Actually, technically, I was born in the 70’s. The early 70’s, but who’s asking? And whether because it was the prevailing wisdom, or because my mother was judgie about the other kids in the neighborhood, I didn’t get out much. My mother had discovered the electronic babysitter, and she was all in.
We had a TV in every room. Game shows, cartoons, and commercials abounded. I could fit “big bucks, no whammies”, “I tawt I taw a puddytat” and “Where’s the beef?” into one seamless sentence, no problem. (See what I just did there?) And although I can’t remember the exact date of my mother’s birthday, I do know precisely how the Brady Kids escaped the jail cell in the Ghost Town, USA episode (purse on the old-timey keychain.) Also, the origins of the phrase “jump the shark”. (Which would be the un-coolest moment in life for the Fonz. Ayyyyyyy?) My mother would have done better to put Charles in Charge, is all I’m saying.
Because we had a TV in every room, whether a built in with a huge wooden case or an old black and white with rabbit ears and an extension cord on a tea cart so we could roll it to the hallway in front of the bathroom where you would reside if you were vomiting. Whole summers were devoted to dashing outside, diving into the pool, and then curling up in front of the television, hunkered under a blanket with your feet on the air-conditioning vent for the rest of the day. I’d lay there in my crusty swimsuit eating Pop-Ice until my pee turned the same shade of green as my Sun-In tinted hair.
And so it’s no wonder, really, that I turned out to be the mom I am today. It began when my kids were toddlers. Every day was marked by an adventure OUT OF THE HOUSE. Most days we’d have two. Morning playground, afternoon library. Morning dancing with the Music Man at town hall, afternoon hike through the woods with a map-making exercise after. Mommy and me swim lessons mornings, tricycles and scooters in the afternoon. I literally sent my kids to a farm pre-school where they raised their own goats and weren’t allowed to bring snacks with wrappers.
And absolutely no Pop-Ice. Have you read the ingredients on those things? It’s basically paint and high fructose corn syrup. No wonder half my teeth aren’t even mine anymore.
Now that the kids are older, it’s a little different, but my mantra is basically the same. If you’ve had a hard day at school? Go outside and get your beans out! If it’s gorgeous out? This is your chance to rollerblade or play soccer with your brother! If it’s rotten outside? This will toughen you up!
And if you hit your sister? You’re in time out… OUTSIDE! And I don’t care if it’s raining or if the neighbor’s dog, the scary one who knocks down kids, is in the yard. Go climb a tree. Literally. Because this is what childhood memories are made of.
Last time my mom came to visit she looked out the window and saw all four of my kids doing just that, climbing a tree. Except the tree is a massive widow-maker, half fallen, but notched against another smaller tree. It’s wide enough to walk up with branches two stories off the ground weak enough to break.
“Oh, Jennie! Jennie! They’re in a tree. Ohmigawd. They’re going to fall and break their necks,” she said from the window.
“Look away, Mom. This is pre-millennial parenting. It’s good for them,” I replied.
And I’m not saying my mother did a rotten job raising me. My best friend still says she thinks about me whenever she lets her kids watch mindless trash on the television so she can sleep in on Saturdays.
She literally says, “I just say to myself, ‘Jennie watched TV twenty-four hours a day growing up and she went to an Ivy League school and became a writer, so it couldn’t be that bad.’”
Which is true. Television didn’t kill me. And watch, all this outdoorsiness and bookish-ness could turn my kids into hoarder hermits holed up in crap-filled houses who watch Alf reruns and play with their retro Troll dolls for their whole miserable lives. Life comes back to bite you on the butt that way.
So every once in awhile I’ll dial up a Monchichi commercial or a Teletubbies episode on YouTube. Then my kids can see what bizarr-o crap has passed for kid-friendly television.
And once they’ve seen what they’re missing, I send them running down the hill in our backyard to their favorite tree fort. And if I listen closely I can hear the refrain, “Monchichi, monchichi. Oh, so soft and cudd-l-y…” as they head out into the big, wide world of personal invention and physical activity. It’s enough to make even Archie Bunker smile. (Dat guy, what a meathead.)