Last Child

I never mentioned how much we enjoyed the Trick or Treat party we threw on Halloween night. It may become a tradition. The kids from school came over, we ate pizza. They played outside until dusk, and those that weren’t dressed came inside and put on their costumes. We gathered flashlights and bags and doubled-tied our shoelaces. We were off.

It was a Wednesday, so it was quieter than years past. Still, the kids had fun rushing the houses–all 18 of them–and surprising the homeowners. You expect kids on Halloween; you don’t expect 18 of them all at once lined up single file.

TRICK OR TREAT!

The lining up started five houses in. There were turf wars at first. Pushing. They swarmed the houses like a flight of pigeons fighting over one French fry. The adults gained control of the situation and peace resumed. We made our way around our flat neighborhood.

We hadn’t gone too far when a few of the kids started getting tired. Nicholas was ready to go home after two blocks. That normally wouldn’t surprise me since it was late and Nicholas takes his bedtime seriously, but this was Halloween, the night of free candy and costumes and curfews out of whack. A few of the older kids echoed his exhaustion.

“Don’t you want to keep walking and get more candy?” I couldn’t believe a few of them wanted to call it a night after only an hour, maybe less.

“Nah.”

“No.”

“I’ve done enough walking.”

“I’m tired.”

“I just want to go home.” This one from Nicholas.

It took me a minute–because, really, I never expected a child to get tired on Halloween–but I figured it out. When I was a child, candy came twice, maybe three times a year: (1)Halloween, (2) Easter, and (3) Miscellaneous, which included birthdays, vacations, and other special occasions. The big development in lunches came in middle school with the advent of Capri Suns and Nature Valley Granola Bars, though I don’t know if they were called Nature Valley back then. They came in one flavor.

You can imagine the pandemonium that broke out when the soft and chewy chocolate chip Quaker Oats granola bars entered the scene. Justin Bieber in a crinkly foil wrapper.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, kids these days can be a bunch of entitled punks. They don’t even know how to long for a candy bar. That is absolutely pitiful.

I sold our expedit last weekend, the one we used to store Mikey and Nico’s toys. I had whittled down their toys enough that we didn’t need such a big piece of furniture, and it felt good. I was talking about it with the Mister later that night. My toys fit in a chest that sat on the floor of the closet in my room. If I did a good job cleaning up, I could close the bi-fold doors without pinching my fingers.

I didn’t know anyone with a toy storage unit, a cubby system, or anything that even hinted at a future expedit. No one needed one. If we got bored we played outside, often on bikes. The rule was to stay in the neighborhood and come home when the street lights came on.

These days, Mikey and Nico come home from school in time to see Wild Kratts while they eat their snack. I let them because I don’t think they should go straight from school into homework. Everyone needs a break.

One day, while I was doing the dishes, a neighborhood boy rode by on his bike. I found his mom and asked whether he had finished his homework already and she said no, she lets him ride his bike for half an hour after school to unwind and get some fresh air.

I am embarrassed to admit that the idea sounded revolutionary. I, who spent my life riding bikes after school, completely forgot the rush of jumping off of curbs before jumping into math. The boys joined their neighborhood friends the next day, and the day after that another group of kids joined in. Every day after school–the days without some practice of some sort–the boys unwind outside on their bikes with kids from the neighborhood.

They aren’t outside by themselves, though I know some parenting philosophies say they should do just that. The world seems too big and scary to me now. I don’t remember it so sinister as a child, and I think my parents would agree with me. Even the benign seems dangerous. While we were outside the first day, Mikey was almost hit by a car. The driver was texting. I never screamed so loud in my life.

Maybe one day they can ride bikes outside by themselves like I once did. For now, I stand outside and visit with the the other parents. We supervise, we talk about school, we reminisce.

Related: I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time.

Comments
30 Responses to “Last Child”
  1. Charlotte says:

    that’s it, I’m moving to California (or, at the very least, somewhere where it isn’t dark half the year).

    • Jules says:

      These were taken at 3:30, and it was dark by 4:30. :) Where do you live again? I thought it was in London or just outside.

      • Charlotte says:

        it is London, and in winter it gets pitch dark by about 3.45. Because we are relatively far north it takes about an hour to get dark and the lovely grey weather adds to the mix. Some days it barely gets light at all. But then we have all the culture to make up for it (HA!)

        • Erin (@mrs_danderfluff) says:

          My husband and I visited London in December a few years ago, and we were completely unprepared for this! Rain and cold we expected, but it never occurred to us how early it would get dark. And it seemed like all the businesses started closing as soon as the sun went down, too– is that a thing? Could be we’re just used to things being open fairly late here in Houston.

          Still, it was a lovely trip. Best thing we’ve ever done. I’d go back every year if I could.

          • Charlotte says:

            Hahaa! Yes, Erin – everyone wants to hibernate! Things close much earlier in the UK than they do in the US in general, though. It’s bonkers!

  2. This is so true and so sad. About everything – sweets aren’t a treat anymore, they’re just an expected part of life. No need to go crazy on Halloween, you had some yesterday and can buy some again tomorrow.

    And it’s true for other things, too, like awards/rewards. Every kid who is in any kind of t-ball/peewee sport has a shelf full of trophies and ribbons… you don’t even have to earn them. So they aren’t treasured like the ones I earned growing up and saved. As a teacher, too, I can say that it’s hard to give kids any kind of a treat… they just don’t appreciate things the way we did when we were kids.

    About the last child outdoors book, I’ve been wanting to read that, too! My boys do love to play outside, thankfully, but I’m ashamed how much my older son loves movies. He would watch them all day long if he could, and I’m sure he has on days my husband’s patience has worn thin and he needed a bit of a break.

    • Jules says:

      I definitely see it with the awards. On the one hand, positive reinforcement is good–it’s just seems we have swung the pendulum in the different direction.

      • Erin (@mrs_danderfluff) says:

        Ugh, yes. My students are scandalized when I only give a prize (usually a pencil or bookmark) to the *winner* of a game.

        As part of our end of school awards ceremony, we give a character trait award to each kid recognizing a trait he/she consistently displayed throughout the year– diligence, loyalty, honesty, etc. I like that the kids who aren’t naturally gifted in academics or sports still get some recognition without cheapening the value of the award.

  3. Amy says:

    Oh, I love this post! So true . . . adventure beckons on the ‘open’ road!

    P.S. Sorry about the picture; I look as though I have a wattle. Super.

  4. Missie says:

    We hardly ever have candy in the house and my kids lasted 10 houses on Halloween. My 9 yr old wanted to sit on the steps and scare kids as they came up. I was disappointed but I guess I need to let them have their own experiences. If as an adult he recalls Halloween as being so fun because he got to scare kids, then I was sucessful! Capri Suns! LOL I remember opening up my lunch bag in 4th grade and seeing a Hostess apple pie…I was beyond thrilled. Until I realized it wasn’t my lunch.

    • Jules says:

      We never have candy in the house, either! Aside from the Halloween, Easter, and special occasions, the boys never get candy. They do get sweat treats, granola bars, ice cream, dessert, etc. etc. I think that, overall, there is a general sense of jadedness among these kids. Nothing is exciting anymore, probably because everything is exciting.

  5. Jenn says:

    Sounds wonderful. Our Halloween went much the same way – although perhaps our kids are more candy-focused, because they definitely wanted to hit all the houses before coming home. I agree that kids need outdoor time. I am grateful that in our aftercare at school the kids go out to the playground for at least 1/2 hour if not more. The caregivers know that the kids, especially the boys, need to get their wiggles out or they won’t settle down inside. They only get about 20 minutes of recess a day – and that’s only if its not inclement weather. I don’t think schools are doing our children a service by keeping kids at their desks all day, but it is what it is.

    • Jules says:

      The school aftercare at the boys’ school provides outside time, too. Kids need that time outside and the boys LOVE it when I work in the library because they can stay in aftercare. In a way, it really chaps my hide. If they new everything we have sacrificed for me to stay at home! And they want to stay in aftercare!

  6. Hmm… I remember friends of mine who had the Good Food- prepackaged snacks, Capri-Suns, Gushers. We had none of that, so I always wanted to go crazy on my friends’ snacks. I had to learn moderation and listening to what my body actually wanted when I was much older. (Still not very good at it, but I’m trying). Anyway- sometimes I think having that stuff around might take some of the sparkle off it, in a good way.

    When it comes down to it, though, I can’t spend the money on Gushers. I’m too cheap. So I’m pretty much doing that same thing my mom did…

    Brain dump. No conclusive thoughts. :)

    • Jules says:

      I don’t let the boys have that stuff, either, but I try not to make it a bad food since I don’t want them to end up like me and have food issues. They really want those disgusting Lunchables. Sometimes I buy them as a treat, usually in the summer.

  7. Melissa says:

    Have you read Michael Chabon’s memoir, Manhood for Amateurs? There is at least one chapter–possibly more–that relates. Not to mention, it’s a lovely book. I love his fiction, but it requires some attention and not as many interruptions as my reading suffers from these days. The memoir is a quick read in comparison, and wonderful. If I didn’t have so many books piled on my nightstand, and more waiting for me to pick up at the library, I’d read it again.

    It’s been so nice in the past year or so that my kids are old enough to play outside with the neighbors, mostly unsupervised. I do make them do homework first, because once they’re outside, it’s like pulling the proverbial teeth to get them back in.

  8. Tristan B. says:

    I’m sorry but you lost me at ‘he takes his bedtime very seriously’. I am imagining a little executive pointing at his wristwatch, tapping the glass in impatience. You neglected to mention on the granola bar that it was the texture of stiff cardboard and one wrong bite could make it crumble into a heap of dust!

    • Jules says:

      That’s exactly how he is! He puts himself to bed sometimes. What is wrong with him?

      Yeah, those granola bars were awful, but we all wanted them.

  9. Agree, agree, agree!! I’m starting to feel old, especially since I’m beginning sentences with, “Well, when I was a kid…” and I talk about the 80′s like they were the good ol’ days. But heavens, YES! Candy on Halloween WAS a treat. I saved it for as long as possible because my mother NEVER bought me candy any other time (except for the Christmas candy buffet that she would put out each year on her hutch).

    Riding bikes up and down our street? Every nice, and not so nice, day that we had! It saddens me when I see people posting pictures on Facebook of group get-togethers, and everyone in the photo is looking down at their phone or iPad. Whatever happened to the days when we could go 5 minutes without needing to look something up on the phone or update a status??

    What happened to the days when people concentrated on DRIVING and not on trying to text “lol” while glancing at the road every now and then.

    Is it too much to ask that we linger on front porches, catch fireflies in jars, ride bikes to the corner and back, or appreciate people who hand out free candy once a year? Are please and thank you a thing of the past??? {Sigh} Or am I simply an old fogey…at the ripe old age of 31?

    For the record – I loved this post. Oh, and my toys had to fit in a small cradle that belonged to me when I was a baby – what didn’t fit, must be tossed. No excessive storage system needed, and it was up to me to decide what stayed and what went. Simple. :)

  10. Jenn says:

    Oh, this post truly strikes a cord – both with the loss of treats, the over abundance of toys, and the freedom of childhood.
    We’re fairly strict about what the kids are allowed to eat, and don’t have any pre-packaged foods for lunches and dinners, with the thought that the treats are for special occasions. The kids were pretty excited about Halloween, but we only had a four children come to our door this year.
    I’ve also been lamenting the lost after school play hours – there aren’t any children in neighbourhood and we’re close to a busy street. We do ride our bikes home from school (most days), but it isn’t enough. I grew up in the country…there’s something to be said for the aimlessness of wandering through fields, forests and riverbanks. Although I wouldn’t wish it upon the nicest of teenager, and I sometimes wondered how so many of us survived. I do think that there’s something special to being a child of the country (I’d just prefer to have a city house and a country house…and while I’m fantasizing, I’d like to not work and have a large income to support travelling abroad every year).

  11. I feel so fortunate that my kids grew up in a rural area. We lived in the foothills of Mt. Hood, on a cul-de-sac surrounded by woods/creek. Thanks to the cul-de-sac, not much need to worry about cars or strangers. Felt so glad that my kids could run and play freely outside, the way I did. I occasionally wondered if we were dooming them to be hopelessly out of step with most of their peers. Sadly, they’ve easily joined the legion of lethargic video-gaming/texting/constantly status-updating teens they now go to school with. (Yes, I feel both old and curmudgeonly!)

  12. So funny! And I think it is true – kids have much more exposure to treat foods. Our elementary school math teacher used to give each student who scored 90% or above on a math test a single red vine. A single red vine! It was the most exciting thing for us but I’m guessing it wouldn’t have the same thrill now.

    Granted, I had NO candy or snacks of any kind in our house, but I think even my friends with more lenient parents saw candy as a bigger treat than it is now.

  13. jeanne says:

    This posting hits home with me with regard to the prevalence of junk food and lack of outdoor play time. I recall one cake at school in my entire 8 years of catholic grade school. My daughter had treats everytime there was a birthday and the school finally told parents they had to be normal sized homemade cupcakes or cookies and not costco size huge ones at about 600 calories a pop. Why are there free suckers EVERYWHERE–the bank, the dr. office, you name it? No wonder candy is no big deal. It was gold to us, since it was rare.

    My eye dr. told me there is a very dramatic increase in nearsightedness in children due to computer usage and lack of using the eye muscles for long distance vision (like you get when playing outside and looking over yonder at another yard). WOW was all I could say. I have turned into the Queen of “it used to be better in the old days” because it’s so true on so many levels.

  14. I love this post. I think it might be my favorite.

    I think that you’re exactly right about many children being entitled. And I think the root of it is that we can all be somewhat entitled, as parents {I’m not speaking about you, Jules- I’m speaking in general terms}.
    We, as adults, live very differently than our parents did {at least I do}. I feel like Sean and I are very thrifty with some of our spending and much more conservative than society would dictate, but we are still very outlandish, in spending, compared to our parents {at our age} and certainly, our grandparents.
    I remember my mom told me that her and my dad had a broken toilet in their house for 3 years because they refused to put it on a credit card. REFUSED! And so they saved. For three years.

    That is unheard of, in our generation {it’s weird to not have a totally remodeled house these days} and I wonder if there will be a cosmic backlash to all of the sophisticated, catalog-living. Our kids watch it and then I’m surprised when my daughter will say, “Let’s just go get that.” Well, of course she says that.

    Because she heard me say it about a $248.00 Anthropologie cardigan!

  15. Fairfax Avenue says:

    Biking down “Witch’s Hill” at dusk and then running into the house to get warm. Freeze tag or cigarette tag across two front lawns. Volleyball over the driveway gate. That’s what I did after school up to about 7th grade. My own children played outside after school (that dismissed at 4:15) on a busy street in twilight with all the other kids – maybe forty just on our block. Then we moved to a neighborhood of apartments and unfamiliar faces. No neighbors their age. No classmates nearby. It’s too quiet. They stay at home and I’m lonesome too.

  16. Kathryn says:

    This is interesting, as are the comments. My children also stopped going for candy fairly quickly into the holiday, but expressed different reasons than those listed here. They did say it was enough and that they didn’t need anymore. But not with a sense of entitlement (although believe me, they have that sense aplenty too many times). They just felt it was enough. The don’t get candy regularly and I think in many ways this contributed to that. They felt as though what they had collected represented enough of a change from normal and they didn’t feel the need to go overboard. Instead they wanted to run around with their friends and enjoy what they had collected, rather than wishing it was more. My oldest (10) was fairly articulate about why she was stopping, my youngest (6) just said he had enough and was done. We talk a lot with them about listening to your body and trying to know when you’ve had enough as my daughter has a lot of sensory issues and I don’t know if those discussions influenced their decision. I’ve made it quite clear that I think its healthy (mentally) to sometimes go overboard with things and to feel like you’ve indulged and I think that’s what they did. They both seemed happy and content with their decision, even after they ran out of candy, and that’s what important.

  17. Kate says:

    That book is amazing. Hearing my mom say, “Go outside. It’ll blow the stink off of you.” was a constant in my childhood and I want that for my children as well. Do we have a lot of toys? Yes. Matchbox cars and Legos and craft supplies abound in our house but so does mandatory outside play. And it’s part of why we moved to this neighborhood – kids to play with. So glad.

    • Jeen-Marie says:

      Kate- I heard “Go blow the stink off you as a child” as well!
      From both Mom and Grandma. Warms my heart to see someone else is familiar with a childhood favorite!

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Hi! I’m Jules.

I used to be an attorney, but it made me grumpy. Now I write about life, sweet and savory, as a wife and mother to two small boys. My knowledge of dinosaurs knows no bounds.

You can read more, including the meaning behind the name Pancakes and French Fries here. And, yes, I really am phenomenally indecisive.