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December 20, 2014

A Love Letter to Childhood [Weirddave]

This week is Christmas, so I'm going to forgo Fundamental Concepts just this one time. For those of us who believe, Christmas is a celebration of the love and mercy that God showed us human sinners by sending his own son to die so that we don't have to. For those of a more secular bent, it is a celebration of all that's good and right in the world, regardless of the source. This post is for all of us.

I watched the movie The Sandlot for the first time last week. Halfway through I turned to my wife and said "This is a love letter to childhood". She responded "Your childhood as an American male, my childhood was as a Canadian female". There was no reproach in her statement, just that I was talking about an experience that wasn't wholly shared. Point taken. I am an American male, and I'm writing this from that frame of reference with no apologies. Let me go even further. In this * spit * post-racial, social justice, redistributionist America of 2014, I am a white American male. So the fuck what? I'm writing for EVERY American who is willing to embrace what this country should stand for and can be.


The Sandlot is the story of a group of kids who play baseball in 1962 suburbia. Their whole life revolves around the game, which the narrator classifies many times as simply "ongoing". They have the usual childhood adventures, all of which are tied back to their baseball game. It's idealized, as any myth should be, but the core truth of their experience shines through. They learned teamwork, honor, and friendship through their adventures. I had the same childhood, even though I came along a generation later. My childhood took place in the late 70s and the early 80s.

What did I do in my childhood? I went out. I left the house in the morning, and came home when the porch light went on for dinner.

I remember at 5 or 6 gathering all my courage to throw myself on a sled down the "highest hill in the world! IN THE WORLD, I TELL YOU!". I've been back to that hill since. I'm taller than it now. My wife never tires of teasing me about that whenever we drive by it.

I remember hopping the fence of the neighborhood graveyard, finding the mulch pile behind their maintenance shack and bringing home a pot of hardly withered lilies from the mulch pile for my mom as a gift. She made them bloom and I never told her where I got them.

I remember throwing crab apples into a neighbors swimming pool with my friends, and when it turned out that the homeowner's mother had been swimming at the time, my father spanked me, HARD, with a belt ( he did this two times that I can recall, the other was completely bogus, some asshole up the street told dad that us kids had thrown our baseball bats at him when he rode by on his motorcycle. We hadn't, but dad didn't know that. The salient point is that we were playing baseball together in the street.)

I remember riding my small motorcycle up and down the CSX tracks, from Baltimore City damn near to the Pennsylvania line, completely unsupervised. When I went over the handlebars ONTO MY FACE in the ballast, and split my entire upper lip open, I had to stand the bike up, get it running again, and ride home. To her credit, mom didn't freak out (I was red from neck to toe with blood by that time), but hustled me off to the ER.

I remember blowing my face off with black powder on vacation in Maine.

I remember digging a HUGE hole (I swear we must have gotten it to at least 8X8 and 4 ft. deep) to make the coolest underground fort EVAH with my best friend, and then getting bored with THAT project (too much like work) and just throwing Molotov cocktails into the hole for amusement. (WHOOSH!!)

I remember getting together with same friend and cutting down a tall, TALL pine tree, and not realizing until it was on the way down that OMG THERE ARE POWER LINES OVER THERE! The tree top missed them by maybe an inch.

And so on. I could literally go on for pages.

I'm trying really hard not to turn this into just another old man "get off my lawn" rant, there is a point to my ramblings. My experiences as a child taught me important (you might even say...fundamental) lessons about life. I learned to share. I learned how to rely on people. I learned how to behave in a group setting. I learned that actions have consequences. I learned that I don't know as much as I think I know. I learned to fess up to my sins. I learned to be responsible.

I think this is what used to be called "growing up".

If The Sandlot is a love letter to an idealized childhood, I think it behooves us to ask why idealize such a thing now, what is different? My experiences weren't so different than my father's, or my grandfather's or my great grandfather's. I'll always remember my great grandfather's last words: "Oh, a train!" (He was killed in the 1930s in a small Kansas town where the railroad ran right through the village with no crossing gates. He stepped off of the sidewalk at just the wrong time. I have no idea if those were his actual last words. I suspect they were "Oh, SHIT!").

Kidding aside, as a kid I'm sure he played hard on the great American prairie. My Grandfather did the same. So did Dad. I played the same games in the green woods of the Mid-Atlantic. Cops and Robbers, Tag, Cowboys and Indians, War. We went out and made the world our childish oyster. The world was our pet, and it followed us along obediently. In the process, however, we learned all of the lessons I stated above.

Now?

I have two kids. Big is 20 and Little is 10. Did/do they have the same childhood? Perhaps, to an extent, Big more than Little, kids are kids after all, but today Little's games revolve around a virtual world. Not completely, but that's just because I make a point of pushing him out into the real world, if he had his druthers he'd do nothing but play video games.

I'm not knocking the virtual world, I sit here and blather on at y'all after all, pretending that it's important, but I can put it in perspective because of my upbringing. Fostering off our kids to be babysat by the internet or cable TV or YouTube is easy. It's seductive. I recognize this, and resist it, but in my experience many parents don't and completely abrogate their responsibility to raise their kids, leaving it to mass media. I'll admit that I use it to my advantage at times, and I'm ashamed of that. I want time alone so I send Little off to the computer. Now I have time to myself to go to my workshop and do projects that interest me, or to sex my wife, or maybe just to watch the Ravens game. Like I said, it's seductive. Is it better?

No. It is not better. All of those values I spoke of up thread, they're not being instilled in our kids. Because of this, the social fabric of America is unraveling.

Last summer Little made a new friend, Kendall. They spent a lot of time at his house playing video games, but they went out into the woods too. One day Little came home with a long scratch on his arm. "Oh, I got that when Kendall, his brother and I were out in the woods. I fell against a telephone cable that scratched me". I made appropriate noises of sympathy, but I swear to God that I wanted to jump up and down and scream "YES! YES! MY SON HAS BEEN WOUNDED BY THE REAL WORLD!". Isn't that pathetic? In my day that was the norm. I came home one day with no eyebrows because one of those Molotov cocktails we were throwing into our fort hole exploded too close. Nobody even thought it was worth commenting on. Sadly, Kendall has now moved away.

I guess the point of all of this is that we as a people, as a culture, need to take time to consider why a childhood like the one in The Sandlot is idealized. By almost any measure, 1962 was worse than 2014. Here's an interesting article from AEI about that. Still, you don't idealize something that's objectively worse, you idealize something that was better.

What have we lost, and what will it cost us in the long run?

"Progress"

Heh.

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posted by Open Blogger at 12:02 PM

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