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May 23, 20236 min read


Have you ever eaten something like an ice cream or candy bar that you haven’t had since childhood and felt euphoric for those minutes? How long has it been since you jumped off a dock? Or rode a bike or a dirt bike? Fished? Rowed a boat? Rode a horse? Planted a garden? Met family or friends at a park/lake for an all day picnic? Ran around (literally) with friends? How about a game of chess or checkers? Or rummy, euchre? poker? Crazy eights? 

The point is that what were ordinary fun activities in the 50s to 80s are no longer a part of every childhood experience. When one income proved to be unsustainable for families with young children, parents didn’t have the choice they once had. Finding good and affordable day care became the number one problem in our country for most parents. 

The tradition of sitting at the dinner table together was becoming a challenge. At the same time, parents were concerned about their children playing outside in the neighborhood, no matter where that was. So organized sports were replacing neighborhood sports frequently.  Where kids usually played every sport and game in their neighborhoods, they were forced to pick one or two sports to play on the school teams. But it was usually only possible to choose one since the seasons rival professional basketball. The extended seasons and practice times were excluding other sports they would be playing outside with friends otherwise. 

Then came cell phones, which led to even more closed circles around not only our children, but adults. Someone wants to know where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with at all times. Around the same time bomb scares were becoming more common in schools so parents wanted their children to have them. Every year there were more and more reasons for them to have cell phones. And then smartphones that took them further away from their immediate neighborhoods into new lives that revolved around texting etc. Online gaming created even more separation from in person friends to “friends” who have never met.  Playing games after school used to mean in person, either outside or if it was bad weather, board games. In either case, it involved personal interaction, real fun and laughter.  (No wonder that back in those days obesity was rare.)

All this said, it does not mean the good old days were perfect. Our parents really weren’t sure where we (five of us) were a lot of the time. Just be home by dinner. They didn’t seem stressed out about it to me! But as soon as we had the tools to check on our kids via cell phone, the stress set in. Every parent knows the panic when their child doesn’t answer the call. We automatically think the worst. We’ve been trained to. Never mind that I almost drowned countless times playing down at the river growing up!  Or I was always scared to death walking home from a friend's house after dark. Ignorance was bliss? But we WERE safer. 

We, as a nation,  have so much more to worry about now thanks to cell phones, social media, and the endless internet. Our new society has changed our sense of safety and comfort. We know the danger that lurks around every corner! Or at least it seems that way. As a child I worried an unreasonable amount of time about quicksand. We had the occasional bullies but not the emboldened ones of today filled with rage and violence. We worried about Russia, then Vietnam. We were healthier because we were outside so much and ate real food. We attended dances after basketball and football games at least twice a week. Or live bands after we turned 18. We all danced. A lot. Exercise and healing. In person friends!

Most of us knew the satisfaction of earning allowances instead of having personal magic genies granting our wishes. All in all though, it seems the worries now, the pressures, are so much deeper. We know (and are instantaneously aware of) so much that it makes us more fearful of situations, less sociable and generally a more introverted society. At least for now.

So why “Go Away”? Because as the internet made our world so much smaller, it also made a lot of lives smaller, living through virtual experiences. VR gives us exciting insights we could not have imagined but it’s not the kind of fun that involves going away (to a cottage?) for a week with the whole family. Not the getaway where everyone except the toddlers and dogs are stuck to their phones communicating to everyone or anyone but each other. Often that doesn’t work because the parents can’t stick to the no device rule themselves.  So they just give in and give up. Not to say it should be banned everyday but shouldn’t everyone experience the present, the people they love, nature, books, old fashioned games? How about fixing delicious meals and experiencing the satisfaction of the aromas wafting around until meal time, when you set a table and talk with each other. For a week? You can do it! 

If you can’t afford it, find a way. Look at it as an investment. What’s more important than investing in the well being of yourself and family? It will pay off. Years fly by so no more next year, next year. Covid was two and a half years of anxiety. Make your memories even though times are hard right now. Just going to the grocery store reinforces how hard it is to save money but start a “secret” fund anyway. If you force yourself to put your ones and fives and tens into your fund, you’ll get there. Designate the strongest willed family member to oversee the hiding spot. Bring it out to the family room every two weeks to count it. Make it a fun, challenging game that everyone is in on!  When you have enough for a weeks’ vacation, GO. No excuses. No random people on phones.

Commit to a week of fun and relaxation. You need it. Your family needs it. Force the kids if you have to. They’ll be happy that you did. And the whole point is to show and prove to each other that each one is worth spending quality time with. If no one is able to separate themselves from their phones, the point is not at all being made. Quite the opposite. It is saying that no one is interesting enough or worthy of exclusive attention. Every spouse and child deserves it. You’ll be surprised at what you learn about one another. You need to. If you don’t think so, watch Succession! 

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Stephanie Sharpe

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