This past holiday season I was amazed to learn in conversations with friends and fellow grandparents that many parents found it difficult to buy presents for their children.
What do you buy for the child whose room contains a television, computer, cellphone, video games, closets full of clothing, and every piece of recreation equipment known to mankind? These are children who live in many lower middle- to upper middle-class communities on Long Island.
This was never a problem in the past, when most people lived in a survival mode. If children received a Christmas or Hanukkah present, it was usually an article of clothing. The kids of older generations were forced to become creative to have fun because money simply was not available.
It’s amazing how many games were played without the benefit of equipment, uniforms or adult supervision. Where I grew up in Brooklyn in the 1940s, if you were alone, you played stoopball. If a friend came, we took our mother’s mop handle and drew a square on a brick wall and played stickball. If no ball was available, we fished through the sewers for old balls. Not finding one, we merely used an empty food can for “kick the can.” A penny would serve as a target on the sidewalk in a “hit the penny” contest; you received two points if you hit the penny with a ball and turned it over! Or we’d slide soda-bottle caps filled with wax along a kid’s “skelly” court toward a circle drawn on the street.
Once the neighborhood kids arrived, it was hide and seek, ring-a-levio or capture the flag. Boredom was not as yet invented.
When we played punchball, first and third base were usually car fenders, and home plate and second base were manhole covers. Parents watched, but none of them coached us. Team captains learned leadership via “on the job training.” If the captain was not talented and fair, he was summarily replaced by a teammate.
Parents never had to arrange play dates for us. One wonders how these same children became our nation’s scientists, business and educational leaders without the benefit of adults financing and controlling every segment of their lives.
For our present-day overinvolved parents, we offer these words of senior citizen wisdom:
If you can’t think of something to purchase for a holiday gift for your child, you’re generosity is giving him/her a false set of values!
Encourage your children to do volunteer work.
Have them work and save their own money for the purchase of some personal items.
Arlo Arth, a former school principal from the Midwest, said, “Children are the messengers we send to a generation we may never know.”
Hopefully, today’s parents will make their children caring and responsible messengers.
Reader Robert Ricken lives in Floral Park.