Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Irresponsibility of Nerf World

When I was four years old my parents took my sister and me to see my aunt and uncle. They had the coolest house in the world. It was set sideways in a hill. It was two stories high; you entered the second-story from the backyard! The backyard was one story higher than the front yard! To walk up to the backyard from the side, there was an old stone staircase.

One day I saw a rope hanging down from the top of that staircase. Since a rope is irresistible to a four-year-old, I pulled on it. It came loose, all right, as did a board at the top of the stairs. It sailed down and landed on my left foot, breaking my little toe. I don't remember the pain, but it must have been excruciating, because I sat down and screamed. I was unable to walk. A trip to the doctor confirmed a cracked toe-bone.

Never again did I do anything like that. I learned my lesson; you don't stand there and watch boards sail down from the sky without getting out of the way. I found the world wasn't made of Nerf, and I wasn't invincible. And I learned it at four.

One of the main problems with the Mommy State today is that it wants to make the world out of Nerf, to remove all danger, and make everything completely safe. This, obviously, is impossible.

I don't think it's a very good idea to make the world too safe for children. It's possible they don't gain the experience in life that they should. Then they grow up more irresponsible than they should. "I'm immortal!" they seem to think. "I can't be hurt!"

I see teenagers today doing things we never did when I was their age. I hear of them getting killed all the time while driving. This never happened when I was a teenager. Sure, we went out on old country roads and floored the pedal. But we did it on a straightaway. No one ever got killed. None of us ever had a wreck, and we used to hit 120 mph.

We never had any drunken drivers. And we started drinking when we were fifteen. That's the age some of the bars would let us sit and drink. Yet nobody drove while drunk. It was an unheard of thing.

We didn't have helmets when we rode bikes. We fell off and skinned ourselves up. No one ever cracked his head. Well, Vicki Marcus did, when she fell off and split her chin open. I remember that because she came to my door with her hand over her chin, blood just pouring out. I had the chickenpox and couldn't go outside, so instead I ended up dealing with a seven-year-old girl dripping blood all over the front porch.

Yet today I see adults riding bikes in the streets. And downtown! Do they think they're going to win a contest with a car? Didn't they ever learn the First Rule of Bikes in kiddom? You don't ride your bike in the street when there are cars around. What were these morons like as children?

When I was a kid we used to ride in the backs of our fathers' pick-up trucks. No one ever flew out. We didn't sit on the wheel well. We sat on the floor and grabbed the side. It was scary, but it was fun.

When I was ten I had a chemistry set (try to find a chemistry set in a store today). Some of the bottles were marked POISON. I didn't even open them. I contented myself with making things foam, bubble, and overflow. I didn't poison myself, the dog, the cat, the bird or any people. Or even my sister, who I doubted was human.

We had BB guns. We never shot anyone's eye out. I did once accidentally shoot George Todd in the leg with my pistol, but when he raised his RIFLE to shoot me back, I yelled it was an accident, so he didn't plug me.

Only one stupid kid shot himself in the lip with his own BB gun, and I only knew that because he came to the door so my mother could try to dig it out. He was stupid in all other ways; he was on our property without permission, because it was fun to shoot behind the barn behind our farmhouse. Years later, he died one night when he drank an entire bottle of hard liquor. Apparently he didn't know that booze is poison, and if you drink too much too fast, it'll kill you. But even as a kid, he showed, over and over, that he was stupid and irresponsible.

When we were 12 and 13 we got minibikes. We didn't wear helmets and we didn't get hurt. Well, I did, once, when I was riding down a levee near the river when the throttle came off in my hand. I flew over the bars and when I got up I had cut my knee open. Four stitches.

We used to have dirt-clod fights. Whenever there was a new house being built, all the neighborhood boys would gather there and throw dirt-clods at each other. There were unwritten rules: use only big soft clods. We barely could hit each other because it was so easy to get out of the way. One kid, Dennis Brown, got hurt, and that was because one mean kid threw a clod with a rock inside. It went through Dennis' cheek. It was impressive to look in his mouth, until the wound healed.

Once, when the aforementioned George and I were ten and nine, one Saturday we rode our bikes to a lake about six miles away. We just took off for the day. Our parents never found out about it. We rode on the side of the road, not on it. No one ran us over. No serial killers or child molesters tried to snatch us. If any had tried, I would have stabbed them with the stiletto I ordered through the mail.

When I was a teenager some of my friends lived on a lake. Seven or eight of us would go out on it in a big, inflated tractor-tire inner-tube, stand up on it, then rock back and forth until the tube tipped over. None of us drowned. The worst thing that ever happened to me was when everyone fell on top of me once. I looked up and saw all these guys coming at me, full auto, and then the next thing I know I about ten feet down trying to fight my way back up through a tangle of feet and legs. I broke the surface, whoosh, just like Prince Namor, to find everyone looking concerned. "God, you were down a long time," one said. "Someone kept kicking me in the head," I answered.

When my nephew Daniel was about four his father and I got in the backyard pool with him. I stood on one side of the pool and his father on the other. He let Daniel try to swim to me. He sputtered and thrashed and kicked and made his way over to me. He had a huge grin on his face, like he was having the time of his life. When he got to me, I grabbed him and asked, "You okay?" "Yeah, yeah," he answered, out of breath and spitting water. "Okay, ready to go back," he said, and thrashed and sputtered and kicked his way back to his dad. Pretty good, for a kid who didn't know how to swim. But he learned. He also learned if you weren't responsible, you could drown. At four.

When I was 16 I got a .22 single-shot rifle with a telescopic site. John Hummel and I used to go down by the railroad tracks and blow up gallon jugs of water. We didn't shoot anyone, and we certainly didn't go stalking people through the high school.

The only "sport" I was good at in jr. high and high school was dodge ball and bombardment. In fact, I was great at it. The more vicious and brutal it was, the better I liked it. No one could ever hit me, and if he could, I almost always could catch the ball. Oh, yeah! Bring it on! We'll see who wins! It was great for my self-esteem.

Our parents didn't try to kill us. But they let us go outside and learn to be responsible at an early age. And we did it, naturally, by playing, by being kids. That's what play often is. Learning, and rehearsing to be an adult. Play is how all animals learn. We picked up, at a very early age, what worked, and what didn't work in having fun while staying safe.

Nowadays, the State, interfering in what is none of its business, is trying to remove from children the natural education that comes with being a kid. It's trying to deny children their childhood and instead treat them as infants. And once they become adults, will they act as adults, or will they finally start acting like children?

That's what the Mommy State wants – for everyone to be children. It's trying to Nerfize the entire country. Tag, bombardment, dodgeball? God forbid! Bad for the self-esteem, and you might get hurt!

BB guns? Sweet Baby Jesus! Are you serious?! Those things lead to kids doing drive-bys or shooting up high schools! And teenagers with .22 rifles? Yikes! Are you completely insane? They commit suicide or shoot their whoois off! Dirt-clod fights? You could put someone's eye out! King of the Hill? You're looking at a broken neck there, bud!

Yet, somehow, things haven't gotten safer for kids, just a lot less fun. And we seem to have a lot more irresponsible adults, too.

1 comment:

breezmister said...

We called them dirt bombs, which as we got older, turned to stones. You could throw a stone farther and which also gave you more time to get out of the way when dodging the incomeing rocks. The worst thing that ever happened in one of these stone fights was when one of my friends triped getting out of the way and twristed his knee.
Like you, I have some great stories top tell, but when I look back I see how lucky I was, it is only with the Grace of God that I am not dead or in jail. Was it a good thing the way we grew up, yea, it was. Todays kids are so over protected, and because of that, they think they are so safe when you become "adults".