Saturday, 8 November 2014

Childhood ain't what it used to be

Son Number Three had a dance in Brampton last night, and youth from all over the GTA showed up in a great turnout. He reported it was great fun. He danced with about seven girls, and then he and a group of friends went into a side room to play Magic (the card game). Some people brought food, others dropped in to say hi, and a good time was apparently had by all.

While I'm delighted he had a good, wholesome time with a group of well-behaved kids, it threw me off a little when he reported how it had gone. When I was young, I hear an elderly voice whisper in my mind, you went to a dance to dance and that was it. You didn't leave halfway through to make your own fun. Even if you cleared it with the adult leaders first. Even if the adult leaders came into the side room to cheer you on. You didn't strike out and do your own thing; you followed expectations, even if they were just your own expectations.

It got me thinking about expectations in general, and how life is very different for my son than it was for me. I lived within walking distance of everything and everyone, and I knew every person in every house in my neighbourhood. My son, on the other hand, has to bus to seminary, bus to school, and his friends all live a distance away, some even in different cities. "Game" to me meant board games, jacks, or maybe playing Four-Square in the driveway with my siblings. "Games" for my son means a solitary activity played in the basement wiggling one's thumbs. When I wanted to do something with a friend, we got permission, made arrangements in advance, and carried out the plan. Now kids just sort of fall into things, making only vague plans and letting things develop as they will. I would come home from school confident in the fact that my mother would be there, sewing or cooking or painting or reading or doing one of the million other things she did. My son usually comes home to only two anxious dogs waiting for him. (Well, not so since my older son returned home and my husband was laid off work--now he's likely to walk in to a kitchen smelling of freshly-baked biscotti. I love it when my husband is home...but that's another topic for another day.) I remember being responsible for daily chores, animal feeding, and Saturday jobs. I admit my third son has managed to slip under the radar a bit and--though perfectly willing to help out--has to be asked. His room is kept how he likes it, food manages to make its way into the basement, and even though he has known how to do laundry since he was eight, I still somehow end up doing it. (How did this happen? I blame his older brothers for wearing me out and wearing me down, so that by the time Number Three came along, I'd lost the energy to enforce anything.)

I have had to come to terms over the years with the knowledge that my children's childhoods will not be the same as mine. They will have their own memories, their own ups and downs, and their own experiences. But even while I know this, there's that persnickety part of me that says "But their childhoods won't be as good as mine! They should be like mine! That's the only really valid way of experiencing childhood that there is!" Does anyone else find themselves thinking that? How can my kids possibly be happy or turn into proper adults unless they follow the exact path I did? How can they have meaningful lives if they don't grow up on the steady input of sloppy joes, summers on the farm, games of Nertz, and boisterous family reunions that I did? I mean, really....

And then I look at them and how they are turning out--responsible, intelligent, hard-working, funny, and personable, with eclectic tastes and a wide variety of interests...and hair colours...and their own distinct style for doing things--and I think they must be turning out okay after all. I like who they are turning out to be. I genuinely enjoy their company. I guess maybe that's the best measure, even if they got here by a different route than I expected or wanted. Against all odds and in spite of having me for a mother, they're turning into fine young men. I can't quite fathom how that's happened.

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