I believe my generation is the last of the feral children. Being feral is not the same as being neglected; we still have plenty of those children roaming about. Feral children were expected to be outside unless it was storming or they were in school. Some of these children hung in packs and others were lone wolves. As an only child in a rural area with no one my age nearby I was of the lone variety. As soon as breakfast and morning chores were complete I was expected to head out the door and not be seen until lunchtime. After checking in and lunch it was back out until dusk.
The fact that there was “nothing to do” outside was not my mother’s concern. I had minimal rules for boundaries. Rule one was don’t cross the highway. I would ride my bike down our dirt road to the edge of the highway to observe tourists flying by to get to the lake and start their vacations as quickly as possible and felt confident that “stay off the highway” was a solid rule I could get behind. Rule two was to stay away from the abandoned quarry with its large deep pools of standing water. Those pools held the best tadpoles in the spring and the hike to the quarry involved a great trip through the woods with a million things to discover. I had trouble with that rule and broke it often. Inside my boundaries were miles of woods, open fields and running streams. My days were spent discovering, hiking, climbing and inventing a world more magnificent than reality could ever offer. How I actually survived some of my adventures I couldn’t say. The end product was an adult that’s capable and comfortable with having only myself for company at any given point in time.
Fast forward to today and such a childhood would surely bring on a call or two to social services. The news is full of accounts of missing children adding fuel to our concern to know where our children are at all times. I am guilty of being such a mother myself and wouldn’t dream of raising my daughters the way I was raised. Our children are kept close. We plan every waking moment of their day to be as productive and enriching as possible. Every small moment is not only planned but celebrated and supported. Using the toilet brings on stickers, applause and cheers. Every milestone brings forth elaborate and carefully planned celebrations that include venue rental, entertainment and out doing the last party attended, planned by some other Mom. As our children begin to show interest in any whim we support it 100%. Music, art, acting, modeling, sports all cheered on in lieu of any actual talent in the chosen area. No expense is spared and no words of doubt spoken. We give trophies for “participating” and blur the lines of competitive activities. Who won Mommy? Everybody! We all had fun and you are all winners!
We are frantic to be adequately supportive and encouraging as we tell our wonderful children that they can grow up to be anything they want as long as they try real hard and do the work. And they believe us. With all their tiny hearts they believe they can do anything, be anything and have it all. After all, they are special. We have told them so, and soon the whole world will recognize the unique gifts they have to offer.
Fast forward again to our gifted children heading off to college because that’s what all proper cared for children do. Some are lucky enough to do well and get a degree. Others struggle, either with the course work or the overwhelming responsibility to choose what they are going to do “for the rest of their lives” after being given limitless options. Either way both groups hit society with a huge student debt and high hopes. Those high hopes last long enough to try a few stabs at New York City or LA; where else is there after all? As reality sets in a bit they hit the job market closer to home with a renewed sense of hope. Only a few more months living with the old parents and then jobs will roll in, money will be flush and independence will be found.
But there are no jobs. We lied. Sooner or later the jig is up and they realize they have been hoodwinked. They were special because mommy and daddy love them. They were given everything they wanted because mommy & daddy loved them. The world is not judging with the same parental eyes. They will not be rich and famous. The world was not waiting for them after all. The economy is bad, unemployment is high, the environment is in chaos and the adults that cheered them on have no idea how to fix it. Sorry we accidentally hoodwinked you – but look past our sorry faces. The economy is bad, unemployment is high and the environment is in chaos and we don’t know what to do. Can you help us? See the world was waiting for you after all.