Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Yet Another Reason

Everyone who knows me is aware of my aversion to children.  I have never wanted them.  And unless they are the offspring of my friends or relatives (and sometimes not even then), do I think children are particularly cute or interesting at all.  I rarely crack a smile at a tipsy toddler, or a drooling infant, or an adventurous little boy running around their father's feet in a grocery store.  I look at them like I look at any other random object that finds its way into my line of sight.  They are not something I am interested in or find particularly attractive.  As I said, there are exceptions to the children of my friends.  On a recent visit home I was able to spend quite a bit of time with a dear friend and her fourteen-month-old daughter.  And I fell in love with this little girl.  I remember holding her at eight (eight!) weeks and thinking how beautiful and lucky she was to have such an incredible mom.  She's almost two now and still just as beautiful.  But does that give me baby fever?  Maybe.  But a more likely reason for that warm and squishy feeling is that I can see in her and her mom the hope that she'll be one of the good ones.  She'll be someone that I'll want to know when she becomes a real, fully-formed person.  This hope, this glimmer that I can see in a child is rare though and I have only seen it a few other times.  The following account is a much more common occurrence in the state of children today.

I spent about two hours at Barnes and Noble today.  I was given the unexpected luxury of having the full day off from work to nurse a sore throat and thought what better place to spend the afternoon that a building full of books?  I nestled into a corner spot, one close to an outlet and grabbed a tea, a dozen magazines and books or so and prepared to spend a decent amount of time pouring over pages and perhaps do a little writing while I was there.  Unfortunately, I was barely able to make it through half of the first magazine I picked up before being distracted and admittedly disgusted by the spectacle of two children sitting with their mother and her friend just one table over.  The mother was a kind of hippie-geek and completely engrossed in everything that she had to say to her friend about every subject from thrift shopping to the many ways in which her husband should listen to her way of doing things.  All the while she droned on and on, flipping through pictures on her iPhone of renovated second houses and the gallery opening she attended last week, her daughters, who appeared to be ages four and seven, sat next to her in the following ways:

The oldest sat for the entire hour and a half that I observed this group staring at her handheld gaming device. She never spoke.  She never looked at her mother or her sister or her mother's friend or me or the people around her or the books or the cafe.  Her eyes were glassy.  She had bruisy-purple circles under her eyes giving the careful observer the feeling that she might not have gotten a lot of sleep recently.  At one point, her mother didn't like the way she was sitting and commented on this to her friend.  She was being talked about but not talked to, and without looking up from her game, readjusted her legs and continued to play.  She had the capacity to hear her mother talk about mothering but without actually taking the time to connect to her daughter.

The youngest was strapped into a stroller that she seemed to have outgrown several years before.  Her legs dragged on the ground and kicked out and were anywhere but where they should be.  She also had some sort of electronic device but threw it around with such clear calls for attention that her mother eventually just took it away from her.   She made noises, silly noises, grunts and wails and cries and all other annoying moans that resulted from her extreme boredom.  Nearing the end of my patience and willingness to watch this dysfunctional child-rearing, her mother reached down and patted her leg and exclaimed "Oh! She's wet!"  Now, I would have NEVER thought this girl was young enough to still be experiencing accidents. Her mother asked her friend if she could watch the oldest while she took the other to be changed in the bathroom.  I thought to myself as I left my comfortable spot to get away from this madness, that the little girl didn't need to be watched.  I doubt she would dream of leaving her seat and video game even if a circus happened to roll up in the very next moment and clowns began prancing around her on pink ponies.

For this reason, and many other examples of children I have seen cracked out on their iPhones and Gameboys and Xboxes and Facebook I will not bring a child into this world.  This world that I also am guilty of conforming to.  I will not lie and say that I too would have a mild anxiety attack if I realized I had left my phone at home by the time I got to work or out with friends.  I am not at all prepared nor interested in becoming a granola-crunching hippie that rejects all modern technology, climbs a tree, and lives without toilet paper.  But, I am aware of how much our world has changed in the truly short amount of time since I was the age of those little girls.  I consider how incredibly sad it is that the four-year-old's big sister couldn't be bothered to set her game down and entertain her little sister.  I thought how ridiculous it was that just fifty feet or so away sat hundreds of books, filled with pictures and colors and words and stories about far away places that they certainly would not read on that visit to Barnes and Noble and might not ever.

Another example is when I stood in line a few months back waiting for a popular local bake sale.  I watched about half a dozen children, waiting in various points in line with their parents all clutching their iPads and electronic gaming devices (and forgive me for not using the proper names for these things, I just don't care to research what they are or learn the names of what I consider to be paralyzing the next generation of "leaders" in this world).  They completely ignored the other children standing a few feet from them.  It wasn't that long ago that the only option that those children would have to entertain themselves was to actually makes friends with the kids around them and play. No single child broke away from the line.  They simply stood there next to their parents also staring at their phones, waiting to buy some cookies.  It broke my heart.

And for those reasons I will not have children.  I would like to think that I would resist buying such technological babysitters, and I probably could stay strong, insisting MY kids play outside, read books (real books too, not this Nook and Kindle nonsense) and bake mud pies.  But how likely do you think it is that by the time I get around to finding someone I want to blend DNA with to create another human life, raise it to the age of play-dates and park-time, I will be able to find other parents who share the same abhorrence for kid-tested-technology that I have?   I can bet it won't be very likely.

My sister and I were never given a video game system.  We never really had cable.  We played outside.  We played with each other.  We made up stories and we had a childhood.  Kids today have childhoods, but they're different.  They are more technologically advanced and as a result, they are less socially capable.  I have been questioned about the extent of socialization that I received after the decision my parents made to homeschool me from second to twelfth grade.  But I put it to the parents today, whether your children attend private, public or school at home, how much socialization is he or she receiving when you hand them whatever device is currently popular to shut them up, occupy their time, or "encourage their development"?

I will not risk raising a child in world where others their age are unable to talk to them unless it is from behind a screen.  Among other reasons...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Yellow Shirt

Simon had always like the color yellow.  Which is why he went for the furthest stained cardboard box, one of many containing donated clothes from Our Lady of Lost Souls' quarterly drive for the homeless.  The boxes were stacked on a few folding tables in front of the church where they normally congregated to wait in line for their breakfast and dinner.  Nothing had price tags, it was all free.  But there were rules.  They couldn't start choosing until 2pm.  Whoever touched an item first, could keep it.  And they each only got to pick three things.  This would be his fifth time "shopping" at the church.

It had begun to get hot again, sticky, and his winter flannel shirt was beginning to feel too warm, and too worn in the elbows and armpits.  He needed a new summer shirt.  He hoped he could find a hat too.  He'd been told many times that he looked good in a hat.  It went well with his beard.  He was keeping an open mind for his third item.

He walked slowly behind the line of others looking silently through the boxes, keeping his eye on the furthest one with the yellow bit of fabric sticking out.  No one was really paying much attention to it.  He decided that he would touch that corner first as soon as he got to it, even though he couldn't be quite positive what it was.  He was pretty sure it was a shirt, he just hoped it wasn't too small.  It would be fine if it was too big, baggy shirts let the skin breath in the muggy Louisiana summers.  He finally got there, his eyes focused on it like a hawk and his fingers grasped at it just as Jerry went for it too.  "Sorry, man.  I touched it first."  Jerry was disappointed but he knew the rules and because he hadn't chosen anything yet, he didn't want to risk being asked to leave.

Simon felt triumphant as he pulled it out from beneath the piles of mismatched socks, patched jeans and discarded shirts with race dates, bands and festivals printed on the fronts and back.    Simon hoped that the yellow would be relatively un-printed.  It wasn't.  It had four large letters on the front, but they didn't make any sense to him.  He figured it was some abbreviation for a college he had never heard of or an organization.

He wore it for the first time the next day, a beautiful day, crisp and without any hint of humidity.  The shirt felt good on his back.  It was baggy, and almost brand new.  He wondered why someone would have given up such a great shirt in such a perfect color.  He had been wearing it for less than an hour when he heard drunken bellows and shouts coming from an oncoming trolley.  He was used to this but he didn't recognized the word they kept repeating.  "YOLO, YOLO, YOLO!" The four twenty-something boys yelled from their open window as the street car slowly came to halt at a red light near where Simon was standing on the corner.  They were raising their plastic cups full of hurricanes and sticky gin and tonic's to him, and continued to yell "YOLO" as the street car pulled away.  He raised his hand and waved at them as they rode on, high-fiving, and laughing with their gleaming white teeth and backwards caps.  He was happy to have been a part of their joy for a moment.  He smiled his own yellowed smile through his ragged beard, long and bristled and unkempt.  His face and pants were dirty.  His shoes worn and falling apart.  But his shirt was new.  It was his favorite color.  And apparently whatever was written on it gave cause for celebration.

He tapped a young girl, her eyes stained with kohl, her tights black and white striped beneath her safety-pin marked skirt.  "Excuse me, what does this stand for?" he asked as he pointed to his chest.

She rolled her eyes and took out one earbud.

"Fucking tweens came up with it a couple of years ago, it means 'You Only Live Once.'" she said as she replaced the earbud and turned back to staring down the street, waiting for the next car.

His heart sank and it felt like he had been punched in the gut. His smile disappeared as quickly as the boys had.

"Ya," he said to the girl, even though she wasn't listening, "you do only live once."