Sunday, November 20, 2011

Just Grow Up - Living a Freer Life

Every generation is different, we all know that.  Technology has been a big player in the way we live our lives and how we gather information.  When I was a kid, we got our news from the newspaper and from the morning/evening news on TV.  There was no internet, no cell phones (at least not ones that could multitask like those of today), no laptops.  You passed information by word of mouth, you used pay phones when you needed to make a call if you were going to be late or if there was a problem.

With the advent of technology we've been able to spread news much faster.  And because of this, there is also a lot of fluff news, filler you could call it.  Not enough "real" news on a day to day business and you've got all these avenues to gather your information.  The news has made us people who live in a sense of fear.

What do I mean by that?  Ok, my generation, the one that grew up in the 70s and 80s, we were what I would consider the last generation to live freely.  We would roam the neighborhood til our parents would call us for dinner - and I'm not talking about doing this at age 10 or 15, but at age 5.  We were responsible for our own actions.  I've no doubt we did some really stupid shit too... actually I can't even say I have no doubt that we did, because we did do stupid shit.  And it's stuff that if my kids did it, I would probably freak out. 

But my kids won't have that opportunity to live so freely.  To run thru fields and suck the honey out of clovers (because if my kid did that I would freak).  To play flashlight tag at night in the neighborhood.  Because I'll be damned if he's going out after dark to play!!  To go ice skating down in the cranberry bogs without an adult - what if he fell in??? 

So what happened to change things?  What happened that has made our generation scared to let our children live?  I believe, it's the advent of faster technology.  Hey, I use it every day so don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming it for destroying lives here.  I'm just saying that because we can spread news faster it's also caused us to become more cautious.  A bit too cautious.

Why?  Well for example, let's talk child predators.  They are out there.  There is no doubt.  But do we really think there has been an increase in child predators over the last 20 years where our children cannot be out of our sights for more than 5 seconds?  My guess is probably not.  But it's the spread of information thru the news channels/internet that has made us more aware.  A bit too aware.  I'm not saying you should just let your kids run wild, but what I'm saying is, what are the odds?  Can they have some more freedom?

What is the reason for this entry you are probably wondering??  Well, it's one I've been wanting to write for a while but hadn't gotten around to.  It's about coddling our kids, a bit too much.  Don't get me wrong.  A little coddling is good.  But this generation doesn't function as independently as our past generations have.  Parents are constantly doing for their kids.  They don't want them to have to experience failure or fear.  In a way it's a good thing - who doesn't want their children to be safe or to have to suffer from disappointment?  We all want the best for them.

But by coddling them too much, are we doing them a diservice?  Have they become so insulated to the real world that they won't know how to function or will they fear everything around them?  That everything they touch may have germs and that every stranger is a bad person waiting to kidnap you?

Speaking of kidnapping, I think that's a mindset that I've changed since being here.  Not everyone is out to steal my kid.  I'm not saying it couldn't happen, god forbid.  But it's not forefront on my mind like it would have been at home.  I lost Aidan in the grocery store a time or two at home and the fear that I felt was unreal.  Here, the people are touchy feely - they constantly touch your child - they walk by you and they give your child a pat on the head.  It's done in kindness, not intrusively. 

So when the nice guy picks up your kid to go down the metro stairs so you can carry your stroller, don't freak out that he's stealing your kid.  He's trying to help.  Its a mindset we used to have a long time ago in the States and one that will make me sad to someday leave here without because I think this kindness is also what makes me feel like my kids are living in a city that's safe.  That they are looked out for.

Back in Feb Josh had to go home to the States for work.  It was a gorgeous week, around 65F here and sunny.  I took the kids down to the boardwalk by the beach with their scooters.  Apparently everyone and their brother had the same idea.  It was crowded, super crowded.  Aidan knows it's ok to scoot ahead a little bit but to stay relatively close.  But I lost him.  I hadn't seen him in a bit and I started to get that panic feeling.  I called him a few times with no response.  Let me just remind you of the fact that NO ONE yells here, I never hear anyone yell at their kids or even for their kids.  So when I'm yelling for Aidan, people are looking at me, but I don't care.  I just need to find him.  I get to the end of the section of walkway and he's not there and now I'm really freaked out.

But do you know what?  I wasn't freaked out that someone kidnapped him which would have been the first thing on my mind at home.  I was concerned because I knew he was lost and that he was probably pretty hysterical trying to find me as well.  And that he didn't know how to find me and the longer he was gone the harder it could be to find him.  But I was not worried about someone stealing him.  We've become a society in the US that lives in fear of the unknown and fear of those outside our "bubbles". 

I've learned a lot about how we over protect our kids since living here in Spain.  It's a different mindset - not good nor bad, but different.  And I think between the two I can hopefully come up with a happy medium.  Because I do think in a way they live a little too free (for me at least) but at the same time, it's reminiscent of my own childhood and something that I want to give to my kids.

Take for example, food.  There are no kids menus here in Barcelona.  Why shouldn't kids eat what the adults are eating?  It often tends to be healthier as well rather than the typical fried chicken nuggets that are often the cuisine du jour for kids eating out experience.  Unless you go to a touristy place like Hard Rock here, you'll be hard pressed to find something just for kids on the menu.  And your toddler, the one who is still using a sippy cup - well there are no sippy cups here, nor are there plastic covered cups.  Your child shall drink from glass like the rest of us.  And you know what?  I have yet to see a kid throw or break said glasses. 

And on that note, they also don't sell sippy cups here with the exception of the first step after you wean from a bottle kind.  After that, it's a cup.  Plates tend to be typical ceramic and not plastic as well. You'll be hard pressed to find snack packs in the grocery store too.  When you go out to dinner, it's as a whole family.  This is where I tend to draw the line.  Dinner here isn't til 8:30 and my kids are long in bed by then.  We've done it a handful of times and they've just about fallen asleep at the table.  But you'll see kids of all ages out with their families well after 11 or 12 here.  Family is family no matter the age. 

Sports are another example though from what some friends have been telling me, some of this is getting more common at home.  Sports are taken very seriously here.  Parents are considered to be an intrusion and interruption for the instructors.  You would think my boys are prepping to play at Wimbleton with how seriously they take it.  And so parents are no longer allowed to watch lessons - something I actually really enjoyed doing.  You drop and run (a term that is an old favorite of mine and Josh's). 

When it comes to sports don't expect much as far as protective gear here.  I'll admit, that's another one that I don't so much agree with.  I've seen kids rollerblading, skateboarding, scootering and biking (including sitting in the basket of their parents' bikes) without helmets.  I can't say that's a freedom that I've given to my kids.  I do think it's essential to have sport safety - why take that risk?  I know our generation didn't use them and I'd like to think we came out pretty good, but what we didn't know didn't hurt us I guess?  We also didn't know that smoking caused cancer so I guess you live and learn right? 

The ones here who use the helmets are the children castellers.  You'll see more about them in my next entry.  But these are kids that climb to the top of human towers and only in recent years have been obligated to wear a helmet.  The castellers put their trust into each other that the children will be safe and they band together at the bottom as a safety net.  That's what we are missing is our safety net at home.  Why shouldn't my kids roam the neighborhood on their own?  All of us know each others cars and would know in a moment if there was a strange car roaming the neighborhood.  Aren't they safe in their own community? 

I remember a family that used to live in our neighborhood that used to let their kids run free and I remember judging them and thinking my god, how could they??  Don't they care?  But they apparently had a more open mind than the rest of us.  Why wouldn't they be safe?  Are the odds stacked that much against us?  Or can we just let our kids be kids and enjoy the perks that go with it?  There must be a happy medium in there somewhere...


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