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a year in the life

Having a weblog means having a living, breathing record of your life. It differs from a diary in that I can look at what I wrote on a certain date and see who was here, who left a comment. I can immediately see who has come and gone from my life in the span between then and now.

I'll probably be doing a lot of repeat essays in the next few weeks as my energies are focused elsewhere.

One year ago today I wrote this piece. It still stands, perhaps even more so now.

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.

Comments

When I was 12, I swore that I wouldn't be one of those adults who uttered the phrase "When I was you're age..." I still don't say it, but I think it often enough. Like the other day when I passed the young girl with the pig tails and pregnancy-swollen belly. And the day I overheard a group of teenagers discussing the knife fight that happened in the hallway at school as if speaking of nothing more than the weather. When I enter the courtyard/driveway of my apartment building dodging the little boy who rides his bike in endless circles around the center island, not allowed to venture any further than the entrance to parking garage. Or I see the pictures of young children in foreign lands carrying UZIs.

I grew up in a small, boring town in the mountains of Western Maryland. Nothing ever happened there. I didn't like boys when I was 12. I refused to even think about kissing, let alone have sex with one. The rare fight in school was fought with fists, not knives. You were in the "bad crowd" if you hung out at the Smoke Tree, nobody toked up in the bathroom. Pot was the only drug around, and it was like a distant relative that you only saw once a year. Our locker searches were for missing fire extinguishers, not guns and bombs. The teachers all knew our names and the names of our brothers, sisters and parents. My senior English teacher taught everyone in my family--mom, dad, aunts, uncles and cousins. The football game on Friday night was the big event of the week, and it only cost two dollars to get in. A dollar for students, kids under 12 got in free. All the money went into fresh coats of paint and new lawn mowers.

I hated that town and couldn't wait to get out.

Now when I go back to visit, I hear of drug busts at the school, of a girl who ODed and died in front of her math class. The kids can't carry backpacks and aren't allowed to open their lockers except in the morning, at lunch and at the end of the day. A freshman was expelled for dealing crystal meth on school property. There is now daycare for students with babies. It costs five dollars to get into the game now. Seven-fifty if you're not a student. Kids under six get in free.

I was wrong. This is the town that I hate. But this is the one that I visit. The other one only exists in my memories of Kick-the-Can, King-of-the-Hill and snow forts lining both sides of the road and filled with myriad groups of kids, teens, parents and family dogs.

I'm thirty. I still don't like boys all that much, but they have their moments of appeal. I don't have children yet. I'm scared of what they will see that will bring about the stark contrast of their own childhoods and make them think "When I was your age..."

Children may be older, and better educated-- or better INDOCTRINATED, depending upon your view-- but they are not wiser.

That's what makes it such a damnable crime. They are being saddled with adult concerns and adult responsibilities before they are ready to bear them or even understand them... why? Because so many adults have failed in their responsibility to BE adults, and make the world safe enough for kids to be kids.

Are human beings suddenly a new species in 20, 30 years? No. Our parents, contrary to our own self-serving egotistical illusions, were not more innocent or naive than we are now. The world was JUST as full of potential danger back then as it is now. If our parents could make the streets safe for children back then, then it is certainly within our capabilities today.
We could lock up the child molestors and violent criminals and KEEP them locked up.

We could conclude that adults should act with adult constraint, and that children have no damned business diddling about in the grownup world of sex in the first place, so why the hell are the schoolteachers trying to sexualize them before they've even hit puberty?

We could conclude that ADULTS are in charge of cleaning up the planet, not ten year olds, and that Woodsy Owl and Smokey Bear were all the enviro-awareness that preadolescent children need.

But rather than demand adult responsibilities from adult society, we dump all the worries and care on the children... so that we can go out and play rather than be the grownups.