Where has childhood gone?

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I have a friend that has a 3-year-old daughter.  Her daughter plays with my daughter. Because I am this low-pressure-be-a-kid kind of mom I was very happy to meet another mom that was similar. I noticed that her daughter was allowed to run around barefoot. Mine too. She didn’t get stressed out if her daughter got all wet or dirty playing outside. Me too. She didn’t worry if I fed her daughter when she was at my house. I am the same. I got this strange feeling that her daughter was a kid.
100 percent kid. I loved it! I was ecstatic! Another kid without a gazillion rules to follow! Another kid that was allowed to get dirty, have snacks, be super silly, make messes, go barefoot, color outside the lines, read books upside down and change her clothes 50 times a day.  I love that when my daughter plays with this other little girl that they are engaged in pure little kid play. It is pure. That is the key. Pure Play. Most kids don’t get to experience it all that much anymore.
 Nowadays our kids come home from school and they have to follow a routine. They do homework, they go to their activities, and they may have play dates. They play chess, go to cub scouts, go to basketball, and go to dance, gymnastics, karate, homework club and even Saturday school.  They have busy and structured lives. They have to behave a certain way all the time. The majority of their time is spent working on growing up and not on being a kid.
 I remember third grade really well. I remember my teacher. I remember my friends. I remember doing a lot of multiplication during class. I remember going to the teacher when I finished my work and she would give me feedback. I would go back to my desk and make corrections. I have no recollection of ever doing homework.  Never. Ever. I do remember coming home from school and playing outside till dark or dinnertime, whichever came first. I engaged in a lot of pretend play with the neighborhood kids. On the weekend, my mom kicked my sister and me out of the house by 11 a.m. and we played. I got to be a kid.
 We expect so much from our kids. We are surprised when they do something stupid things and screw up. We forget that they are just kids. As I grew I did stupid things and screwed up, but it was all part of growing up.  I got a lecture. I got a punishment. I got to move on. But, it never seemed that I was judged and made to be this horrible bad kid with a bullying problem. I was accepted as a kid with some growing up to do.
 My kids have a long ways to go before they grow up, but they are fun to be with. I love their kidness. I love the silly stupid conversations we have at the dinner table. I love when they come inside thoroughly wet or muddy or dirty because they made a river in the backyard.
I love that they make a big giant Lego messes (OK not really, but I am trying to make a point here) because they just created a whole city in space with pirates and princess leia is harry potter’s girlfriend and Chewbacca is playing Quidditch with Jack Sparrow. I love that my son carried his underwear around in his lunchbox when he was 2 years old for about six months. I love that they wear their Halloween costumes everywhere for a whole month before Halloween. I love that my daughter wears toe socks with flip-flops pink cheetah pants and a striped shirt. These are things we don’t do as grown ups and these are important developmental experiences.
 I read something somewhere about the importance of play in brain development. Our youth do not experience enough free play. There is a lot kids can learn from play. They learn to negotiate, manipulate, get their way, not get their way, give in, fight back, problem solve and they also rule the world- their world.
 They need to be kids now while they are kids. We need to enjoy them being kids too. One of the things about the three-year-old little girl I mentioned is that she had cancer. Her mother realized that she just wanted her daughter to experience childhood. She wanted her to be a little girl. And she is. She is this sweet, vibrant, intelligent little girl who I believe will grow up to be a well-balanced well-adjusted adult.
 We can’t pen them in. We can’t hold them back. We need to let them be who they are. They will grow up. They will get bigger. They will move through all their phases of life. If we guide them along the way, but not organize every aspect of their day they will get to experience childhood. And they will end up just fine and OK.
Chris Bernstein
Los  Alamos Columnist