I was recently watching a few commercials distributed by Hebrew National hot dogs, and they got me to thinking about how times have changed. They’re actually pretty funny (though I’m not sure that the whole “strict” theme works), but also, slightly sad. Yes, this is going to be one of those, “things were better in the olden days,” type of posts.
One of the commercials centers around the idea that modern Moms no longer have the leisurely time to prepare a family dinner and sit down at the table, due to the fact that their kids have an abundance of activities (which require Mom taxi). And, while true, and likely irreversible, it’s a little sad that the family dinner at the table has become an archaic practice. While it’s great that there are so many more things with which a child can become involved (and, thus, the entire family), it makes one wonder what we all did when we were kids, when soccer and karate hadn’t yet been invented.
I recently had a conversation regarding swimming pools, and the fact that parents want them for their kids, and the kids don’t appreciate them. I mentioned the fact that there are a million other distractions for kids these days, things that make them more than happy to stay in their rooms. I noted that, when we were kids, the pool was pretty much the only entertainment you had. That, and the neighborhood. There were no video games, there was certainly no hanging about and yapping on the phone all day (more on that in a bit), you were pretty much forced to go outside. And you had to be home in time for dinner, or else. During the most wonderful, fabulous, carefree days of summer, you would even get to go back outside after dinner (but you did this thing called, “chores,” first…. sweeping the floor, cleaning the table, washing up), and FINALLY reunite with the friends you had seen 2 hours earlier. You would swim, wander around the neighborhood (only to the end of the street) hoping to find dropped coins, or engage in whatever adventure you could design, at least until the street lamps came on.
Sometimes, when you were a little older, and baseball season had started, you could go to the local park, and ogle the boys from your school, and the mysterious foreigners who were from other schools districts. You would wander around, still hoping to find dropped coins, and sometimes be able to afford something exciting at the snack stand, like a bomb pop, instead of the standard, “can I have 27 Swedish fish,” order. And finally, you would wait until the very last minute before running home, trying to come up with fantastical stories as to why you were a minute late.
Now, the other hot dog commercial reminisces about the powerful center of the household, the telephone (well, it’s about “courtship” back in the 90’s, but I’m taking some liberties here). When I was growing up, the kids certainly didn’t answer the phone, until they were “older.” The telephone was Parent/Older Kid Territory. And it was always answered. There were no answering machines or call waiting or caller ID back in the Olden Days, which kind of sucked, because you never knew what you were gonna get when you picked up. I remember that, as kids, you were taught that if you were home alone for some rare/strange reason, you never answered the door if the doorbell rang, and if someone called, you were coached to say that your mother was in the bathtub and that the person should call back. You never said, “my mom isn’t here,” because of course, kidnappers/killers would be immediately at your door the moment they knew you were alone.
There were many rules regarding the cherished telephone, involving the fact that your friends, and you, should never call someone during dinner time. You would get in trouble if your father had to interrupt his meal to answer the phone, and sometimes, the person would be told to call back after dinner. You didn’t always get to talk to whoever was calling, because, by golly, dinner was in progress, and how rude of someone to call at such a time. You also didn’t call after 8:00 if it was a school night (and you were young— like, up to age 12, probably), and you would be mortified if the phone rang, and it was for you (God forbid if it was a boy), and it was 7:59, and your parent would say that you were in bed. Because of course, the cool kids were all staying up to watch t.v. all night long, and you were the only one forced into her room at such an early hour.
Along with that came the fact that if a boy was calling, he really did have to ask “permission” to speak to a girl. Which is why that commercial is priceless…. the poor kid sweating it out, asking permission to speak to the daughter, and the father sitting right next to the girl on the couch, listening in. Now, I don’t necessarily think we have to stick to that rule completely, but there is something to be said about the fact that the daughter was cherished and protected from those hormonal, disrespectful boys who called at 7:59 (“don’t their parents know this is too late??!”), and the idea that the boy had to man up at a young age, and acquire approval for social discourse lasting approximately 3 minutes. I actually made Spenser do this when he was about 6 or 7, as I was flabbergasted at the idea that some hoochie girl had given him her phone number (“does her mother know that she’s giving out her phone number!!??”) (“and what do you intend to speak to her about??!”). I actually called the girl’s home and spoke to the father, and told him that my son wanted to ask permission to speak to the daughter. He laughed, and surely thought I was joking. But I wasn’t. And Spenser did it.
He thought I was ridiculous, but, too bad. It was part of the education to be at least somewhat respectful to girls, even if their parents didn’t require it.
Anyway, there were a lot of good things about the Olden Days, and I’m only talking about my Olden Days. We’re really missing a lot of things from multiple Olden Days of the past, but I suppose that will be saved for future conversation. In the meantime, if you’ve spent $12k on a pool, force your kids to swim in it at least 3 times this summer. And then make them come in/away from the video games for dinner at the table, promptly at 5:00, just once per week. Share some conversation. Regale them with stories from your childhood, about walking to school uphill both ways, about playing in the snow for hours in the winter, and the importance of learning how to make the right kind of pretend salad out of grass, leaves, and probably some poisonous berries stolen from a neighbor’s yard.
And then wait patiently for 10-25 years to see what they say when their kids are growing up in an easy life of robot maids and motorized sidewalks and meal capsules that can be downed while training their holographic dogs…..