Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rites of Childhood My Kids Will Miss


As a parent, I am thankful every day for the wonders of progress and technology. Super-absorbent diapers, child safety seats, powdered baby formula, video monitors, lightweight and portable highchairs – all these things have made my life easier and my kids’ lives safer. But there are a few things from my childhood that I feel like my kids will miss out on because of scientific and technological advancements.

Standing on the hump

Those of a certain generation know exactly what I mean when I refer to “the hump”: that raised tunnel in the center of the backseat of a car. When my parents bought their first new car (when I was about three), I was terribly distressed over the possibility that the new car would not have a hump, since my favorite place to ride was standing on the hump where my short self could peer over the front bench seat and watch the scenery up ahead. My children have spent their childhood safely strapped in their car seats, protected from accidents, but also protected from the wonder of standing on the hump.

Riding in the backwards backseat

When I was a bit older, my parents bought a Plymouth Gran Fury station wagon that could seat 11 (I know this because they still owned the car when I got my driver’s license my senior year of high school – enough said). The best seat in that car was, hands down, the backwards jumpseat. My sister and I would entertain ourselves by making faces at the drivers behind us, trying to get them to wave or honk or laugh or stick out their tongues at us. Sometimes we’d even make signs saying, “HONK!” or “WAVE” or “HELP WE’RE BEING KIDNAPPED” (fortunately for my parents, we could never keep straight faces while holding that one). It’s probably a good thing that my children will never have this experience, but I still regret that they’ll also miss out on that particular piece of mischievous fun.

Recording a family answering machine message

Telephones as I knew them in my childhood will be a complete mystery to my children. They hardly recognize the heavy bakelite table phones with long, curly, perpetually-tangled cords that I grew up with; in just a few years, no doubt any kind of household landline will be as extinct as the dodo bird. There will be no such thing as a phone that is shared by family members, and therefore there will be no opportunity to compose a funny outgoing message with each member of the family saying (or, in my family’s case, singing) one or two lines.

Waiting for a Polaroid picture to develop

Photography has been completely reinvented since my childhood. I remember my excitement the Christmas I received my very first camera: A heavy, bulky, Polaroid One-Step. I can still hear the buzzing hum it made as it spit out the blank piece of film; I can still smell the acrid scent of the chemicals; and I can still remember the thrill of anticipation watching the image slowly appear, the colors morphing into being and the outlines becoming crisp. I remember the almost irresistible urge to touch the picture as it emerged, maddeningly slowly. My kids will never experience the anticipation of waiting to see a picture they’ve taken; it will always be displayed instantly, waiting to be deleted if found wanting.

Watching a slideshow of the family vacation

When I was a kid, there were no slick Powerpoint presentations that neatly flicked through a series of perfect photos at even intervals. We had to sit and patiently wait for Dad to set up the screen, put the projector on a TV tray and adjust the legs so the image was centered on the screen (it never was) and a perfect rectangle (it never was), pull down the window shades and turn off all the lights, then wrestle the tray of slides into place. When the first slide appeared on the screen (usually with the shadow of someone’s head superimposed on it), there was a collective gasp of excitement, followed by a sigh of disappointment as we realized that Dad had put all the slides in backwards and we had to wait for him to rearrange the whole tray. My children will never have the opportunity to see a blurry image of their own dad with his head mostly cut off standing underneath a sign labeled “KRAP ENOTSWOLLEY”.

 But I can console myself that my kids will find ways to have fun that I’ve never imagined. Maybe they’ll put a holographic spider in their teacher’s desk, or go joyriding in the family hovercraft, or reprogram our food generator to spit out nothing but tuna noodle casserole. Technology may change the ways kids have fun, but they will always find a way to have fun.

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