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March 29, 2010

GET OFF MY LAWN!

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 5:48 pm

I paused at the skate park on my way to work. I’ve never been too into Extreme Sports videos with their slick camera angles and indie soundtracks, but I enjoy watching people skate and snowboard in person. I like seeing the boys – it’s still almost always boys – just kick around and try things out, trip over themselves on new tricks, and struggle (unsuccessfully) not to seem too pleased when they finally nail it. What can I say? In almost any arena, from sports to sex to radical empowerment, watching people who know they’re badass isn’t nearly as much fun as watching people discover their badassness. Chrysalis is cool as fuck.

Today there was a guy there – early-to-mid 30s, tousled slacker haircut, wearing a THRASHER t-shirt – with his two little boys and their BMX bikes. The boys couldn’t have been older than five or six, wearing tiny black helmets that were nonetheless huge on their tinier heads, making them look like cartoon turtles – one nervous, the other excited. Thrasher!Dad did a couple of circuits on his skateboard, rolling lazily up and down the ramp with his take-out coffeecup in one hand. Then he popped back up to where the boys were waiting and encouraged them to go for it, “You can ride here or here. Don’t go over there. Watch out for the man. Take turns, okay? Be careful. Careful! There you go… YAH BUDDY!”

Three thoughts about kids:

1) I know that I should feel cynical and irritated over the institutionalization of deviant activity. The fact that something which got kids in my generation and the previous one harassed by the cops is now considered appropriate for five year olds should at least annoy me. But it doesn’t. It’s stupid that you can buy a stickers at the mall that say SKATEBOARDING IS NOT A CRIME. It’s both encouraging and aggravating that city money went into building a public skate park to “keep those kids off the streets.” But parents wanting to teach their kids to skateboard or snowboard or BMX or whatever is…heartwarming. Because, regardless of how normative these activities might have become, I can’t imagine there’s a skateboarder in our generation who doesn’t get off, at least a little bit, on the idea that skating is a defiant act. And the impulse to teach defiance to your own children is beautiful.

2) A few years back, Shon mentioned something to me that I didn’t really understand at the time. We were talking about how non-sexual physical affection isn’t really available to single straight men in contemporary patriarchy – and he also mentioned that single straight men (and gay men, period) aren’t allowed to be alone around children. I don’t think about this too often because, for whatever reason, child-molestation by strangers isn’t an issue I’m very conscious about. But as I stood there alone, leaning over the railing, watching and smiling at the baby-BMXers and their Dad, it dawned on me that if I were a 28-year old man inexplicably hanging around the playground, watching kids skateboard, someone probably would’ve called the cops on me. That’s shitty for a lot of reasons.

3) This is an idea that I expect I’ll be developing and refining for a while, but I’ll start working on it here. It occurred to me a couple of years ago, while watching Across the Universe of all things:

It’s important for children to have a variety of relationships and adult role models in their lives, both parental and non-parental. Which means it’s important for society that there be BOTH people who are parents and people who are not parents. There’s not one right way of doing things. Both are necessary. Specifically because, as I understand it, becoming a parent fundamentally changes your relationship not only to your own children, but to ALL children. It brings out a primal impulse to protect at all costs. No matter how exhausted or frustrated or angry you might get. You can hate you kids’ stupid asses sometimes, if that’s what it takes to keep them safe. And it’s something that no person can ever fully understand or manifest until they, too, become a parent.

I’ve heard it said, “There are two kinds of people in the world: Children and Parents.” But you actually need both. This protective impulse is absolutely necessary for the survival and progress of humankind. But it’s not sufficient. Because humanity only makes progress insofar as we take risks. Incredible, dangerous, terrifying risks. The kind of risks no good parent could ever countenance for his or her child – or probably anybody’s child. So, while children need loving, responsible parents to protect them and keep them from doing totally stupid shit, they also – especially teenagers and young adults – need loving, responsible non-parents to support them in doing totally stupid shit.

The kind of totally stupid shit that it would be unfair to ask any good parent to enable; not because those parents aren’t understanding or with-it or self-actualization oriented, but because WATCHING (much less helping) their baby get fuckin’ wasted for the first time, or throw herself off a cliff with nothing but a wooden board strapped to her feet, or go out on a limb and stake her reputation and livelihood against all the accepted conventions of her discipline, or join a radical terrorist cell means dealing with that raging clawing primal beast inside screaming, “NO NO NO!” (And no kid wants to do that shit in front of her parents anyway because, ultimately, while good kids believe that Mom and Dad are only worrying because they Just Doesn’t Understand…they still don’t want to worry Mom and Dad.) Kids need some responsible adults in their lives who are conscientiously going to be a bad influence on them – because, otherwise, the only bad influences they’ll have are each other, and that’s a recipe for adolescent disaster.

And there’s a certain level of sacrifice here. The Fun Aunt gets to be the fun aunt, but she only ever gets to be the fun aunt. There’s no such thing as the Fun Mom. Mom might be fun or she might not be, but no matter what, she’s Mom. Until the day she dies, she’s your mother. Until the day you die, she’s your mother. No matter how deep the relationships you, as a non-parent, might build with the kids in your life, they’ll never be comparably complex, intimate, or profound as the relationships those kids have with their parents. You’ll never have as much potential to fuck a kid up as his parents do, but you’ll never have as much potential to inspire him as they do either. And if you’re choosing not to have children because you love kids and want to be meaningfully involved in their lives and want to help them become artists and revolutionaries, then the necessary distance from children, as a whole, that allows you the perspective to unreservedly cherish their Promethean natures might also leave you heartbreakingly lonely sometimes.

But being a parent is also heartbreaking (I’m told). And both things need to be done. Some people are well suited to one, and some people are well suited to the other. (And some people aren’t well suited to either; some people just aren’t Kid People. But I’m not talking about them here. I’m talking about me.)

Of course, this works best when the parents and the non-parents who love the same kids work in tandem, instead of against each other. When non-parents can help build bridges between the kids they love and the parents who know how to protect those kids like no other. That’s not usually the way it goes… But it could be.

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