraid we aren’t even sure what it is.

  7. caitlinoh December 18, 2007 at 10:06 am #

    I live in one of the safest counties in the US, but Paul doesn’t play outside with friends from the neighborhood because he’s the only one not old enough to have a driver’s license. I very rarely see kids at parks during the day, unless it’s about 65-70F on the weekend. Most families here have 2 working parents. Between commutes, errands, and homework, there’s just not time to play outside. People don’t tend to get back to their house until after 6:30 or so here and it’s dinner/homework time by then.

    The only time Paul plays outside with friends is when we visit my in-laws. Their neighbors have 2 year old triplets and a 3 year old boy, so it’s a rare morning when one of the boys or Paul isn’t knocking on the other’s door to see if they want to play. There’s not a fence between yards, so the adults usually get to sit down and talk while the boys wear themselves out. I’m glad Paul isn’t missing out completely, but until he hits kindergarten, we’d have to pay for preschool or county classes for him to have friends his own age back home. I just find that sad, because I had 6 friends within a 1 block radius of me, and about 20 more within biking distance when I was growing up.

  8. radical mama December 18, 2007 at 10:34 am #

    I don’t know that it is fear so much as laziness. I think most kids spend time playing video games and watching TV. I kick my children’s butts outside for at least an hour or two every day, no matter the weather. And their friends down the street are always wanting to play outside, too. I would not let them wander off down the street though. We bought a house with a yard for a reason.

    I also think that with parents and kids not getting home until 5 or 6 in the evenings, there is hardly enough time for dinners and baths and homework, plus the ridiculous amount of extracurricular activities kids are in these days. Where is the free time?

  9. Netter December 18, 2007 at 10:49 am #

    I don’t get home until after 6 most days, so it’s dinner, bath and bedtime with no playtime during the week. We do need to do more outside during the weekends. I think it’s both fear, laziness, and lack of free time like Radical Mama mentions. Kids have so much homework and so many scheduled activities, mom and dad need to do all the errands and chores on the weekend because no one has time to do it after work, there’s no time left to just hang out.

  10. daureen December 18, 2007 at 9:17 pm #

    AND, worse yet… are the new Wii games — the next generation in video garbarge for kids. Apparently these machines come with a hand-held device that allow you to play “simulated” tennis, boxing, bowling…whatever. So, uumm, maybe this is a dumb question, but wouldn’t you just go to the tennis court to play tennis? How could simulated animation possibly be better than getting outdoors and doing the real thing? I always thought imitation *anything* was inferior… maybe faux is the new fabulous.

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