Friday, March 11, 2005

Parental Advisory: Adults Only

I've had a sneaking feeling since writing my previous post that my parents think I've made them out to be nothing more than gin-drinking, cigarette-smoking, hard-partying, neglectful ne'er-do-wells. Nothing could be further from the truth.

They used to be gin-drinking . . . just kidding, Mom and Dad!

I have a head full of wonderful stuff they did with and for my brother and me. A. A. Milne at bedtime. Games of horse around the basketball hoop. Leaf bonfires in the fall. Walking to my first day of kindergarten with my mom. Watching my dad, dressed as Santa Claus, hand out gifts to our Cub Scout pack. Car trips to the Rockies, and then to the east coast in the momentous year of 1969 (on the car radio: "Good Morning, Starshine," and "In the Year 2525," and "Yummy Yummy Yummy"). And on and on.

But my parents also gave us the gift of being adults themselves, of having a portion of their lives into which the kids weren't invited, even though they themselves were quite young. This part of their identities was always a source of wonder to me.

As I said, when they had parties, my brother and I would sit at the top of the stairs, and listen to them tell stories about people we didn't know, tell jokes we didn't get, and laugh and sometimes argue about things we didn't understand. They drank martinis and smoked cigarettes. The men wore coats and ties and smelled of aftershave, and the women wore cocktail dresses, and makeup, and perfume, and high heels. Sometimes we were allowed to stay up and greet the guests in our pajamas, and then we were sent off to bed. The whole thing was absolutely mezmerizing, acutely adult, and also somehow intensely comforting.

Because if your parents are free to be fully adult, then you are free to be fully a kid. And you can't really beat that, can you?


Chewie said...

"But I'm pretty sure that, as kids, we had a lot more fun playing games, without our parents looking over our shoulders, than today's kids do at their highly-organized games."

I think you summed it up nicely here. You can see the anxiety in kids' eyes when they carry the full responsbility for entertaining the adults with their activities. It puts far too much pressure on them. Kids don't have enough time to just be with other kids nowadays. There's always a klatch of parents hovering, imploring them to sing the song they learned in chorus, or giving them unsolicited advice on how they can do a given activity "better". It surely takes all the fun out of the activity before kids even get to find out if they like it or not.

It seems we now depend on our children to act as social lubricant -- an unfair burden on them. Those cocktail party days will never return, but I know a lot of kids who would thrive with much less "attention" and "involvement" from their parents, and a lot of adults who should find hobbies outside of their childrens' soccer careers.

The world would do better if adults learned to talk to each other again and as you said, let the kids be kids.

Correct me if I misrepresented what you were saying.

David Wharton said...

You've got it about right, Chewie, and I'm one of those hovering parents, too. We have to walk a fine line, encouraging our kids to do things that are good for them without sticking our noses in too far.

But the days when kids had the "joy of doing nothing" -- just goofing off -- seem pretty much gone, too.