A friend of mine told me about the “paper roll” anecdote, and as a parent, a modern, guilt-ridden, overly-self conscious parent of the new millennium, it just struck such a familiar chord in my parent’s heart. It could just as well have been about the wooden spoon, or the cooking pot, or any simple, everyday thing or object that we, as adults, don’t give much value to. It could be about those simple pleasures, those everyday things that we forget about as we raise the new generations to come.
The paper towel roll is simply the anecdote about how my friend’s daughter made the discovery of what an amazing toy a used, ready-to-be-discarded paper towel roll is. Of how excited she was at looking through it, making sounds with it, twirling and rolling it every which way, and how much of a wonder such a small object can represent to a small, innocent child. And it reminded me of how much pleasure my little ones used to have, and still have from time to time (that is when we don’t flood them with the latest technology and electronic tools), banging on pots and pans and deafening everyone around in the process.
Yet, despite knowing this, despite these common, obvious truths that melt our hearts and make us smile, here we are, us, the modern parents, still chasing after the latest toy, buying the latest phone or Leapfrog new pad something, or any new technological toy/object/tool that we deem “necessary” for our children. Really, look around, the most influential toy advertisers and consumer bloggers are…moms! Because Lord forbid our little ones would be “technologically-deficient” at the ripe age of 5, or that their little buddy from pre-school would have the latest high-tech toy and leave our little one trailing in the abyss of childhood “ignorance” behind, you know…Because in our urge to provide our children with everything they may (or may not) possibly possess, we may just forget to give them what they need. Time to be kids, time to enjoy things that are free, like the outdoors, the sun, the rain, the sweet taste of wet soil (yes, some of us have ingested oodles of sand and soil and are otherwise doing just fine, albeit a bit nostalgic), or just simply time to be bored out of their minds, so their minds in turn can start functioning on their own instead of constantly needing the stimulation of artificial objects and alternate realities…
And this is why, no offense to anyone, we may just be raising a new generation of self-gratifying brats. Young people who just take everything for granted, who think that because they received everything, they are now entitled to everything. Young men and women who think that barely completing high school and showing up to work from 9 to 5 is enough to be successful. Young people who think that respect is not necessarily due to the elders, or anyone for that matter. Daughters and sons who talk back to their parents, and do not understand the need to respect Authority whether at home, in the workplace, or in the sanctuary. Daughters who become mothers too soon for lack of waiting and heeding their parents’ advice, because they know better. Sons who no longer belt their pants, listen when taught or escape the lanes of incarceration in city prisons.
Maybe what we called “lack” back in the days of our youth in our unfinished, unpaved neighborhoods in Dakar, Senegal, was the best thing that could happen to us. Maybe getting one gift for Christmas, if that, was enough. Maybe running naked in the streets of Sao Vicente, in the Cape Verde islands, eating soil and peeing in the ocean at Baia, was not as aesthetic or hygienic as we may think today, but are the best memories money could never buy. Maybe the harsh discipline of my mother, the fact that she talked less and taught more, that she would not tolerate disrespect or dissent, that she gave us what we needed and not what we wanted, maybe that saved us. Maybe reading books and talking to plants because the only channel on national TV did not start until 6pm and only offered one twenty-minute cartoon, saved our minds from overload and self-confusion.
Maybe letting our children go, instead of being so “stuck” to them 24/7, so “involved” in their experiences, their way-too-numerous extra-curricular activities, is the best gift for them. Growing up in Dakar, we did not have much, but we had many mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and grand-parents to learn from. Parenting was not such a burden, did not put such an incredible pressure on moms and dads, because people knew to allow the good influence of family and society in. If Mama did not have the right answer, “Aunty” did. If dad was absent, then an uncle, a family friend, or a well-wishing neighbor stepped in. Kids learn independence early on, they understood and were not necessarily mentally scarred when Mom or Dad was not there. They did not nurse the wounds of the past, or hold terrible resentment into the future, because they were exposed to life, and not sheltered into oblivion. As a child, you knew not to talk back, or skip school, or do drugs, because you could see the consequences in the children begging on the streets, the family member who did not make it, or the neighbor whose kid ended up in prison. It was raw, but it was real, and as bad as it could be, it was for many the straw that broke the camel’s back and saved them from the same, sad destiny.
Maybe, just maybe, we should save all those paper towel rolls, instead of discarding, or even recycling them, to give to all kids. So we can teach them to be kids again, and smile and laugh, and look around, and learn from simple things, good and bad things alike, and ordinary people, good, bad or otherwise…
Are we raising a generation of self-gratifying brats?