Friday, October 19, 2012

Keeping kids young is worth giving up some time

From today's Briefing:

My theory for years has been that May is the new December, a month when the calendar is stuffed with more celebrations and volunteer obligations than the Christmas season.

My new theory is that October is the new May. October calendars are filled with costume parties, fall festivals, Fair Day, pumpkin patch visits, soccer games, football games and more. (Rangers baseball is, sadly, missing from that list this year.)
In the middle of all that fun, there are lessons to be learned.
There is an art to opening soda bottles. On Friday night, I chaperoned a middle school event for the first time. The music departments joined together to throw a costume party for band, orchestra and choir students.
Another mom and I were in charge of the drink table. We laid out dozens and dozens of paper cups and filled them with more flavors of soda than I knew existed.
The first three times I opened a 2-liter bottle, the soda exploded, coating my hands and arms and feet in a sugary mess.
My pop partner took over and showed me how to twist the top slightly. Then close it. Then open slowly. Then close it. Again and again until there was no risk of volcanic activity.
I’m now totally prepared for the next middle school party.
There is an art to creating cotton candy. On Saturday our elementary school PTA hosted a fall festival.
We hired a company to set up an inflatable obstacle course, a rock-climbing wall, a giant slide and more on the playing field. We had a pseudo-dunk tank to soak specially chosen teachers (and raise money for two nonprofits). We had a photo booth, face painter, cakewalk and a ring-toss game (rewarded with soda).
And we had a cotton candy machine.
My friend Jenny is a whiz at cotton candy and volunteered to run the table. I volunteered to help for a shift.
Creating a fluffy tornado of spun sugar on a stick is not as easy as it looks. And if you’re like me, in no time you’ll be sporting sugarcoated arms and hair and shoes.
After two hours of on-the- job training, I’m now totally prepared for the next fall festival.
Life is too rushed. I’m convinced that we are forcing our young people to grow up too fast.
Children have access — often by lying about their age — to social media tools they don’t actually need. They are exposed way too early to violence and sex and inappropriate language via video games and television, movies and YouTube.
They try to emulate adult behavior before they’ve fully experienced childhood.
Childhood shouldn’t be wasted, and kids instinctively know it, even if they pretend otherwise.
Some of the preteens who guzzled orange soda at the middle school Friday night showed up at the elementary school Saturday morning. Without a trace of shame they walked the cakewalk, climbed up and slid down the towering slide, posed for goofy photos in a cramped booth. They stood in line for cotton candy.
There was an army of moms and dads who gave up hours of their time to pull off the festival that day. We set aside other obligations to create some frivolous fun for our little community.
At times, it feels like we can’t afford that sort of time, especially in the busy month of October, or December, or May.
But when I think about those middle school kids and their little brothers and sisters having some child-like fun, I realize that that was the best way to spend Saturday.
Children need freedom to act silly. Whether they’re 5 or 15, they need permission to eat a little too much sugar, to soak a teacher with a bucket of water, to run around a field not for state-mandated minutes of exercise but just for fun.
As a bonus, we adults get to go along for the ride.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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