Saturday, September 3, 2011

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

I grew up on a farm. Our nearest neighbors were about half a mile down the dirt road which went past our house. In between the houses were rolling fields, apple orchards, and cows. Or perhaps I should not use the past tense- little has changed since then. My parents are retired to that house, but the kids who used to play in that neighborhood have all grown up and moved away (except me- I've moved away, but I've never grown up.)

I remember wanting a Big Wheel, and then REALLY wanting a Green Machine. But by then I was old enough to ride a bike, so these two wonderful toys were never to be part of my life. Born too late, I guess. But enough about me. Can someone out there please tell me what the modern equivalent of a Big Wheel or a Green Machine is? What toy is being heavily marketed which encourages kids to spend large amounts of time in the great outdoors, working their legs furiously to get that breeze really blowing in their faces? What is being marketed for kids which encourages sweating, shortness of breath, flushed faces and a good night's sleep when the day is done?

I mean, I know that there are a lot of products out there which encourage children to sit their butts down on chairs and stare at screens. Fine motor skills are enhanced by hand-held controllers and keyboards. I can remember, clear as day, the afternoon my father brought home a kite for us to fly over the large, March-damp field across the road from the house. (One day, the string broke and we watched it fly away. A few days later, we spotted it on a neighbor's porch while walking home from the bus stop.) I can remember, like it was yesterday, the day my mother came home with my first bicycle, stuffed into the back seat of our Volkswagen Bug. I wonder how long today's kids will remember the day they got that PS3 or XBox. I wonder if they'll remember specific games they played, like I remember desperately peddling home from a friend's house, trying to beat the sun which, on summer days, I thought would NEVER set.

I think Big Wheels are still on the market- don't know about Green Machines. But if they aren't, I can't believe it's because they are no longer attractive to kids. I have to believe instead that they aren't as attractive to lazy, frightened, helicopter parents as the game system which keeps Little Hunter and Little Cody (actual commercial kid names) docile and "safe" in the family rec room. So Mom and Dad know where the children are in between feedings of Kraft Mac'n Cheese. And they know that the children aren't getting their clothes dirty.

They are, however, outgrowing those clothes. Quickly. Maybe I was born to late for Big Wheels and Green Machines, but at least I can be thankful that I was born too early to Storm the Castle with a click of a mouse. Because I can remember doing it with a snowball in my hand. Much better.


  1. Nicely written!

    I lived in a suburban cul-de-sac neighborhood for about three years, back in the early 70's. The Big Wheels would roar across asphalt and sidewalk for hours on end. It's a sound etched into memory. I think the Green Machines came around the year after I left that enclave. It cleverly tried to keep the children who had been Big Wheelers engaged as customers. Thing is, eight, nine, ten are years when a kid gets his bike. I got mine at eight -- a nice Huffy from Sears. Children climb onto razor scooters now. They still bike around like mad, and they skateboard with vengeance. It's not all lost; It's just become more violent. When my generation wasn't out losing breath or digging forts we were on the floor watching TV or up in our rooms playing with radios, Visible Men, train sets, and of course - books. I think it's adults who plop down, once, in front of their computers and then never get up.

  2. I think that when they do do an autopsy on playing outside and getting messy, the coroner's report will read that the cause of death is sensationalist-media induced helicopter parenting. While I by no means intend to trivialize the sorrow of those whose children have died at the hands of predators or due to mischance, it seems to me that the boys and girls down at Action News Whatever are so busy being hysterical For The Ratings that they do more harm than good.