Thursday, November 11, 2010

Monkey-Eating Crocodiles

            Our kids are growing up in a significantly different world than the one I grew up in. Ecologically. Politically. Culturally.
            Some things bother me more than others. The ecological damage that’s been done in the last thirty years seems irreparable. As soon as we drive out into the wilderness, the devastation that the pine beetle has wreaked is immediately evident – massive swathes of trees are standing dead, a burnt orange in color, and helpless to survive the onslaught caused by rising temperatures.
            One day I was playing out in my mind the conversation I’ll inevitably be having with my kids.
            “I remember when these trees were all green, as far as the eye can see.” I’ll say to them whistfully.
            “Wow, Dad!” my kids will exclaim.
            “Yep. It was pretty amazing back then.”
            What’s odd to me is that the areas I’m most saddened about are the ones barely anybody sees. Like the big island of plastic garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean that’s way larger than the state of Texas. I think what bugs me is that we have a sort of group-cultural agreement to not be bugged by stuff that’s not right in front of us. The problem is, every living creature in the sea is eating little particles of plastic (which never fully break down), and as I learned in the sixth grade, big fish eat little fish, birds eat big fish, and people eat everything. We’re eating plastic.
            I think plastic and corn syrup explain why America is getting fatter. Corn syrup, because it’s in literally every packaged food out there and it’s terrible for you. Plastic, because we’re daily ingesting more little particles of the stuff, and since the body can’t process it, it forms a fat cell around it.
            I get upset when I think that I’m bringing my kids into a world that’s been vandalized so badly. Although I know that it’s a time of great freedoms and prosperity, which I’m thankful for. A hundred years ago people lived a much more difficult life than today. But I’m bothered by the political polarity in this country. I don’t remember it being so aggressive when I first left for Canada fifteen years ago.
            And it seems like people are trying to protect their kids far more than anyone of us ever dreamed when we ourselves were kids. Nowadays, you’ve got to be in a car seat till you’re ten or something. Back then, not only did we not have car seats, we didn’t use seat belts! We would play “steamroller” in the back of the van and engage in full wrestling tournaments, group dog piles, or one of my favorites, hide-and-seek (yes, we actually did manage to find some good hiding spots in a twelve-passenger van, believe it or not).
            I’m a bit more laid back about the whole seat belt thing than Michelle is. If it were just me, I’d let the kids run around here and there like in the old days. But Michelle’s argument is that we know so much more now, and we can keep our kids safer, so why would you go back?
            Part of her argument comes from personal experience, knowing people personally who were in car accidents without seatbelts, and how it destroyed their lives. I get that, and I respect it. But even so, I wonder where we draw the line.
            I used to walk to school almost a mile in the second-grade. That’s six years old! I couldn’t imagine that, today. A six-year old walking alone almost a mile to school on a cold winter day? Preposterous!
            Back then we grew up quickly, and learned to take care of ourselves. Nowadays, our culture is trying to somehow protect kids far beyond what seems reasonable to me. I see it in the books they’ve rewritten for our times. Take for instance, the age-old nursery rhyme Ring Around the Rosie.
            The new versions of this rhyme don’t say, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” Instead, it’s, “A-Tishoo, A-Tishoo!”
            What the heck is a tishoo?
            I don’t know, but I still read it to Celia, because that’s what’s on the page. And I know they’re just trying to protect our little kids from knowing about the Bubonic Plague and how they had to burn dead people’s bodies so it wouldn’t spread. That was the inspiration behind the original.
            But seriously, you can’t stop them – kids will learn both versions, no matter how hard a parent tries to prevent it. Yesterday when I went to pick up Celia from daycare, there she was singing the song with two other girls. And of course, they were all shouting with glee, “Ashes! Ashes!”
            When I saw them I smiled, for two reasons. First, because they were so darn cute! But second, because I never taught her the ashes version, and even so, the first time I hear her saying the rhyme out loud, there it is. I laugh because I don’t really think it matters, to be honest. I want my kid to grow up, not live some overly protected life.
            And although sometimes I laugh about it, this protective, fearful approach to parenting can get pretty annoying to me. Michelle brought home a book about the five little monkeys sitting in a tree, teasing Mr. Crocodile, “Can’t catch me!” Along comes Mr. Crocodile, and snap! Four monkeys…
            I thought, “Hey, this is great! I remember this one.”
            But when I got to the end, instead of Mr. Crocodile beaming with huge crocodile teeth that he ate all those little monkeys because they were playing with fire and messing with the wrong reptile, it turned out the monkeys were disappearing because they were scared. And when they all showed their faces again their mom made them apologize to Mr. Crocodile (I’m not kidding!), followed by a lovely little picnic in the park (I’m not making this up!).
            When I got to the end, I got irate. Seriously irritable. With our world crumbing around us, and more political tensions in the air than ever, here we are trying to protect our kids, from what? From the monkey-eating crocodiles of life? Seriously? I don’t get it.
            Then and there I swore never to read the end of the new version to my kids. It’s a crazy world out there, and I want my kids to know about it. Those monkeys are going to get eaten! That’s the story, and I’m sticking to it!
            Mr. Crocodile, 1. Monkeys, 0.
            Now, onto the next cultural battle.

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