The other day I was driving my children to school and, in an effort to keep the DVD screen from rearing its ugly head, I took the drastic measure of engaging the four of them in conversation. “You know, when I was your age, I would meet my friends at 7:30 AM in front of my house, and we would all ride our bikes to school.”
To my surprise, rather than being met with a dismissive, “Sure, dad,” the questions started flying.
“Did Grammy and Poppa let you ride all the way to school by yourself? Without an adult?”
“What did you do with your bike helmet when you got to school?”
“Were did you leave your bike?”
For a minute, these simple questions baffled me. Where did I keep my bicycle helmet and bike when I reached school? Why, in the bicycle rack, of course, with all the other bikes. And we just put the helmet on the handle bars or next to the bike – if we had a helmet, which truth be told, we probably didn’t. (Some changes are for the better!)
I understood their confusion as we pulled into school and waited in the drop-off line. I glanced around, searching the school grounds. Not a bicycle rack – or, for that matter, a bicycle – in sight. No wonder my children found the idea of riding a bike to school such a foreign concept.
It’s amazing how much has changed since my first year as director of Camp Takajo in 1989. It’s hardly necessary to go back that far to understand how many significant changes have taken place in our world. As I looked in the rear view mirror at the faces of my children, it dawned on me that my older twins, who turn 11 in June, are older than Facebook, Google and YouTube. They are far more accomplished on the internet than they are on a two-wheeler.
Will today’s parents, including me, look back someday and question the way we raised our children? Will we question our parenting skills? I know I’m not the only one who remembers coming home after school and playing pickup games with my friends until being called in for dinner (usually more than once). I know I’m not the only who grabbed a sled on a snowy day, trudged off with my friends to the biggest hill we could find, and stayed outside until we couldn’t feel our fingers and toes. What I remember is my parents yelling at me to come inside, not go outside!
There is plenty of evidence about the importance of pure, unadulterated play for children of all ages. Is our culture of travel teams and yearlong practice really the best solution for engaging boys and girls in sports? When did it become commonplace for coaches to insist that a child participate in his (or her) drills and practices all year-long to the exclusion of playing other sports? It seems to have become an unwritten rule that if you don’t participate in the prescribed drills and practices, it will hurt your chance of making the team or, at the very least, affect your spot on the team – meaning curtail your playing time. My daughter’s travel soccer team has outdoor practice throughout the winter unless the temperature falls below 32 degrees or there’s an inch or more of snow on the ground. Really? She’s ten.
While I am admittedly a lifelong proponent of the summer camp experience, sending my own children to camp each summer has never had more relevance for me. At Camp Takajo, they are surrounded by towering pine trees at the edge of a majestic lake. They breathe the fresh Maine air and swim in the pristine waters of Long Lake. They have a chance to unwind after a frenetic school year and exult in the pure joy of playing games and spending time with their friends.
As a parent and as a camp director, I beam with pride as I watch all the activities during the summer and listen to all the excited chatter and laughter – of my children and yours!