From the monthly archives: May 2012

The story of Etan Patz, a six year old who disappeared in 1979 on his way alone to a New York City subway ride to school, is a headline you’d now be shocked to see, not only because of the every-parents-nightmare nature of it, but because nobody would let their child walk solo on a city street.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/25/nyregion/man-claims-he-strangled-etan-patz-police-say.html?_r=1

Today, the Department of Child Services would arrive at the family’s door of the assumed forsaken kid and instantly remove him to foster care.

How times have changed. If a teenage girl is seen walking by herself nowadays, it feels like: What’s wrong with this picture? Somebody should be chaperoning that poor abandoned soul. It can be mind numbing how much we arrange playdates and shuttle our children to and fro, door-to-door. How we all sit hyper-observant at the park, gripped by fear, that some pervert lurking near a trashbin might vanish with them. Even supervised after-school activity, necessitates our due-diligence about the expected full-time surveillance.

A stark contrast to the era when our parents said, “don’t come back until the street lamps come on.” Yeah, that’s right, kicked out for the day. If you actually went to someone’s house whose mom would allow gangs of kids to trample in muddied and maraud the food bins, she’d be laying on the sofa with a cold rag on her forehead, a cigarette in the ashtray and watching Days of our Lives. There was no “snack time” and friendly supervised play.

I’m not romancing the past, but let’s face it, present life demands full engagement to be a responsible parent. It’s exhausting, this Matrix we’ve created. We are appropriately horrified by stories like Etan Patz’s, but because of them, we tend toward a disproportionate response, to believe that every grown up in sight without a child in tow is a pedophile or kidnapper. The idea of children riding bikes by themselves down the street to meet friends is quashed by images of chopped body pieces found in a crate on the outskirts of town. 

No doubt, our kids already miss the freedom and boredom we had. And though we deride our own parent’s lack of participation, survival and creativity came out of those unsupervised hours. Our children’s summers, for sure, won’t be filled by ambling over flower-covered hills to re-unite with a best friend, arriving at the park for a pick-up game of baseball, or for a full day of swimming at the public pool. It will be parsed into strictly regulated minutes by grown ups instructing them on how to be visibly safe, engrossed, and happy.

I don’t know, maybe we’ve dipped in too deep again. Like my one of previous posts, have we over-corrected to the point of immobilzing natural growth, curiosity and imagination, having taken every ounce of quiet away from ourselves in the process? Perhaps we’re doing the best by this generation with the hovering, the indoor playgrounds, the plastic, the smart phones. But with summer looming, I wonder, are we ultimately doing more harm than good?

Pam Alster, former stand-up comedienne, Lifetime TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her forthcoming debut novel Robin’s Blue. www.pamalster.com

 

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The thing that strikes me most after having viewed Lena Dunham’s much touted new HBO Series Girls is: we’ve done it again, we’ve overhauled feminism and sexual revolution and general freedoms to produce the opposite of whatever we intended: an age that is disconnected and immobilized.

Let me say upfront, I applaud Lena Dunham’s accomplishment in writing, producing and starring in her own show. No easy feat. I like it, and as I’m preparing to watch the fourth episode in queue on my DVR, I’m enjoying it even more as it develops. Please be sure, it’s not her I’m critiquing here, it’s society.

As the mother of an almost eight-year old girl, I am attuned to the present-day experience of youth and the direction my daughter will be heading. What the world looks like from their post-college view is of great interest to me.

The portrayal of the overall naivete of these 20-somethings is more disturbing than their hyperbolic narcissism and inability to pay the rent. (Not that my generation didn’t have their moments of complete self-involvement and poverty.) The thought: How do they avoid getting murdered everyday? is followed by, well, the Lord looks out for babies and fools.

In the first episode, Ms. Dunham’s character, after being financially cut-off from her parents, stops by unannounced to engage in a disturbing booty call with a guy who refuses to return her texts. Not distressing because it’s kinky, or hot, or cavalier, but because she talks nervously about her financial woes through the whole escapade while he describes pervy underage rape images into her ear — which one can only glean that he learned, not from a genesis of fantasy within his sensual soul, but from where all memories of his conquests are more certainly culled from: the island of You Porn, where wanton waxed, bleached and implanted females live. There’s nothing titillating about it. It’s just plain sad.

And then there’s the friend who represents the virgin “trend,” as my nurse practitioner at a recent OB/Gyn appointment described it. She’s even more disheartening. This girl’s so distracted by reality TV shows and her self-comparison to any and all of the four Sex In the City characters, that she’s forgotten to start her own life.

Young women who chose to abstain from sex until their mid-twenties was the subject of one of Oprah’s final season’s shows, and it was treated as an almost mental illness by the professional panel. Even more unsettling about this burgeoning “type,” is the notion that, due to hormones in the food supply and whatever other environmental variables, this generation is menstruating almost two years earlier on average than previous ones. So this “choice” of virginal behavior defers their adult sexuality to well-beyond puberty, which, at the current rate, ends by eighteen.

When I was growing up… Harrumph! I didn’t know one person who remained a virgin past their first year of college. By that time we were not only talking and reading about sex — Our Bodies Ourselves, the Hite Report, the Happy Hooker, anyone? — we were comparing notes, experimenting with our own anatomy, making it our business to know how to achieve orgasm. Maybe it was feminism. Maybe it was irresponsible, destructive behavior. Maybe we were inappropriately over-sexed teens and entirely unsupervised. Maybe we were normal.

Girls makes it seem as if early to mid-twenties is the first time any of these people realize that they are actual women, it’s as if they’re still in high school. Though they are seemingly obsessed with their vaginas, very few of them know where it is, much less how to use it. What’s worse is that the only adventurous, worldly friend in the crew, is so ethereal and oblivious, she not only gets pregnant, she’s reckless enough to miss her own abortion “party.” A tragic message of promiscuity — if anyone considers going through an experimental stage, all brain function and discretion will be removed to the point of self-annihilation.

Parental fear that their budding adults are going to garner a disease, produce an unwanted child, become porn actors, or –oh my heart! – altogether grow up, is nothing new. But it does seem as if we’ve become so intense about saving our offspring from the ills of the world, that we’ve terrorized them by the thought of any true carnal experience, instead of allowing them to organically feel their way through it.

If Girls is evidence of anything, it’s that we “grown ups” need to chill the F*@! out. What’s the worst that can happen, our kids will make ridiculous mistakes, learn from them and then end up being responsible adults like us? There’s no way to avoid the very real separation that occurs in families during the teen years, but I intend to educate my daughter as much as possible before she stops listening to me. And frankly, I hope she knows more about herself than these girls do before entering college to a life of drunken frat parties and boys who’s seemingly only sexual experience comes from web-based porn.

It’s a testimony to Lena Dunham’s insider description of today’s young adult that I’m compelled to comment. And though I worry about the fate of my child’s generation, I also understand that we survived disco, the birth of AIDS and the drug-fueled-money-binge 80’s, the fervor of rehab and the explosion of internet porn. I’m confident we’ll muddle our way through this current stupor.

Pam Alster, former stand-up comedienne, Lifetime TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her forthcoming debut novel Robin’s Blue. www.pamalster.com

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