I Hear You, Ward Cleaver!

ward_cleaver

The Lenehans caught the tail-end of a Leave it to Beaver episode this past Sunday.

There I said it.

Poor Ward Cleaver was trying to take his family on an outdoor vacation, but he was complaining about Wally and Beav’s preoccupation with comic books and drive-in movies. “Their days are organized for them,” he said to June.  “They don’t know what to do with their free time.”

Dave and I chuckled from our respective Archie Bunker armchairs, the surrounding walls covered in flowered wallpaper. We stared at the black and white set, while our kids played jacks on the front porch, sipping rootbeer floats and eating tuna noodle casserole….

wait.

60+ years later and not all that much has changed. Same big-picture issues, just the details are different.

Ward–I hear you all the way from the 21st century. I speak your language when I say, golly and gee.

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Here’s our current, 2013 situation: we have not yet signed our girls up for a swim team even though they really like to swim. Caroline’s pinkie toe is still healing from a break and the practices have already started. We’ve joined a new club, further from our house. The team meets at 8:00 a.m. every morning–momma likes a sleep-in kind of a summer.

But the biggest thing is that both my girls would rather play mermaids and see how long they can hold their breath under water than swim against someone else. That’s what they are telling me.

Caroline is seven and I admit, I have not aggressively nurtured her interests as of yet. She has “passions,” per se–she insists she wants to be a writer, but we haven’t sent her away to Starving Artist Sleep-Away Camp.

Through the years she has tried a couple of gymnastics sessions, a couple of soccer clinics, and a couple of art classes. She’s joined Girl Scouts. That’s about it. And that actually feels like a lot to me.

When I was young (golly and gee) . . I had a backyard, a bike, a neighborhood I could run through. My mom rang a dinner bell.

Later I played some sports, went to some camps, took piano lessons.

For my siblings and me, life was one big buffet table. I was able to try new things at any age. I could pick and choose. I was allowed to quit the drums in the 5th grade because Mr. Everett stuck me on bass insisting I was the only one who “could keep the beat.”

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This is not a wholly generational difference in parenting philosophy. In my day, there were driven parents raising driven kids, kids who honed in early on career paths and resume-building activities.

So I’m just going to go ahead and blame my parents now, for raising me the way they did.

I went to a liberal arts college. My mom and dad encouraged me to pursue “what I love,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

I’m an English teacher, for pete’s sake.

Yes, I love books and writing. Yes, I enjoy the students.

But I make a teacher’s salary.

Why didn’t my dad and mom strongly suggest me towards a more lucrative trade? Why didn’t they strong-arm me into liking math?

I could have been a rocket scientist who monopolizes book club discussions–you can do both.

Or why didn’t they start me early–really early–paying for private lessons in a sport that would get me somewhere. Sure, I played lacrosse, but so did 78% of the state of Pennsylvania. Why not fencing?

Now that I’m a mom, this whole “follow your heart/do what you love” parenting style is, frankly, stressing me out. Especially since it doesn’t seem like this type of parenting practice is necessarily en vogue.

How does a five-year-old know what is in her heart? Mine is consistently concerned with what is in her stomach (Nutella on a graham cracker) and what will be in her hands on her birthday (the Kit American Girl doll).

**********

I do not blame my other peer parents–we are in this together.

I don’t know who to blame, really–all those willing to take my money under the auspices of taking care of my kids?

They’ve wanted my money since I was pregnant: prenatal yoga, preschool reservations. They’ve wanted my money since my kids could barely open their eyes: baby gyms, baby music classes. They’ve wanted my money as my girls have toddled into the big-kid world: karate, dance, heads-start art, fitness for the soul, head, and toes.

Maybe we want someone else to take care of our kids because the world is ugly and unsafe now. We are too afraid to let our kids explore neighborhoods on bikes, let them wade through creeks, fish in ponds, skateboard to the corner store.

When I was young (golly and gee) . . . I loved my tire swing. I played Running Bases and Kick the Can.

Maybe we’re worried that our kids are behind and won’t catch up. I don’t know if I’m ready to invest a lot of money and time to “nurture” interests in my children that may not be there at all, but if I don’t start helping my kids find their passions now, in ten to twelve years, they won’t get into college. Right?

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A heard someone say his son was burnt out on soccer.

His son is 8.

Why are we living in a world where kids are burnt out on anything at age 8? And why, when I heard that, was my knee-jerk reaction my kids haven’t burned out on anything yet…what is wrong with me?

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Ward, I’d like you to meet Tal Wilkenfeld. She’s 26 years old and plays a mean bass guitar. I caught her on the Palladia channel as I was watching some of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary Concert. She was on stage at Madison Square Garden with Jeff Beck. She held her own with Sting, Buddy Guy, and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top.

She started playing guitar at the late age of 14 and seems to be doing just fine.

Golly and gee, there may be hope yet for kids these days.


2 Comments on “I Hear You, Ward Cleaver!”

  1. Kelly says:

    Katie, You hit the nail on the head! I love this piece. I’d say you are doing great as a mother not only by not over programming them but also with the way you are setting a good example with the way you live and your priorities. I think it is good to let your kids get a little bored and then find a way to entertain themselves. It is good to want to be a mermaid – you never know they might find an oyster with a pearl in it! Love you!!


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