summer of 12
summer of 12
12 then and 12 now are worlds apart.
12 then was blissful ignorance.
12 now is the weight of the world.
When I was 12 my summer days were spent barefoot in my backyard, alternating between the pool and the sprinkler and the blanket on the lawn. I left the backyard only when I heard the tinny ringing of the ice-cream truck. I would run out to the street, hopping like mad from one foot to the other in an effort to not feel the full scorch of the burning blacktop. Al the ice-cream man would hurry us along in a heavy accent. Sometimes we understood him and sometimes we didn't. And sometimes Al was in a talktative mood and he would show us the numbers tattooed on his arm. We would shrug, not really knowing what the story was. We couldn't understand his accent, and even if we did, it seemed like too heavy a story to carry with our melting cones.
Today, 12 means you have read at least three historical fiction stories about the Holocaust. 12 means you would know what the numbers on Al's arm were.
When I was 12 my summer nights were spent in the street, playing kickball with my cousins. Sometimes we played kick-the-can and we would run through the neighbors yards, hiding in their shrubbery and under their porches. We played until we were too tired to run, and then we would walk down to the candy store to buy soda and snacks.
Today, 12 means you can't play in the street because there are too many cars. 12 means your neighbor's lawn is off limits because it was just sprayed with some chemical to make their grass grow greener. 12 means you can't walk to the store at night, because there are too many strangers.
When I was 12 we went to the beach and for family drives and spent leisurely days at the park. We woke up late and watched morning tv in our pajamas until we were shooed outside. Our days were long and unstructured and lazy.
Today's 12 means summer camp or summer school and getting up with the birds. It is structure and bus rides just like the rest of the year. Family drives and trips to the beach are scheduled events. Time is managed. Soccer, baseball, dance, enrichment programs, swim lessons.
When I was 12 I wasn't afraid of the world. Current events in school meant local news, fluff stories, a few science-related pieces. Health lessons centered around hygiene and grooming. Drug education was non-existent. Learning about the environment meant paying attention to don't litter signs.
Today's 12 is frightening. Current events are happening in their own backyard. War and terrorism are part of the daily venacular. Health lessons include segments on AIDS and condoms and learning how to say no. Drug education is imperative. Today's 6th graders know about ozone layers and recycling and toxins in the water.
Today's 12 is better educated than I was. They are more informed. They are better prepared. But they are not the 12 of carefree childhood and innocence. They are somehow older, wiser and a bit more cynical than I ever knew at 12.
Perhaps today's 12 is more prepared to deal with the world than the 12 year olds of my day were. But I still have to lament that their childhood is almost over at an age when it should be in its prime.