I have suddenly realized that my children will have a fundamentally different childhood experience than the ones my husband and I had growing up. Before you say, duh, realize that I’m not talking about social media and texting and cell phones and Khan Academy (not to mention that we’re living in a different country). I am talking about my children growing up in a small, rural town, versus the big-city childhood my husband and I both had.
I grew up riding public transit to get anywhere and everywhere. My first real date was to see a Major League Baseball game (which we took public transit to get to). I saw my first concert when I was twelve (it was 1989; try and guess who I went to see). If I became interested in any sort of activity or hobby, there were always classes being offered somewhere that my parents could sign me up for. There were huge libraries, important museums, big (and small) cultural events, and major sports teams. And, of course, a mall.
And while I was a teenager before the Internet was everywhere, I did come into young adulthood in a world where you could find anything and everything online, while living in places where you could do just about anything. The places where I wanted to go and the things that I wanted to do were all just a Google search away for dates, directions, prices, and schedules. In certain regards, I’m as bad as my students insofar as if I can’t find an activity or business or organization online, then I have no idea how to find them at all.
As my kids get older and I get to know the community and my students, I realize just how different my kids’ experiences growing up will be and just how useless I am at helping them explore and navigate the world we currently live in. My students talk extensively about their experiences hunting, growing food, raising animals, building boxcar racers, foraging, quilting (it’s really big here in Kentucky), and fishing when they were kids. Certainly, they also played in high school bands, played football/baseball/soccer, and other “common” childhood activities, but they were coupled with experiences that are so foreign to me that I don’t even know how to begin introducing my
kids to them.
Added to that, I live in a place where word-of-mouth is the social network of choice. People just know what activities are available and how and when to sign up for them. But a lot of the activities rely on local, community or familial knowledge, skills that have been passed down between generations. Instructional videos on YouTube can only take my kids (especially at this age) so far. And they can only take me so far, too. My kids want to go fishing and camping and have small farm animals and plant their own garden. I have almost zero interest in or knowledge about any of those activities.
But gardening, you say, is easy. Sure, if you don’t have a black thumb like I do. And, if you knew enough about gardening ahead of time not to buy a house with a yard that is entirely shaded; I was thinking like an urban dweller who treasures shade. My kids want nothing more than sunlight to grow plants under. Plus, if we want to grow food, we also have to learn how to build a fence as well as a sort of roof for the garden, as we have deer and other animals that will come and eat our “crop.” Again, these are all things I don’t know how to do, or really have the time, energy, or patience to learn.
Don’t take this to mean that I think these things aren’t worth learning or that I think that my childhood is superior to the childhood my kids are currently experiencing. I am just completely and utterly out of my depth. I understood that I would have to learn new and unexpected things because of my kids’ interests (my mother knew nothing about competitive swimming before my brother and I devoted our lives, and thus her life, to the sport for 15+ years). But mentally I was prepared for more “suburban” or even electronic interests (like cheerleading or World of Warcraft, which could still happen). I wasn’t ready for gun safety and large animal care.
Recently here at Uvenus, Emily Isaacson wrote about finding yourself where you are. My kids, at least for the foreseeable future, will never know anything other than growing up where we are. I’m really hoping in the coming years, as they grow older and make their own connections in the community, that they will teach me about this place we now call home. As an academic, I have to be curious and want to continue learning. But, right now, I’m even more lost and overwhelmed than my kids are (which is, quite honestly, not at all) by the possibilities of the place we live.