In the old days - FamilyEducation

In the old days

March 09,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Even though I swore, at some point during our days of early parenting, that I wouldn't be one of those parents who pulls out endless stories about "how it was in the old days" I continually find myself doing just that lately. I did it this weekend when, despite the glorious spring weather and the beckoning backyard, L. refused to get dressed and do anything outdoors. "When I was your age I played outside ALL the time," I told him. "There was no computer, or Nintendo games, or even a room full of toys." I did it too when T. refused to play by herself and, instead, followed me about the house complaining she couldn't play alone and that she needed me to drop what I was doing at that very instant to play an elaborate American Girl game with her. "When I was your age," I told her crossly, "Grandma and Dadad didn't spend hours entertaining me. I had to find my own things to do." And I've done it several times now that dinnertime disputes are already prematurely exploding between the kids about who gets to watch what on our 12-hour drive, and who gets to play with Mama's iPod first, and who gets to decide on which movies we'll rent, and why L. will on no condition EVER agree to watch the Kit Kittredge movie. Scott and I almost spoke in unison on this one last night at the dinner table. "When we were YOUR age we didn't even HAVE DVD players, or laptops, or handheld video games or iPods." The kids turned and looked at us. L. rolled his eyes. "What did you do in the car?" T. asked, her eyes round and interested. And then Scott and I morphed instantly into our parents, and spent the rest of dinner pulling out story after story of how we entertained ourselves on car trips when we were kids; those dull, painful days from years and years ago when kids just spent long car trips doing those unimaginable things like gazing out of the car windows, daydreaming, playing punch buggy, or, god forbid, sleeping. There were no gigantic minivans with seats that kept you far enough from your little sister that you couldn't reach out and poke her constantly; or that gave your big brother enough room to spread out his road maps, so they weren't falling all over your lap and making you hot and grouchy. No cup holders, or cushiony car seats. Come to think of it, there weren't car seats at all. Sometimes we rode unbuckled, sprawled across the back seat or, as I did several times, squished up in protest behind the front seat on the floor of the car. There were no books-on-CD or, when I was very young, books on portable tape, either. Or juice boxes, come to think of it. We didn't have a car radio--a lot of people didn't. We did have lots of car songs, though, and stories to tell, and day dreams to dream. Do you remember those days, too?