Where Have All the Kids Gone?

nochildren2clip.jpgFrom mid-June to early September, the daily routine was pretty much the same: Wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, receive a swift kick in the ass out the door. Not that we always needed said kick. It was summertime, our time. After nine months of being cooped up in a classroom—the lone release during a six-hour day being a 20-minute kickball game at recess—we couldn’t wait for summer, for the chance to rediscover the great outdoors. There were bikes to ride, cans to kick, all-time quarterbacks to select, tennis and Wiffle balls to knock into the grumpy old neighbor’s backyard.

And because this was long before the era of cellphones and parental paranoia, our only adult supervision from early morning until long after the street lights came on was when a vehicle would drive up the street, leading to the following chorus: “Car!” We’d scatter to the curb, the car would pass by and we’d reclaim the asphalt.

Was it hot out? Damn right it was. OK, maybe not 110 degrees desert hot, but temps in the mid-90s (with a good deal of humidity) didn’t exactly have anyone mistaking San Jose, Calif., for, say, Laguna Beach. And guess what? When we left the house, not one of us had a drop of sunscreen on our skin or a water tank secured to our bike frames. Got a sunburn? Tough shit; it beats learning long division. Got thirsty? Run to the nearest garden hose.

My son is 14. My daughter will be 11 in less than a month. To my knowledge, neither has ever gulped from a garden hose. Or kicked a can. Or spent more than 45 minutes outdoors if the thermometer exceeded 85 degrees—unless, of course, a swimming pool or water feature was involved.

I’d feel like a terrible father if not for the fact I know my kids are hardly the exception to the new summertime rules. Drive up my street in the middle of the day—any street in the Valley, really—and you won’t hear much besides cicadas and leaf-blowers. (I’ve lived here 18 years, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to tap the brakes as kids yelled, “Car!”)

The irony? My daylight-to-streetlight generation is to blame. Because of societal pressure (You can’t let your kids out of your sight—ever!) and modern medicine (Don’t let little Sally outside for very long—she could get skin cancer or heat stroke or collapse from dehydration!), I’ve never once delivered that swift kick to my kids’ backsides. Their childhood is nearly gone, and their lasting summer memory is likely to be a question they’ve posed to their parents hundreds of times—a question I’d never have asked my parents in a million years: “What are we doing today?”

True story: Earlier this summer, my daughter was complaining that she was bored. I responded as only a grouchy father can, “Would you rather still be in school?” Her reply: “Yeah, I would!”

What made me sad wasn’t so much her answer; it’s that I’m pretty sure she was dead serious.