Excuse Me, Can Someone Direct Me to the Great Outdoors?

I have just finished listening to Bill Bryson's book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, which is a memoir of his childhood growing up in the 50's and 60's in Des Moines, Iowa.  That combined with a recent serious illness of one of my favorite teachers from high school really got me thinking about my own childhood, growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, not quite middle America, but at the time a small Southern town with its own charm and quirks.  It has since been invaded by Yankees (yes, Southerners still refer to them as Yankees, although it is usually preceded by a more colorful adjective) seeking better climate, cheaper living and a more relaxed atmosphere and has consequently lost a lot of its original appeal, but I digress.

I remember as a child of the 70's and 80's all of the pleasures and pains of being a kid, and now that I have a thirteen year old girl, cannot help but compare them to today's world.  I do not want to turn this into a typical my generation vs. their generation debate, but there are some startling differences in what our experiences were to what the child of today's experiences seem to be.

One thing that I have noticed since starting this blog is that my most interesting stories involve some form of problem, pain, discomfort or mistake on our part.  They also can involve some great pleasure or adventure.  I have noticed that my memories of childhood are similar, in that, the ones that really stand out involve the same thing.  We were a very outdoorsy bunch growing up.  Don't get me wrong, I loved watching TV and did more than my fair share of it.  However, I also spent an inordinate amount of time outside investigating, playing, exploring, poking, prodding and generally up to no good.  Some of my fondest memories are things that, at the time, were quite uncomfortable:  a chipped tooth on a neighbor's head playing football, being trapped in a tree house by a rabid opossum (at least in our minds it was quite rabid), the first time I ever got in an actual fist-fight, catching a gallon of gas on fire in the middle of the woods because we dropped lit firecrackers next to it by accident, and I could go on.

My concern is that the children of the current teenage generation will look back on memories of their childhood and say things like, "Remember that month I texted over 5000 times and my parents got so mad they grounded me?" or "Remember getting over a million points in Super Mario?" or "Remember doing nothing my entire seventh grade in one of my classes but watch YouTube videos because my teacher was so lazy?" (unfortunately, this describes one of my daughter's teachers who cannot get fired because we are in the People's Republik of California and who actually sued one of his students for taping him in class to show his parents how lame his teacher was...no shit).

I am not blaming the kids of today or even society as a whole, it is just the way things have evolved.  Indoor activities have become more fun than outdoor activities.  Plus, it is much, much safer.  When I was in third grade, I walked to school; over a mile each way.  There is absolutely no way that I would allow my daughters to walk to school in today's world (at least here in San Diego).  It's just not going to happen.  As far as playing outside, when I was young we would disappear from breakfast until dinner (if we ate lunch at someone else's house).  Nowadays, if they do go outside, they are always within sight of the house.

So what is the answer?  How do you give your children great memories and experiences, yet protect them and keep them safe?  The answer is travel.  These days, travel is cheaper than it has ever been.  You can see fairly exotic places with relative safety and comfort.  Now, you might not get the same experience that the pioneers who went before you had; maybe catching the 'Disney' effect instead.  However, there are some seriously fun things to do that will make your kids more worldly and give them a taste of adventure.

If cost is a problem, you can take them camping.  Not just to the local KOA campground.  Find somewhere with a bit of adventure:  a beach, desert, or mountain with caves nearby.  If you want to splurge a bit, go on a Disney Cruise or to an all inclusive resort, like Beaches.  The point is not to torture them with another trip to the Gettysburg Battlefield.  Be creative and give them something that they will always remember.  Yes, Xbox is fun, but the thing that just might change their lives could be their first trip to Japan.

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