Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Oh, to be young again… but back then, not now…

I wonder how different I would be if I were a child living in today’s generation.

This was one of the random questions that popped into my head while I was lying in bed around 4 a.m. I have an incurable addiction to the nighttime. Something about it stimulates my senses more than any other time of the day. Many people I know make early mornings their personal time. Me? I like to share my moments of reflection with late night infomercials and early morning ag reports.

I think my love for nighttime must have an autobiographical reason – when I was young, it was a time when my parents took the time to read books to me, when life slowed down and readied itself for another day under the sun. When I shared bedrooms with my siblings, it was a time when we actually stopped fighting for the first time that day and spoke to one another, sharing stories and listening to what the other had to say. It’s strange to think, but the darkness provided us an outlet for getting into our own heads and coming closer together than we were able to during the day.

But by breakfast time the next morning, we were back to throwing Captain Crunch cereal at each other.

During most of my youth I shared my bedroom with my siblings. I shared a lot of things with them, and I don’t know if children these days know about sharing to the extent that I did when I was their age.

I can really only speculate here, because I have several friends who have children, but they prefer I stay away from their kids because I reek of nicotine and I have a tendency to talk with the tongue of a drunken pirate, but for one, I’ve noticed children these days are using cell phones at an earlier and earlier age. I’m seeing kindergarten-age children with phones that cost more than mine – and I’m somewhat certain that I do, in fact, earn more money than they do.

Seeing children that age these days with cellphones, I can’t help but visualize what it must be like in kindergartens now. I imagine today’s teachers attempting to get the class’ attention, but unable to speak over the ubiquitous ringing of cellphones and the incessant overbearing flow of pre-pubescent chatter:

MRS. NELSON: Johnny, could you put your cell phone away, please? I’d like to see you begin your drawing project.

JOHNNY (with his head buried in his phone, he looks up): I’m sorry, Mrs. Nelson, but this is an emergency. My friend Billy just poo-pood in the sandbox, and I’m trying to talk him out of burying it.

I don’t know exactly how things are today, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, once an infant speaks its first word, they are immediately placed on a mailing list for Verizon.

Children are also raised with TVs in almost every room now.

Children these days, I’ve noticed, are self-contained. I had none of that growing up. I was raised having to learn with my three siblings how to share our one home phone line. If our sister was ever on the phone too long, we’d have to stand next to her impatiently, waiting for her to notice our displeasure. Or if we didn’t want to be in the vicinity of her, we’d simply jump on a different phone in another room (the antiquated version of what is now known as “the conference call”) and tell her to hurry up and shut up. And she did the same to us if she ever needed the phone. And that system worked out great.

It was the same for TV. We owned one TV when we were kids, and the four of us learned to share a mutual love for the same shows. Or if it was a day that our favorite shows happened to be on at the same time, we ran home after school and rushed through our homework as fast as we could so we could take control of the TV.

No day was the same – we improvised every day to new rules, new playbooks. And we had our battles during these times, sure. I got some bruises from these sibling skirmishes, and was guilty of doing some biting, scratching and kicking and learning how to talk like a pirate. But in the midst of it all, our parents pretty much left us alone to deal with each other in these situations. They never intervened – they allowed us to work out our problems. They gave us the chance to learn about compromise on our own, and to learn the hard way that if we kick our big brother in the shins really hard, he’ll respond by  doing the same thing to you.

It was moments like that where I also indirectly learned about Newton’s Laws of Motion.

I also learned a bit about politics when fighting for the phone or the TV – that Big Brother doesn’t always win. Democracy, the power of the people, always prevails. Whenever my sister, little brother and I teamed up, we were able to defeat our old brother, no matter how intimidating he could be.

We learned many valuable lessons this way, something kids now must have to learn in different situations. We learned about conflict resolution, and we built up our social skills and ability to interact with others. And we learned about sharing. Television may not be a great teacher, but working out who will watch it and when was a great learning tool in getting me and my siblings to grow up.

I do know something for certain about this world that I learned as I look back on my childhood – if you can learn to get along well with your family, you can get along with anybody in this world.

And that’s a lesson I hope everyone learns at some point.