2010-08-12 / Sam Bari

Growin’ up, stretchin’ out and livin’ large

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

About this time every summer, when I see kids at the beach and in the parks where they swim, fish, play and have fun, I can’t help but reminisce about my childhood.

Growing up was a fantastic experience. It was a real adventure.

Now don’t misunderstand me… I’m not saying that growing up is no longer an adventure. I am sure it is.

But the adventure back then was different.

The times were not more innocent, or better, and the world was not more honest and pure. We were just not aware of all the pitfalls because information and communication weren’t as sophisticated as they are now.

In today’s world, parents are more informed. They know something about parenting when they decide to have children. If they don’t, they don’t have to go far to find out the basic rules and required skills.

When I was a kid, we more or less grew up with our parents. It was a grand experiment for all of us. The process often turned into a contest of which one of us could outwit the other.

Not so much any more.

Today, kids have milestones that measure their growth. It starts with pre-kindergarten, which didn’t exist when I was a kid. That gives children the opportunity to learn how to read before they start actual school, so they have a leg up on their peers.

The next milestone is joining a soccer league, followed by martial arts lessons and a plethora of other after-school and extracurricular activities designed to accelerate the maturing process to warp speed.

Watching kids grow up today just wears me out.

When I was a kid, the milestones were different. The first one was no longer having to wear a diaper. That was a big deal. Then, it was riding a bicycle without training wheels. That was a rite of passage to being a bona fide “big kid.”

Then, the true test of a wellrounded, totally developed kid was when we could dive into the deep end of a swimming pool without supervision or worry about drowning. That was the day when a kid overcame the last fear.

From that moment on, it was time to stretch out and let the adventure begin.

My first adventure was when I was 12. My friend, Brian, and I went on a camping trip to a local state park that was about four miles from our neighborhood. We went fishing there, but we had never stayed overnight.

This was special. Brian and I were going to camp for four days. We would be unsupervised, on our own, with nobody to tell us what to do and when to do it.

We felt as if we were released from prison. There would be no grass to cut or garbage to take out. We didn’t have to help with the dishes, make our beds or put away laundry.

For the first time in our lives, we were real people, and life was good.

Well...sort of.

Brian and I needed camping gear. We went to the Army/Navy surplus store, where they sold leftover equipment from WWII at prices we could afford.

We bought knapsacks, haversacks, shelter halves, mess gear and sleeping bags for just a few dollars. Hauling it all home on our bicycles was a chore.

After we filled our packs with all the stuff we thought we’d need, they were so heavy, we could barely lift them.

There was no way we were going to put all that gear on bicycles and pedal them for four miles. Fortunately, Brian’s dad came to our rescue.

He threw our gear, as well as our bicycles, into the back of his pickup truck and gave us a ride to the campground.

We set up our tent and for the next four days, we gathered wood, made fires, hung our wet bathing suits and towels on makeshift clotheslines, washed our mess gear and clothes by hand, hauled garbage and burned our food.

Not fun.

Life was much easier at home.

When Brian’s mom and dad came to visit us after two days to see how we were doing, we were ready to admit defeat.

When they asked if we needed anything, we wanted to say, “We need our beds and a shower.”

But we didn’t. We were too stubborn.

Our first adventure living in a system we didn’t understand was a bitter lesson learned.

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