“Well we’ll go swimming every day
No time to work, just time to play
If your folks complain, just say,
It’s summertime.” — Summertime, Summertime; The Jamies
Lately I’ve seen several Facebook posts waxing nostalgic about the way things were back in the good old days. You remember… our moms shoved us out the door and told us, “Go play.” We were outside except for the occasional bathroom break, or our lunch of boloney sandwiches on white bread and later, our dinner. After dinner, we were off again, until the street lights went on. Conventional wisdom, at least from those of us who lived back then, tells us that we had a better childhood than kids today. We made our own fun, remember? We rode our bikes through the streets, hung by our ankles form the monkey bars imbedded into concrete, caught lightning bugs and kept them in jars, and played baseball in the street, using the storm sewers to indicate the bases.
Yeah, life was simpler then, and some of today’s kids seem over-programmed. But were things really better when kids were left to their own devices, making up their own ways to pass the time? I’ve thought quite a bit about this in the last few days, as we’ve gone from one grandkid activity to another. While I’d like to see the new generation have some alone time to create their own fun, I’m happy to see kids actively involved in anything that they love, getting some attention and guidance along the way.
Last week our grandson Owen went to a school-district-sponsored percussion camp. In one short week, ten-year-old Owen learned some fundamentals about playing the drums, memorized some pieces of music like the Harry Bellefonte classic “Mary Anne”, and performed in front of an audience, including his very impressed parents and grandparents. After, he explained to us that while he was playing the steel drums, he experimented with pounding versus tapping, and discovered how to vary the sound. So, during the concert, he improvised to get the effect he wanted. Owen, who is also an oboist, now has a basic understanding of how to play some percussion instruments, a new sense of accomplishment, and a desire to learn more. He knows more about drumming than anyone else in the family, and can articulately explain what he knows. I’m pretty sure that no kid in my neighborhood back in the day knew diddly-squat about playing the drums. Where I grew up, music lessons were generally out of reach, and the schools sure didn’t provide lessons, either. Musical talents often died on the vine for kids who may have possessed a smidge of aptitude or interest.
On Saturday, at the Paramount Theater in Aurora, we were enthralled by a troupe of young dancers, especially our own little performer Francesca. I was teary-eyed seeing her energy and talent bubble over to the tunes “Stay” and “Who Loves You, Pretty Baby.” Yes, she can kick her leg straight up over her head. Such poise, confidence, talent, and most importantly, joy! What must it be like to be so good at something? To express oneself so beautifully through dance? To synchronize with your fellow dancers in a beautiful pattern? To hear the roar of the audience applauding and cheering? To know that you are truly accomplished, that you possess a talent that sets you apart? To understand that those hours of practice to make it all perfect pay off in the end? Francesca may have little time for just hanging around, but, oh, she’s gained so much more. Even at age nine, this young lady has a passion and a confidence that few of those olden-days kids ever experienced.
Today’s kids, at least those around here, can go to science camp, act in a community theater production, learn improv, develop computer skills, tackle a foreign language, volunteer at the Naper Settlement, join a library book club, create art, hone their skills in any sport imaginable to fill their summer months. Some of these activities are pretty pricy, but our community has lots of free or inexpensive things to do. Can kids be too busy? Sure. But I would have happily given up all my jars of lightning bugs for the opportunity to test uncharted territories to discover what I might have been good at, to uncover a passion lying dormant. Who knows? Maybe Broadway has just muddled along for decades without my name on their marquees. Or not.