Looking out the kitchen window, I sighted the vestiges of summer play—collected shells, sticks, soldiers. All abandoned to the call of dinner or perhaps a friend. They are frozen, waiting for my twelve-year-old to re-animate them with his young mind and limbs. “Time to put these away for winter,” I thought. And then, “No.”
At that exact moment, I realized: this portion of childhood, the time of open-ended, “Go out and play—and come back dirty!”? It may be behind us by spring. The soldiers and toys part, at least. My little guy is twelve now. For some his age, life has been mostly about screens, texting and perhaps even dating for months or even longer. But I’m an old-school mom. Sure, there’s plenty of screen time, but we’ve also held onto time in nature, just playing. Not throwing a ball or something else that offers structure. The “Come up with something to do. Boring people are bored,” kind of playing. And while I will do my best to continue that aspect of our days, today I recognized that it is fleeting. I could get another year or so. Or there may be months left.
James is my fourth child, which means that I have a familiarity with change. It's pretty much all we do as humans, and we are acutely aware of this as parents. Every time we *know* our children, they change. This is why your 70-year-old mother says things like, “But you love yogurt?!” Some changes we miss. Some we accept. Others we fight. I’m finding myself fighting this one.
Introspective to a fault, I’ve been exploring the why of my reaction. One thing I’m clear on. I am afraid of this new world of ours, in which young people interact primarily through technology. I am stone-aged. Of course, he is stone-aged too, although he doesn’t know it. The needs of our bodies and minds are no different from those of our ancestors, yet we have moved away from meeting them--even those as basic as exposure to daylight and moving our bodies. I read and hear first-hand about depression in very young people and want to arm my child with every possible tool. The irony is in knowing that the best tool I can offer him is to limit those that society compels him to crave--the phone, the laptop, the iPad. Communication with peers, entertainment, checking and doing homework: all involve technology. None happen while hiking. Or building with rocks and sticks. His primal needs are in direct conflict with the life he’s stepping into. Yes, that’s my fear.
What will it take? What am I willing to sacrifice to minimize this risk? What is the best path for us? I have no answers.
I’ll begin with leaving out the soldiers and sticks. To tempt him. To remind me: live stone-aged. If only for these months, or moments.