Wednesday, March 9, 2005

The rise of the KOSC

If you are a parent of a child between the ages of conception and 18 years old, you are probably involved in at least one KOSC.

What's a KOSC? There's no reason you should know, since it's an acronym I just made up. It stands for Kid-Oriented Subculture (not to be confused with KOS).

To outsiders, the very existence of many KOSCs is usually imperceptible, or at least impenetrable. That's true of our current KOSC. For example, do you know what a feis is? Can you tell the difference between a slip jig and a treble reel? Between a school dress and a solo dress? I know these things because my daughters are Irish dancers. I had no idea how deeply I would be involved in the Irish dance KOSC when I first heard the seemingly-innocent question, "Dad, can I take dance lessons?" Of course, sweetie. How big a deal can a few lessons be?


After trips to feiseanna all over the southeast, after performances at schools, malls, and ladies' clubs, after countless pairs of soft and hard shoes worn out or outgrown, after school dresses, Irish dance CD's, curly wigs, headbands, knee socks, sock glue, dress bags, and travel duffles had been bought, traded, and re-sold, I learned that it is a very big deal indeed. And until two years ago, I had no idea that this subculture existed.

But Irish dance is only our latest KOSC. I know how to win the Pinewood Derby (Cub Scouts), how to get ten boys to build birdhouses all at the same time (Webelos), how to tie a bowline knot (Boy Scouts), and when to disqualify a swimmer for an illegal backstroke turn (swimming). I've attended many hours -- sometimes days -- of special training in order to participate in these KOSCs. We've also joined the gymnastics KOSC, the kiddie soccer KOSC, the Suzuki violin and cello KOSCs, and the horsebackriding KOSC.

Many parents are deeply involved in sports KOSCs like classic soccer, lacrosse, little league, etc. and function as coaches, assistant coaches, officials, or chaperones, in them. Some KOSCs are quite loosely organized but still powerful There's a KOSC of elementary-school birthday parties, for example, whose expensive conventions parents are expected by their kids to live up to. Most parents start participating in KOSCs even before their kids are born, in the childbirth KOSC, and then keep on going from there: playgroup KOSC, preschool KOSC, and so on. And then of course there' s the PTA.

KOSCs are big business. Almost every KOSC requires uniforms or outfits, accessories, lessons, and fees. If you add up all the dresses, shoes, wigs, bags, helmets, swimsuits, goggles, instruments, checks to teachers / associations, competition fees, and travel, I think it we're talking about a year of tuition and fees at Duke (where my children will go over my dead body, by the way).

KOSCs are nothing new, but it seems that they are much more pervasive and highly-organized than when I was a kid. For example, my dad was a scoutmaster, and my parents took me to music lessons, and attended some recitals and performances. They went to my school plays. They did everything that parents of their generation were expected to do.

But they never once drove me to a sporting event or watched me play a game.* My friends and I played baseball, football, and basketball in empty lots and driveways. We also played army, kick the can, freeze tag, capture the flag, and countless free-form games of danger and violence throughout the neighborhood. When it was time for us to come home, my mom stepped out the front door and blew a whistle.

My parents' social lives weren't dominated by KOSCs as ours are. I remember my parents having parties that involved real adult activities like drinking gin martinis, smoking cigarettes (my mother would set them out in bowls), playing cards, and singing bawdy song until the wee hours. They had friends who sometimes used colorful language, who argued about religion and politics, and who made up later. They told funny jokes that you don't tell to kids, and enjoyed each other immensely. (It was my brother's and my exquisite pleasure to eavesdrop on their revels from the top of the stairs.) Few of their friends were KOSC friends. That's not true of us.

I don't think modern, KOSC parents are better than the older generation, nor worse. 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'd like my kids to have that kind of fun and independence, too.

The trouble is, we did some other things as kids that our parents didn't do when they were kids, and I think many of us are terrified that our kids will do those same things. Hence the rise of KOSCs.

Well, I'm off to take the girls to Irish dance practice, and after that, to a track meet. KOSC on, parents.

*Clarification: Of course my parents would have taken me to games, had I been interested in organized sports. But I wasn't, and they (blessedly wise) never pressured me to join any.


Joe Guarino said...

And I expect when the activities cease, and they are gone elsewhere, we will miss them terribly.

David Wharton said...

Yes, I know we will. I hope I didn't give the impression that I don't like KOSC activities with my kids, because I love them.

Anonymous said...

David, this is really a fun read. Would you be interested in submitting it as a Personal Ad in the News & Record? These are columns by readers that run on Tuesdays in the Life section.

Anonymous said...

You can email me at

Anonymous said...

You can email me at

Anonymous said...

OHMYCELTICGODDESS! She just grew all the way out of her hard shoes, 10 days before a feis! Her huge wig just arrived in a 4"x4" box and EXPLODED out of it when opened and she just learned her "slow" treble jig (which has faster steps) to replace her "fast" treble jig (which has slower steps) and oh, dang, you just reminder me that we need sock glue AND shoe tape before the next feis in 8 days!!! Hey, I USED to have a life *laugh*!!! Got to love it!!!