Do you ever think about living in simpler times? During that uncomplicated century when doctors made house calls and children played with wooden ladles by candlelight for hours without complaining? When there was no Twitter, glitter, raves, or men who start every sentence with “Bro”? Well in those “simpler” times, infections were treated with prayer and every seventh child a woman had died from something ominous like “Wet Cough”, or “Cat Stomach.” *
Today our struggles are different and comparatively not really even struggles at all. What’s so hard? Fighting with our kids about how many gummy vitamins they’re permitted to eat in a 24 hour period, or whether they get a Spiderman sprinkler? Conditions have improved drastically, but for some reason, many of us can’t seem to appreciate it. I complain all the time, but only because I think it’s funny, not because I’m actually unhappy.
We all cringe at the thought of life in the 1800’s. Using washboards and crapping in a hole next to a coyote sounds dreadful. But many of us continue to fawn over the purity of our own childhoods in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Things like Pepsi Clear, station wagons, smooth jazz, asbestos, clove cigarettes, Max Headroom, Huey Lewis, and various near-death experiences caused by parental complacency, are remembered wistfully. But if you really think about what it felt like to drink a hot RC Cola while your bare thighs stuck to the molten vinyl seat of a rusted-out Plymouth Volare, you might change your mind about how “pure” and “free” you were.
“Ahh, but that is what childhood is about: Bee stings, incurable rashes, pricker bushes, heat stroke, getting lost in the J.C Penny’s because your mom is drunk. Come on, these are all great things!”
That’s a romantic thought, in a Stand By Me sort of way (I guess), but of course, also completely ridiculous and untrue. You hated Max Headroom; we all did. Sure, kids these days spend 68.6% of their waking hours staring at a screen while eating food made in a lab, but it’s just the modern equivalent of searching for passed-out hobos at the limestone quarry while sniffing red magic markers…or, you know, whatever you were in to. Simply because something’s low-tech doesn’t mean it’s innocent (example: guillotine). And of course, some high-tech things are harmless (I’m having trouble thinking of an example…lasers?).
It seems that, as parents, if we aren’t suffering somehow, we must not be trying hard enough, or loving hard enough. Only assholes glide though life, right? So we’re stuck in a competition of suffering, and he who suffers the most wins. But wins what? Sympathy? Respect? Honor? Wisdom? I don’t know. I’m not belittling anyone’s plight, and I know there are millions of people who experience true suffering via economic hardship, grief, hunger, and illness, but most of us don’t, yet we still complain like we do. So, unless you’re barfing your way through a bout of Cat Stomach and can’t afford the Dutch Elm sap needed to cure it, try to have a little perspective and enjoy how easy you’ve got it. My challenge is to somehow take my own advice. It’ll be a struggle, but I’ll suffer through it somehow.
* Wet Cough and Cat Stomach are not actual diseases.