Childhood in 2020 is very different from the 80’s and 90’s, and that’s all for the good. Safety and health are tantamount to parenting, as opposed to convenience and convenience back when we got to ride without seat belts munching a lunch of fruit roll-ups.
But we know things are better with shoulder restraints, air bags, educational television and a modicum of vegetables.
Nonetheless, I know my kids’ childhood in 2020 will be less fun than my own. In addition to my quick list of archaic pleasures, what will your kids miss out on?
Processed foods. I ate Mac’n Cheese, Kool-Aid, Fruity Pebbles, Pop Tarts and Fritos. And there was no about their nutritional value. But my kids will only have those on special occasions. (Like at the frequency of Haley’s Comet visits.) Now we worry about red dye, HFCS, and chemical additives that render food addictive. And we obsess over our kids eating vegetables. Actually, red dye confounds me. But I totally obsess over the veggies. In my childhood, canned creamed corn counted as a vegetable. And I will never serve that to my kids as a vegetable. Unless we’re camping. Actually, they can eat all those foods can be eaten when camping. All bets are off camping. But every day? Sorry guys. You’ll never have it as good as I did.
Seat belts. My dad drove a Volvo in the early 80’s. There was a black grip bar that inexplicably (to me) jutted out from the dashboard. When riding in that car, I’d hold onto the black handle to get myself as close to the front windshield as possible. Occasionally Dad would ask, “Gavin, please sit back and put on your seatbelt.” “No,” I’d respond. “Well, then,” he’d compromise, “at least lock your door.” Yeah, kids. That’s never going to happen, again.
And speaking of driving: the front seat by age three? Not gonna happen. Sorry. Please proceed to the back of the car with less of a view.
Saturday morning cartoons. My parents didn’t monitor me. I watched hours of cartoons until at least 11 AM. If I woke up early enough, I could catch the full 90 minutes of The Smurfs from 6:30 to 8. I didn’t have to worry about “what else was on” because I didn’t have a remote control. Few choices meant fewer worries. Now, let’s face it: with Netflix and YouTube, cartoons are less special and the sheer volume of videos at fingertips means less enjoyment and more worry what they’re missing. Instead, they schizophrenically tap between videos without indulging in the pleasure of calm watching. I lived for Saturday mornings. Kids, you’ll never know such bliss. I won’t allow it. Oh, and half hour of screen time. Tops. Except when daddy needs a break. So…whatever I say. And go read a book.
Classroom holiday parties with tons of sugar and nuts. Parents didn’t avoid the sweets and no one had allergies. Sorry, guys. With carrot muffins masquerading as “treats”, you’ll never have it as good as I did. Sorry. I have to play by the rules, now, too.
Russia was the bad guy. The world was black and white. Sure, I lay awake thinking about nuclear holocaust. But now? Yikes. Hurricanes, terrorists, cyclone bombs, CV-19, and Russia? Life seems more and more like an episode of 24 every twenty-four hours. I’ll do my darnedest to protect you. And I hope you don’t lie awake at night worrying. I’ll do the worrying for you.
Passing notes. I mean, I haven’t been in a junior high class in a long time. But passing notes, and the challenge of hiding it from the teachers? We lived for that. Plus, “do you like me? Mark the boxes ‘yes’ or ‘no’” is so much more titillating than sexting. Please, please don’t send naked pictures of yourself. Just draw them on paper and pass them in class. I’ll talk to the teacher if you get caught.
We didn’t have to be so friggin’ good. You have to volunteer for half a dozen philanthropies to qualify for junior high entrance, not , let alone college admissions. In my day, only serious over-achievers (with over-involved parents) did anything We watched Saturday morning cartoons and ate Frosted Flakes. You have it way worse, kids. I expect you to be volunteering for blood drives and writing non-profit grants by second grade. You’ll learn empathy, damn it.
What has my fatigue-fog made me forget? I want to know what your kids will miss out on in their childhood in 2020!
I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I thought I loathed it as a kid, but…you know what? – I miss the Boy Scouts, because as an adult I realize that scouting made me better.
When I was in ninth grade, my
mom bribed me to achieve the highest rank in Boy Scouts: Eagle. It was
contingency-based bribery where I got a stereo at Christmas (one of those big
box ones that included CD player, dual tape deck, radio AND record player on
top) but said, “But I’ll take this back
if you don’t earn Eagle by the end of the year.”
But a far greater motivation was getting out of scouts to reclaim my cool, since at the time, it was not the case that scouting made me better; it tortured me.
I was far too obsessed with being cool in school, desperate to eschew any sense that I was “less than” – (which largely meant gay. Yeah – that was my fear – that I’d be called “fag” or “pansy” or whatever label that essentially meant “less than.”)
And being cool or at the top of the social food chain meant I wouldn’t be considered “less than”.
Being a Boy Scout was not cool – especially in junior high and ESPECIALLY in high school. And that was what I hated about being a Boy Scout. Sadly.
In my suburban Denver scout troop, we didn’t have some conservative religiously-veiled dogma. There was no cultural preaching. There was just an over-arching sense of Scouts doing “good” and the difference between right and wrong. And I found a niche within my troop that ultimately meant scouting made me better at being me.
It wasn’t a troop full of toxic masculinity in the slightest.
Tons of my favorite childhood memories were made through scouting: camp-outs (which I thought I hated, but in reality were really fun), camp (not over-flowing with with toxic masculinity and generally care-free), and a consistent community of quality guys that got together weekly to…I can’t even remember now…have meetings and…talk about stuff?
Put all these things together and I learned not to be afriad of nature, leadership, and random skills most of which I’ve forgotten but actually gave me tremendously broad experience. Further, scouting made me better at poker, shit-talking, late-night conversations and a certain amount of political arguing. Again: thanks to camping.
The Boy Scout values are, in my adult hindsight, invaluable. I paid little attention to the Scout law or the substance of the words that we recited at every turn:
A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.
(I typed that without google help – it’s still ingrained in my muscle memory.)
And when I occasionally think on the significance of those words, what better brain-washing to give a kid, eh? Think about each one of those values.
What more could we ask for of ourselves, of society, and of our children?
But when I said “we will roast hot dogs over a fire”, they were IN.
We kayaked forty-five minutes on the Connecticut River to pitch a tent in a clearing on an uninhabited island.
Honestly, it wasn’t hard-core at all. We built a fire, roasted hot dogs and ate M&M’s, hiked for twenty minutes (all the while me thinking TICKS TICKS TICKS TICKS), while I sipped a thermos of Moscow Mules.
But I know this is unthinkable for most people. Scouting made me better at thinking “Come on! Let’s just do it! It’s not rocket science. Pack a bag of M&M’s and let’s camp!”
I bored my kids with my “when I was a kid this was SO much harder” routine as I reminisced about the shitty camping equipment I was forced to use. Trust: military quilted sleeping bags and tents from the 70’s were NOT user-friendly, durable, warm, compact or lightweight.
At the little campground with my kids, I was all about “yes” and not setting limits. They explored, they dug around, broke sticks, and poked around in the fire. I had no reason to say “no” (the Moscow Mule helped).
At one point, my younger kid looked guilty as he made the fire flare up after tossing a pile of dried leaves on top. But I said, “It’s OK, buddy. I want you to learn about fire’s behavior. Plus, I get it. It’s fun to poke around.”
Isn’t poking around in a fire the best part about camping? (Scouting made me better at s’mores, too. Obvi.)
I mean – no forest fire are
going to start in humid-ass Connecticut. And if our fire had sparked, I was
prepared to quickly stamp it out.
This is all part of it – experimenting, pushing limits and learning.
I didn’t bring Swiss army
knives or even an axe (the fallen wood for fire-building was plentiful…and we
will carve wood next summer.)
But I gave them the flavor of camping. And they liked it!
(My 40yo+ body was not a huge fan. My neck and back were seriously creaky, afterward. For summer 2020: get a blow-up pillow.)
But this has all made me think my kids are missing out on these experiences I took for granted (nay: supposedly loathed). My friends found it such a big deal that I was camping, and despite being a gay tap-dancer, I wasn’t remotely intimidated to strike out on this mini-adventure. It’s in my educational background to know camping ain’t that big a deal (particularly when the weather’s perfect and you’re only 30 minutes from home) and nature is meant to be experienced.
Of course I’m looking past the conservative religious hijacking of Boy Scout culture, their leadership largely being old, conservative men, and their tumultuous history with the queer community. Let’s face it – they’ve adapted pretty amazingly DESPITE their leadership and strong rooting in conservative communities. And they’re coming out on the right side of history by including girls in the ranks and embracing children through the the queer community .
So anyway, now that my kids are growing up in NYC, I feel like they’re at the ripe age for having SOME KIND of value-laden extracurricular education.
I wish there were someone else lecturing them on the difference between right and wrong (besides me) and giving them survival skills (besides me).
When that internet apocalypse comes, the Russians hack all our phones and Trump’s tariffs stop all imports from China, all hell will break loose. And suddenly tying knots might actually be super helpful – not to mention reading a map, using a compass, and not fearing nature.
There are several NYC-based
Scout troops (most of them affiliated with Catholic Churches), but none of them
are convenient for us. (And by “convenient”, of course I mean within a
ten-minute walk of our apartment.)
Wouldn’t it be awesome to
start an inclusive troop at the LGBTQ Center on 12th Street? – ground
zero for the gay rights movement?
I love the irony.
And hopefully so would the
But this is not a manifesto
for me starting my own Scout Troop. I’ve got bags to sell.