all of the selves we Have ever been
Shuffling through my book and papers,
I come across an article, “The Geography of Childhood.”
I reflect on my memories of geography class, and I wonder:
I read on and discover that I am completely off course. The article is about shrinking play areas. Turns out that, today, many children never play outside the confines of their own backyards without parental supervision.
Wow! That is a big change in geography. In Childhood where I grew up, we left the house in the morning with instructions to be back by dinner time or dark whichever came first. Sometimes we wandered back sooner if we were hungry or if the population of Childhood had shifted to our own backyard.
Trick-or-treat was always a big deal because things only got started at dark. As pre-teens and teens, we wandered the neighborhood until every single last porch light went out. That could be close to midnight in the suburbs. No one called the police because we were out or because we were teenagers. Back then, teens were part of Childhood too.
We played outdoors rain and shine. We were really good at getting dirty. There was no professional lawn care back then, so we could munch on grass and clover without risk of death or brain damage. We found a thousand uses for dandelions. The only pest control business in town was the fifty kids chasing lightening bugs on summer evenings.
None of us had an entire set of anything. We imported and exported and used our natural resources. It was also known as sharing. We made our way to an empty lot or big back yard. One kid brought a bat. Someone else had a ball. We scrounged from nature to come up with the bases, and we shared gloves. Someone might use my roller skates while I rode her bicycle. The clouds were free for a lengthy viewing and so were the stars. We didn’t have folding chairs and rolled up mats. We had our play clothes, and we stretched out on our backs.
Further shuffling of the items on my shelf brings me to an old book about nature-deficit disorder. Turns out the problem is not just shrinking outdoor space, but also limited time spent outside. I’m no scientist, but I think there might be a relationship between time and space. And what about kids who don’t even have backyards? They might need intensive care.
The nature-deficit disorder author reports that he spoke to groups of children asking them why they didn’t play outside more often. Many of the children replied that they didn’t play outside because there weren’t enough outlets.
Back in the day when Childhood was a simple, old frontier town, outlets had nothing to do with electricity. The word was associated with the many ways children dispensed with their own energy outdoors. Grown-ups did not want those outlets in their houses. That kind of power resulted in damaged furniture and pictures falling off the walls.
I have seen evidence of the changing science and geography of Childhood. For years I have driven through neighborhoods on beautiful summer days and never seen a single child. Are they becoming extinct?
I know I should worry about disappearing polar bears and rhinos, melting ice and climate change, and I do care about those things. But will they matter if Childhood falls off the map? Will there be anyone left to care?