Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Homecoming and coming home: an account of grievances

Note: This column appears in the 11/10 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/11 issue of the Peoria Times

Punch me in the face if this column ever takes on a “kids these days!” or “when I was young, things were like this!’ tone. I never want to be the one making sweeping generational generalizations out of frustration and a false sense of nostalgia. I’m sure the 1720s witnessed its share of ungrateful, punk kids who lazily ditched the intricacies of word-of-mouth to play on their fancy newspapers all day.

That said, allow me to be specific about my angst. There are several groups of kids in our neighborhood who roam free of the restraints of parental supervision. Recently, united by their brute incivility, they have joined forces. Some of their accomplishments have included setting the local plant life ablaze—in order, I assume, to send a smoke signal to airborne local law enforcement to save the rest of us from their wrath—and washing the street of debris with their own urine. I wish I were joking.

The father of three of these children—the ringleaders—can often be seen working out shirtless in his garage, oblivious to the surrounding chaos, as if the in-street fisticuffs and free-flying curse words are par for the neighborhood course, or less important to address than the military press.

As a result, the remaining sane ones in the neighborhood have been forced to parent the various roaming children, if only to protect our own property and way of life. While one of my neighbors has taken an active role in becoming a feared yet respected father-figure disciplinarian, I myself have responded by trying to think of various ways by which to avoid destruction and also passively teach harsh, painful lessons. For example, an invisible electric fence for humans was a purchase I openly considered making. I also look forward to the day I can use the air horn I purchased to ward off coyotes while running to make children fall from the branches of the tree in our front yard.

We complained about such matters to each other as my wife and I waited in the car with our daughter in my in-law’s driveway last weekend. Next door a group of dressed-up high schoolers took pictures in the front yard, a preface to the night’s homecoming dance. My mouth was left agape by several of the outfits these young girls donned, and I half-jokingly demanded that my wife cover our daughter’s eyes.

By then, my mother-in-law had joined us in the car, and she laughingly warned us to just wait for the day when our daughter wants to dress like that. We, utterly confident in our ability to ward off such potentially requested attire with proper parenting, shunned the thought. From the driver’s seat, I assured my daughter that she’d never be the girl dressed like that, just as in my mind I assured myself she’d never be the neighborhood Denise the Menace, nor be influenced by kids like that.

Our daughter, who is 2, still intently staring at the glitz and glamour across the way, responded to my bold prediction thusly: “Wow, look … boys!’

I swear … kids these days.

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