Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We grew up poor... or did we?

I was a very lucky child for the first decade of my life and kind of feel sorry for today's kids growing up in this consumer-driven world.

It was the '70's: toys were simple yet provided hours of endless fun (who remembers Light Bright? Legos? Etch-a-Sketch? Dominos? Card games? Spirograph?), TV was a treat for Saturday morning cartoons and my parents never needed to tell us to "go play outside" - it is where we wanted to be the most, no matter the season.

We were lucky to live in a tiny green village by the river. Dad built us a sandbox and a swing set from leftover lumber and rope. We had tonka trucks, bikes and fishing poles for summer, crazy carpets and snowball fights for winter, we built tree houses for all seasons and a good game of hide-and-seek was thrilling. We found wonderment and entertainment in picking wild berries that grew nearby or building "dams" in the ditches during spring thaw.

School was a 5-minute walk away and parents were not afraid to send their kids out to play: everyone knew everyone and crime only happened in big dirty cities far away. Nobody stole your bike or painted graffiti on garage doors.

Mom's job was to stay home and take care of the family. She made our clothes, baked fresh bread, made jams in the autumn and seeded our big garden in the spring. Dad was authority and no kid ever dared throw a tantrum in the supermarket. Ever. I remember those summer movie treats at the drive-in an hour away and the few times we ate at restaurants were like christmas.

Looking back now I realise we were poor. My parents drove an old beat-up rusty car and we never went to Disneyland. Raising three kids on a train repairman's salary was rough - but they did it with grace and dignity for as long as they could (divorce in 1979 shattered everything, but that is a story for another time).

What is poverty?

I loved our big old house and the surrounding chaos of the train tracks, the big rushing river and all that wilderness.

I had all the toys I could possibly want and remember colorful exciting christmases, birthdays, halloweens with home-made awesome costumes and easter egg hunts. I loved school and didn't even mind the stupid Sunday school so much.

We ate fresh produce from the garden and home-made healthy food, our clothes never had missing buttons, mom was always there for scraped knees with a kiss and a bandage... and oh, that time I got my first "real" bike.. shiny brand new pride and joy! Secure a playing card on the spokes with a clothespin and you have yourself a roaring cycle!

We didn't have computers, cellphones or metal detectors in our school. We learned to read and write using our brains, not cheat tools. How often do we send (and receive) hand-written letters nowadays? Mailboxes are for bills and flyers - there is no heart there anymore.

Parents did not negociate with children, they were leaders and mentors who were to be respected, not talked back to or kicked in the shins. My world was a big friendly place where neighbors watched out for one another and all pitched in during difficult times. Nobody thought to poison halloween candy and TV shows did not need to be censored.

I dunno, seems to me that things were so much easier back then. What are today's kids really getting "more of" that we didn't have 30 years ago? Are we bettering ourselves as a society or are technology and rabid consumerism ruining it for everyone?


Invincible Yang said...

People's lives become vacuums that they fill with 'stuff' - and there's probably no satisfaction once they have said 'stuff'. It's like housing over here, people get a house and then are already looking at the next size up, or what they can afford to get in a few years time.

We're constantly bombarded with messages to this effect - get this car, get this phone, look at this new tv, wear this label, buy now never be happy always strive for more. Nobody really knows why we do it - I don't know any lasting happiness that came from stuff. "Yay I got that new laptop I've been waiting for... oh, it's just a laptop." or "Yay new car - I've been wanting this for years. Look at the air conditioning and the lights on the dash.... hmmm, it's just a car"

'Stuff' is addictive - I'm trying to shake the habit myself, but it's not easy. We were the first targeted generation for advertising, and now two generations on they are finally getting a bit of protection. The generation before us are the ones that were really nailed and unprotected.

As for kids and their lives - I expect our parents said the same about us, and I expect their parents said the same about them. I think it's just the generation gap kicking in :)

rs27 said...

Disneyland is not that great. You didn't miss out.

Technodoll said...

Yang, totally agree about the "stuff". It chokes the life out of everything!

Generation gap... I dunno. It's not as safe for kids today in this world as it was a few decades ago, IMO... some things have gone terribly wrong :-(

rs27, can you believe I never even wanted to go? Give me a camping trip instead, anytime.

Invincible Yang said...

I dont think it's less safe - I just think there is more media exposure to the bad things. I saw some study that showed that child abductions and such had been pretty much consistent over the decades - it was the paranoia that increased. Not sure what effect the internet has had on that figure though - all the kiddie porn must whet the appetite of the freaks that maybe would have held back before. :(

Disneyland sucked - Six Flags LA rocked when I was a kid :)

Technodoll said...

Sure there is more media exposure... feeding the troughs that whelps more freaks than ever before, I suspect.

Ex: porn was hard to get a hold of back then - you had to buy it from someone behind the counter, magazine wrapped in brown paper. Now? It's on public TV on a Saturday morning or a click away on the internet. And nevermind child pornography... ugh.

Parenting now has been widely substituted by video games, 450-channel cable TV and laptops in the car. 6-mth old babies being raised by strangers in daycares. Those are the things that bother me the most about the current state of affairs, I think.

I love women's Lib and technology, don't get me wrong. But it just unbalances other things IMO.

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail right on the head! This sounds just like my childhood. Those were the days. If I ever have kids, this is how I wish they'd could grow up. But I know with computers, video games, cellphones, etc. Those innocent times are long gone.

Technodoll said...

1218, we're just lucky to have been one of the last few to have enjoyed such childhoods. Hang on to those memories!

TeriM said...

Good post. My childhood sounds very familiar to yours (although I did get a disneyland trip and it was amazing!). I also believe it is soooo much harder for kids today, they don't really seem to get the time to gradually mature before they are hit with sex, schedules, and violence :(. It makes me sound old but it will definately be an interesting generation to watch.

Prin said...

I didn't go to disneyland either. Only I didn't have the mom for scraped knees. Um... What was my point again? lol

What bothers me is when did school become a business for kids? They've got all their extra curriculars and no free time at all. I guess that makes up for the lack of parent presence...

Video games + kids = fat town. No thank you.