Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Mama’s Medicine Cabinet

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

 

syrup-of-pepsinad

Image Source:  antiquebottlesglassplus.com

¶Yeah, I know “Mothers’ Day” is still more than three months away, but I might abandon this blog before May 14 and there are still a few things about my mother that I want to record.
¶Mama was in some ways acutely alert to health matters and in other ways indifferent to them. I remember when I was hardly more than a toddler she took me to be examined by Dr. Fred S. Brooksaler (1901-73), a Dallas pediatrician who later became a professor of pediatrics at Southwestern Medical School in that city and who is still remembered there by an endowed professorship in his name .
¶Once, Dr. Brooksaler performed an in-office operation on my neck just below one ear, but what he removed I do not recall, if indeed I ever heard him say. I liked him a lot because he gave me a little toy every time I visited him.
¶One of the medicines Dr. Brooksaler prescribed for some forgotten ailment was a roll of flat, circular, chewable lozenges that tasted like candy. I liked the flavor, naturally, but Mama said I could take one only after a meal. I had a very broad concept of “meal” in those days, so one day while Mama was away I ate a couple of saltine crackers and then chewed one of the “medicinal candies”. Then I repeated the process from saltines to medicine two or three more times. Later, as I was walking down a sidewalk a few blocks from our apartment, I became violently ill. Fortunately, a lady sitting on her porch across the street noticed me and came over to take me to her porch, where she provided whatever aid she could, not knowing what was wrong. Obviously, I survived.
¶Mama also had me examined and fitted for eyeglasses, although she probably did so at the elementary school’s bidding. They were wire-rimmed glasses, which I hated. (That was back in the days before the Beatles, when “granny glasses” weren’t yet “cool”.)  I refused to wear them one spring while I was staying with an uncle down in the Rio Grande Valley. After I got sick at school one day, the nurse concluded it was because I hadn’t been wearing my lenses, so I had to dig them out of the sandy loam of the grapefruit orchard where I had buried them and don them from then on.
¶I don’t recall Mama ever taking me to a dentist’s office, and now I don’t understand that. Dentists are, in my experience, the least expensive of health care providers. How my teeth managed to stay in good condition until age thirty-five (when I underwent a periodontal operation)  I’ll never understand. I sure miss those three gold-crowned molars I gave up last year because of all the suckers I used to poke into my mouth.
¶Now to the medicines I started out to discuss.
¶First, there was the Campho-Phenique which was a regular staple in Mama’s medicine cabinet. I often enough required its application because I spent hours on end running around barefoot in the neighborhood lawns, which were the chiggers’ habitat. I haven’t had a chigger bite since I was little, yet, in my earlier adult years, I used to stroll or sit on friends’ lawns or in area parks where the grass was plentiful enough. Nary a bite! Are chiggers extinct? I just can’t believe that!
¶Also in Mama’s cabinet one could find a jar of Mentholatum or VaporRub. These salves were developed in the 1890s and are still used today to aid breathing while a person has a cold or cough. Recent research has indicated that the salve doesn’t actually improve breathing but that its camphor aroma fools the brain into thinking that it does. (What’s the difference?) It ordinarily is applied to the chest and the back. The ill person inhales the cool camphor smell, which has an odor that I like. However, since the positive effect is supposed to be derived from breathing, I fail to understand how applying the salve to one’s back is going to be effective. Anyway, when I was a child Mama applied it to my chest many a time.
¶Another antique medicine was Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin. Many benefits from its intake were claimed back in late 19th century when it was developed, as can be seen from this quote from a 1904 ad in the “St. Louis Republic”: “The manufacturers claim that the remedy will relieve any case of Indigestion; cure any case of Constipation; remove the cause of Headache, Biliousness, Dizziness, Foul Breath, Sour Stomach and Flatulency; and dispel Colds, Fevers, and Ills caused by bad digestion, torpid liver, and sluggish bowels.”
¶In 1906, Congress created the Food and Drug Administration to investigate exaggerated and fraudulent claims by patent medicine makers, including Caldwell’s company. Digger Odell’s website Bottlebooks.com, reports that, despite the federal government’s actions, Dr. Caldwell’s Medicine was still misleading the public about the worthiness of its product. This no doubt was accomplished by well-placed donations and lobbying.  With the owners making millions each year they would have been a formidable opponent for the government lawyers. So much so that the product was made continuously from 1889 until 1985.” So, about all that is left of Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin are collectible antique bottles and ads. Oh well, I sure did like the taste of that stuff, containing as it did pepsin, one of the ingredients that now goes into Pepsi-Ćola.
¶That pretty much concludes my inventory of Mama’s medicine cabinet. She remained a devotee of patent nostrums, although she used doctors and hospitals whenever she figured they were needed. She even enrolled in a night course once to become a licensed vocational nurse but never completed it. However, she did occasionally tend to bed-ridden folks. When her final days came she complained about spending them away from home — in a hospital. “Bobby,” she said to me then, “why are they doing this to me? They’re going against nature.”

Finis

A Final Father’s Day

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Well, today it is raining. How appropriate and welcome! For it is Father’s Day, too.

Among the Ten Commandments recorded in the Old Testament, is the directive “Honor your father and mother…”. Half the sources list this commandment as the fourth, and half include it as the fifth. Whatever.

In the past, I have pondered the question: What if your parents are not honorable? Surely the sons and daughters of historical tyrants and criminals must scratch their heads over that. As for me, I feel that Mama was worthy of honoring despite her social lapses and strong prejudices. Pappy, on the other hand, has been a puzzle for me; he was always rooting for me from a distance; but he was hot-headed, and he was morally and ethically weak. After he died, Mama, in a fit of anger, informed me that he was “a coward”, citing as her justification for this allegation that he had asked her to support his request for exemption from the draft during World War II on the basis that he had three sons to care for. (They had divorced in 1942.)

There is no way I can confirm the truth of Mama’s claim: it is a conundrum for me. Pappy was big, his attitude was often belligerent, and he had worked all his life among rough men. My sister-in-law informed me recently that, according to my brother Vernon, Pappy had left the Rio Grande Valley for Dallas “because he had almost killed a man down there”. When I pressed her for more details, she said that was all she had heard from Vernon, “just bits and pieces”. Then there was Mama’s judgment.

That cowardice business is just one interesting piece of information I have happened on since I wrote my first blog post about Pappy. Another came to me indirectly from a “book” by and about one of my uncles, Carl Lee Tanberg, who remained in the Valley all his life. One of his three daughters sent it to me. She had given him the blank book with a request that he write down all the memories that he thought would be interesting to his family and others. (I had given Mama a blank book also, but she never wrote anything in it.)  Carl Lee was a fairly gifted raconteur and writer. One sentence in that book jumped off the page at me: “Maurine ran off with Bill Litton.” They eloped?! Mama, of course,  being a bit strait-laced in her maturer years, never mentioned that episode; in fact, she never confided anything about their courtship to me other than, in answer to my idle question of how they had met, she replied, “O, everybody in a small town like that knows everybody.” The sentence in my cousin’s book indicated to me that my grandfather, and probably my grandmother as well, did not approve of Pappy. Since Mama was born in 1910 and my brother Vernon was born in 1928, Mama could not have been older than eighteen when she and Pappy ran off to get married.

Many people, including most of my own family, would hide anecdotes such as these; but, like my uncle Carl Lee, I don’t believe in white-washing family history, primarily because it is just such “bits and pieces” which make a family history engrossing, and usually entertaining, reading. Contrasted with the images of Mama and Pappy I have had all my life, I think the elopement story is hilarious.

This will probably be my last Father’s Day blog post…at least about my own father. I don’t know anything else about him that I haven’t already related. Although he won’t rate  highly on any sensible scale of fatherhood, he was a fascinatingly colorful figure. He is a most suitable subject for moral and ethical reflection.

Finis

 

 

Bob’s Apology to the Children of the World

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

O little children, how I regret the need to write this letter to you. If we big people had done our duty for many years now, this apology would not have been necessary. You might not be able to read or comprehend by yourselves what I shall say here, so you perhaps should wait until you are a little older and have learned more and bigger words. (I will try to rein in my tendency to use complicated words, but that is very hard to do.) Or your parents might sit down with you and reduce the content to your level of understanding. I doubt that they will, because it could be too embarrassing for them.

I don’t have any children of my own, but there was a time when I deeply wanted a baby. However, I was already past the age when being a good daddy was practicable; and, anyway, I didn’t have a wife. A mommy is just as important in a child’s development as a daddy, usually more so. But my being childless is not really important: I am still just as responsible for our troubles as any parent.

But, let’s get on with the basic message I want to share with you.

The world is in a sad situation right now, both in an environmental way and in a social way. Perhaps the primary cause of that sad situation… (Let me introduce a new word to you here: dire. I would rather use that word than “sad” because, although it contains much the same meaning, it also means more. You see, a situation can be “sad” and yet limited; it might affect only one person or just a few people, and it might be just a temporary mood. “Dire”, however, adds more meaning — the element of threat. If something is a threat then it is neither tied to a mood nor likely to be temporary; it could mean the end of all life, even all things.)

One current threat is Climate Change. The Earth’s temperature is increasing; at least that is what about 300 of the world’s scientists have told us. And many things that we can see, if we look at them, appear to back up the scientists’ claims: the Arctic ice is melting, threatening the habitat of the polar bears and the Eskimos; the coral reefs, on which many sea creatures depend for food, is receding; the schedules and flight patterns of migratory birds are changing; and, perhaps the simplest test of all, the recording on temperature gauges is inching upward year by year. And those are just a few of the observable changes.

Now, a sizable minority of the world’s population refuses to acknowledge these changes or to attribute them to Man’s use of energy sources that come out of the earth, such as coal and oil. And other people, who might recognize Man’s guilt in all this mess, don’t have the political will to do anything about the problem. What hinders them is that to take the urgent actions needed to try and reverse, or at least moderate, disaster would require eliminating some industries, such as coal-mining and oil/gas-drilling, which have employed many people — perhaps your daddy or mommy — for a long time. You can understand, can’t you, why your parents, if they work in one of those industries, would fight to keep their jobs? They want to be able to feed and clothe you just as they have always done. And when the cost of a solution closely affects a person’s family his or her range of vision becomes severely narrowed.

Another threatening element in our world’s scene is tribalism. If you are Americans, you probably think that only the Native Americans (formerly known as “the Indians”) live in tribes. Actually, though, we are all members of tribes in that our facial features, skin colors, cultural attitudes, political arrangements, and even spiritual beliefs are shared by varying fractions of the world’s population. Throughout the centuries, tribes have often been in conflict with one another; this is very noticeably the current case in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. But it is also an issue in Europe and the United States, where mass migrations of peoples who are fleeing oppression and poverty in their homelands continue. Especially when a bunch of them move to any one country, they tend to congregate in the same area so that they can share themselves with others of their own culture and language; thus, we have neighborhoods that become known as “China Town” or “Little Mexico”. Large influxes of peoples bringing with them their traditions, religions and other cultural habits appear threatening to native peoples, who want to protect their own cultural norms from alterations. Now, some of the native people — particularly the farmers — often welcome the foreigners because those refugees are willing to do work that some natives do not want to do. That causes quarrels between the farmers and their urban neighbors.

There are also, naturally, more practical problems that come with mass migrations: how to house, feed, clothe, educate and medicate the foreigners. The governments in Europe, the United States and some African countries are wrestling with those problems right now. A subtle and dangerous aspect of this social turmoil is the element of racism and religious bigotry involved. Ethnic jealousy and political partisanship also are part of this poisonous mixture. Such a seemingly small matter as whether a Muslim woman should be allowed to wear her religion-prescribed head scarf in some places has engendered debates in parliaments and the media.

Religion itself is a major element in the world’s general conflict. In the Middle East, one branch of Islam attacks another branch over the question of who was the rightful successor of Mahomet as leader of their religion. In China, the government is again trying to extinguish Christianity. And here in the U.S., one political party is working hard to infuse the Christian religion more deeply into our political system; they want to establish Christianity as the official religion of the U. S.. In all our conflicts, a primary element is the “us versus them” mentality, and that is especially true of the religious divisions.

Then there is the question of how you children are going to earn a living when you grow up. Robotics and mechanization are already reducing the number of humans who are needed for many types of jobs. In Japan, I read recently, they are already using robots to work the reservation counters at airports. A batch of sociological studies all indicate that many more positions will be taken over by robots over the next 25 years, including those of lawyers, doctors, and news reporters. So, what will you do? How will you spend all your “free time”? How will your food and shelter be paid for? Don’t expect the owners of factories and other businesses or the political officials to care: they want to eliminate the need for human employees because doing so will save them money. Why should they spend that savings on your needs?

Now, I should give credit to those grown-ups who are trying to solve some of the problems I have too briefly described above. There are many individuals, companies and even governments who are altering their practices regarding gaseous emissions from factories and vehicles, which are a major cause of the Climate Change problem. There are also some statesmen who are trying to tamper down the social strife caused by religious and cultural differences.

And there are your parents, who had enough faith in humanity to bring you into the world. I feel some mental and emotional conflict within myself at this point because, on the one hand, I wonder at their wanting to bring children into a world full of direful and daunting difficulties; while, on the other hand, I admire them for their faith and for providing us with you. The solutions will require people — intelligent, energetic and loving people — to discover and put them into practice.

Thus I leave you, Children of the World, with my most heart-felt apology for the messes we have left for you to clean up, and with my earnest hope and encouragement for your success.

Bless you,

Bob Litton

A Maternal Memorial

thread spool

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Pardon me, folks, but I want to interrupt this extended silence for a  brief while to try and make some amends for the neglect I visited on my mother. She has been dead now for nearly twenty-two years, so of course I cannot justify or redeem myself directly. It’s only if one believes in an afterlife or even that some kind of resonance inheres in lingering cosmic memories that one can accept the following as meaningful to anyone but me. Regardless of the possible unreality of either of those concepts, here are my flowers for Mothers Day 2016. (Oddly, though, Mama was not a floral enthusiast; not that she disliked them, she just didn’t gather blossoms or maintain vases.)

I have written in previous blogs that Mama and I did not communicate well after the onset of my teen years. The problem, as I view it, was not that any sort of major psychological imbalance (such as stood between me and my brother Vernon) or contrary value systems (such as stood between me and my brother Elbert)  hindered our conversations. Our off-moments derived from a much more down-to-Earth dysfunction: I was frequently annoyed and embarrassed by Mama’s lack of tact, of which I have given instances in previous posts. On Mama’s side, she looked askance at my pub-crawling, drifting ways and impracticality; she said to me one day, after I had expressed an interest in majoring in philosophy, “Bobby, I think you live in a dream world. If you are so smart, you ought to be able to make a lot of money.” As usual, I did not utter a rejoinder to that.

Such perceptions, naturally, are not absolute. One morning, while I was seated at her kitchen table, she wanted to discuss Elbert, whose carpet store was in a state of bankruptcy due to the Reagan recession of the late 1980’s. Elbert had not spoken to her for two years because she had persistently tried to dissuade him from getting involved in any more of his former business partner’s get-rich-quick schemes. I did not want to talk about it, because I had opted to stay with Elbert at the store as it was going under very, very slowly and I was losing my house in West Texas in the process; I was in a heavy depression.  While she set a plate of eggs and sausage before me, she asked me to intercede for her with Elbert, whom she said she loved. I did not say anything; the weight of the whole financial disaster was too great. I don’t recall the immediate trigger for her final comment, “You’re a good man and an honest man.”

Mama and I hardly ever discussed serious matters other than those concerning the family. In fact, most of our conversations involved an exchange of something: she would want me to do something for her, like take her to the grocery store; or she would give me odd things she had picked up at flea markets and garage sales, like a lava lamp (when such was an “in-thing” during the 1970’s), a pair of binoculars (I was not a birder), and an antique walking cane (which at the time I did not need but, after three decades, do now). However, those interactions were after my own hair had started to gray.

During childhood, there were more prized moments of sharing. While I was in the Cub Scouts, Mama went with me down to Turtle Creek one Fall day to gather different types of leaves for pasting in a scrap book. And, when I had the part of Santa Claus in an elementary school play, she made a red-and-white costume for me, complete with a hat peaked by a cotton  ball. (No boots, of course.)

I have related how Mama had worked both as a seamstress in a dress factory  and as a steam-presser at a few cleaners. She also made all my shirts and pants during those early years. Naturally, she always had plenty of thread spools (like the one shown at the top of this post). One afternoon, while I was sitting on the front porch step reading a Dick and Jane book, she came outside with a saucer containing a bar of white soap, some water in a glass, and an empty thread spool. Then she showed me how to amass a sufficient quantity of soapy water on one end of the spool and blow through the other end to make bubbles float out onto the air.

And I will never forget the early morning she came to the combination bedroom and living room to wake me up. She went to the window, raised the paper blind, and announced, “Look, Bobby! It snowed last night!” When the day got light enough, Mama gathered some snow in a big pan and made some ice cream out of it. One cannot do that in Dallas anymore for two reasons: it seldom snows there and, even when it does, the snow is too shallow and too polluted to transform into healthy ice cream.

I have no authority to reference for this assertion, but I believe that only a  girl raised on a farm, such as Mama had been, would have known how to capitalize on a thread spool and a mass of fresh fallen snow.

Happy Mothers Day, Mama, wherever you are.

picers_0004

Maurine Emily (Tanberg) Litton b. Feb. 23, 1910, Eau Claire, WI;  d. Dec. 19, 1994, Dallas, TX

Now I can return to my cave.

Finis

How a childhood trait became an adult habit

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

I believe I have written elsewhere in this blog’s archives that major reasons for engaging in it were to analyze my own personality and to obliquely write my autobiography. What I mean by “obliquely” here is that, although the primary topic of any particular essay might seemingly be far removed from the notion of personality traits, some of the illustrative experiences as well as the attitude revealed therein could add tone, form, color and dimension to the hidden autobiographical theme of the blog site as a whole. (I want any future biographer to have access to the most reliable resource imaginable: this blog.)

Some traits, however, cannot be easily presented in such a camouflaged manner. The trait of which I am thinking here is parenthetical remarks, i.e., comments inserted into a scene or conversation that have nothing directly to do with that scene or conversation. Some, in my case, were naïve remarks I made as a child, and some were “zingers” I made as an adult. The only real difference between them was that the youthful ones were simply expressions of curiosity without any intent to be hurtful, while the adult ones were simply attempts to be comical in a stinging way but still not really hurt. Zingers are, I lamentably admit, a regrettable, deeply ingrained aspect of my personality; for laughter-inducing humor usually comes at the expense of somebody’s self-image. My only partial defense here is that I often try to pull the joke out of my own hat, i.e., at my own expense.

What brought this topic to mind at the present is that I have done a lot of reminiscing about Mother lately, particularly of my childhood years when we were closer to each other than during later years. Much of the youthful time, I was what has become classified as a “latch-key kid”. Mother worked as a silk-finisher at a Dallas dress factory called Lorch’s, so, when school was not in session, I was often left to mind myself. However, she did occasionally find someone to keep me in tow.

For a while there was a next door neighbor named Mrs. Woodruff (family and friends called her “Woody”). I don’t remember much about her other than I loved her, that she liked to listen to soap operas on the radio, that she described for me a road that wound around a mountain, and that she had false teeth which she would suddenly stick out at me: it was one of those tricks that kids love, the kind that both scares and makes them giggle.

Also, for a while I stayed at Mrs. Lybrand’s house a couple of blocks away. Mrs. Lybrand and her husband had a large back yard that was a very pleasant place to play. She also was a great cook and she liked to listen to gospel songs on the radio much of the day. I didn’t appreciate gospel music and one day asked her, “Why do you listen to those ol’ god songs instead of Gene Autry or Bing Crosby?”  I don’t recall her answer, if there was one. I liked Mrs. Lybrand and certainly did not mean to offend her; and I do not believe she was offended. She most likely viewed the incident as a child being innocently too curious and too honest.

Last May 9, I published here an essay for “Mother’s Day” in which I discussed attending a kindergarten in Dallas and how a cab came to pick me up and carry me downtown to Lorch’s, where Mother was still at work. I did not mention in that post an interesting incident at Lorch’s which I don’t recall personally but which Mother related to me many years later. “My supervisor,” said Mother, “was a very tall German woman of whom I was afraid. You looked up at her and asked, ‘Are you a giant?’” Mother said she was “scared to death” because she didn’t know how the big supervisor would respond, but there was no reaction.

Another episode Mother had to relate to me many years later happened on a streetcar. (Many readers won’t know what a streetcar was: it was a vehicle about as long as a modern bus but more strictly rectangular in appearance and it was powered by a wire strung above the roadway that fed electricity to the streetcar by movable antennas extending upward from each end of the vehicle.) Now, back to the incident. One day while Mother and I were on board a streetcar bound for downtown (she told me) I noticed a very old lady across the aisle, with deep wrinkles; I turned to Mother and asked, “Mama, why is that lady’s face all wadded up?” I have no memory of the incident nor any recorded continuation of Mother’s anecdote to regain the consequence of that comment.

So, you can see how early my bad habit of spouting “zingers” began. As an adult, the tendency became more conscious and pronounced. Most targets know me well enough to realize I am just trying to be funny…in a fairly blood-thirsty way. A local bar-maid and a waitress here have put up with me long enough now that they have practically developed rhinoceros hides. And, like I said above, I try to balance the cajolery out by occasionally making myself the target, usually uttered in a manner that hints they should reply by saying, “Oh no, you shouldn’t say or even think that way about yourself!” They don’t swallow the bait.

Oddly enough, I don’t recall many of the adult zingers, I guess because there have been so many. There is one, however, that I do recall only too clearly and which I wish I could go back in time to expunge. One noon-day, I was sitting in a “blue-plate-special” café in Dallas that I had recently begun to frequent when I heard the main waitress relate to another regular customer how she needed new tires on her car and that she didn’t know how she would cope if she had a flat someday. “Don’t worry about it, Jane,” I called out. “You’ve got a spare around your waist.”

Jane looked over at me kind of sad-like and, after a few seconds of bewildered silence, replied, “I can’t believe you said that, Bob.”

I should have apologized then and there, but I didn’t. And to this day I don’t know why I didn’t apologize. Perhaps the additional stress that an admission of impropriety added to the impropriety itself was too much for me. I don’t know. But Jane, although she was indeed slightly plump around the waist, was not obese, and she was pretty and one of the most pleasant people I have ever known. Oh, how I wish I had an operable time machine!

So, you can see how a childhood capacity for curiosity can develop into an adult habit of zingering.

Finis

Is Our Playground Too Safe?

School Playground

Source: Bing.com/images Centennial Parklands in Sydney Australia – 1980 http://blog.centennialparklands.com.au/

© 2015 By Bob Litton (except for quotations and photo above). All Rights Reserved. Yesterday, while driving past the only elementary school in this small town where I live, I glanced over at the fenced-in playground where children, in scattered groups, were talking, tugging each other, maybe bullying, and playing on and in a large plastic “gym”. I continued on home, wondering whatever happened to the swings, the seesaws, the slides and the merry-go-rounds that had dotted the school ground in Dallas where I and my classmates had played. Of course I knew the answer: later in the 20th century they had been judged to be too risky, even dangerous.

A statistical report published by the Center for Disease Control, last updated in March 2012, began with the following:

Overview
Each year in the United States, emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries (Tinsworth 2001).

Occurrence and Consequences
About 45% of playground-related injuries are severe–fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations (Tinsworth 2001). About 75% of nonfatal injuries related to playground equipment occur on public playgrounds (Tinsworth 2001). Most occur at schools and daycare centers (Phelan 2001). Between 1990 and 2000, 147 children ages 14 and younger died from playground-related injuries. Of them, 82 (56%) died from strangulation and 31 (20%) died from falls to the playground surface. Most of these deaths (70%) occurred on home playgrounds (Tinsworth 2001).

Cost
In 1995, playground-related injuries among children ages 14 and younger cost an estimated $1.2 billion (Office of Technology Assessment 1995).

Wow! It’s hard to argue against those numbers. Nevertheless, I intend to do so.

This morning I heard on the National Public Radio program “Wait, Wait…Don’t tell me” the brief mention of a study by Cardiff University in Wales which reported that injuries from playground fights among children have dropped precipitously. The reason: children were spending most of their time inside watching TV and playing video games. Now, to me, that is just as much if not more dangerous than a kid getting his butt scorched on a hot slide or her arm broken from falling out of a swing.

While searching the Web for the Cardiff U. report, I came upon an article written by Sarah Boesveld for New Zealand’s National Post.  Ms. Boesveld’s report is about how Swanson School’s Principal Bruce McLachlan decided the era of “political correctness” was harming children’s development:

It had been mere months since the gregarious principal threw out the rulebook on the playground of concrete and mud, dotted with tall trees and hidden corners; just weeks since he had stopped reprimanding students who whipped around on their scooters or wielded sticks in play sword fights. He knew children might get hurt, and that was exactly the point — perhaps if they were freed from the “cotton-wool” in which their 21st century parents had them swaddled, his students may develop some resilience, use their imaginations, solve problems on their own.

You can view the full article at: http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/03/21/when-one-new-zealand-school-tossed-its-playground-rules-and-let-students-risk-injury-the-results-surprised/ The results astonished even the principal. Not only did parents not attack him; they commended him for reintroducing risk into their children’s lives. Also, the children revealed their own untutored creativity by building their own playground—including a seesaw—out of wooden blocks, a long pipe and other construction debris. Moreover, when they returned from the playground they were more rested, cheerful and eager to learn.

Now, I do not think that revolutionary pedagogical mode is likely to be copied in the ludicrously litigious U.S.  Damn near sure it won’t! But I feel that it should be. Sheesh!!! The modern playground is too boring to even look at, much less play in. I fondly remember the school playground of my own childhood and those at the parks as well. We had swings and seesaws and slides and merry-go-rounds. (Actually, I don’t miss the merry-go-rounds; they made me dizzy and I wondered what other children saw in them).

Also missing today are the non-playground games we used to enjoy. We boys would compete with marbles and with yard sticks imagined as swords; we would build forts out of discarded Christmas trees, and club houses out of old doors; with our BB guns we would venture into the woods on gameless hunting trips. The girls would play jacks and chalk-mark the sidewalks for their games of hopscotch, or dress in their mothers’ high heels and necklaces for fashion shows. On summer evenings we would all capture fireflies in mason jars with punctured lids. That is a lifestyle too precious to abandon.

The Swing

BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

I still admire that poem.

Not many years ago I lamented not having even one child of my own. Now I sadly note my good fortune in being childless.

Finis

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—BL

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