Unlost in the playground: The plight of your children

They found Rosie by the periphery fence. It was amazing how technology came in to play. Rosie’s mum noticed Rosie was gone and she immediately sent a photo via a bluetooth application to all the other parents so they could be alerted and informed about her appearance. The same application allowed parents and staff to quickly update the group on which areas of the playground had been searched and which had not. It took five minutes to track her down over the the 1 square mile of playgrounds, small wooded areas, passageways and outbuildings.

My name is Rachel by the way, I’m six years old. “You write well for a six you old”, you say, well thanks, but you’ve got to grow up quick these days. No hanging around. Every parent is vying to give their children the best chance in life. Since the economy collapsed it is a dog eat dog world for us primary schoolers.

Parent’s techniques for betterment largely misfire though, I can tell you, because they stupidly think skills can be mandated and driven by extra curricular clubs and societies. But this largely leads us children to resent education and learning.  People excel when they are joyful about something, and you can’t teach or force joy. That’s my theory anyway. Not many of my young peers agree with me . They are happy to be disciplined and work hard. They do this in the expectation not of finding something interesting, but of getting a good career. It is a fact however that they will be up against the most competitive job market place in history. There is less chance of any of us being home-owners in the future, of having the same healthcare and education opportunities as our parents and of being financially stable. As the rich get richer, the poor have to eat each other to stay alive.

I don’t know anyone who is joyful any more. Joy smacks of past times when children could grow up slow, play out in the streets and get up to mischief. These historical children types would expect little, give parents respect by default and enjoy getting lost in the mysteries of growing up. They would have a physical and tactile understanding of the world from playing with stuff picked off the streets or smuggled out of houses. This kind of understanding is connected to real things – rather than the virtual world of computers or money – and I think it is a kind of understanding that is essential for happiness. These kids were street smart, they knew how to cross roads and make their own entertainment. But what do I know, I’m six and I’ve only ever read about this in books.

The mistake Rosie made was in her choice of clothes. I mean, she was wearing a bright fuchsia floral coat! I determine what I wear by consensus. I ask myself, what is everyone else wearing, what allows me to be indistinguishable. For girls at the moment there’s a kind of aesthetic promoted by programs like the Powderpuff Girls. It’s a relatively clean aesthetic, still based on gendered stereotypes , but somewhat streamlined. See, me and about four other girls, including Susie Cooper, have almost identical outfits with plain pink tops, baby blue skirts and thick black belts. Our own little twist is that we also wear red spotted bandannas. This might not sound like a typically inconspicuous element, but it means that despite having different coloured hair we all look the same from a distance. When I make a break for it, Susie will run at the same time and help to cause confusion. Maybe one of us will get away.

Rosie with a lollipop and polka-dot bandana.

I know I sound damning in my account of parents and teachers. I don’t blame any of them individually. They are all part of the system, all victims of the insane as John Lennon put it. I’ve seen both my parents being confronted for doing stuff that seemed to me perfectly normal. Like, when my young sister was having a tantrum because she wanted chocolate and mum said she couldn’t because it was nearly diner time – this lady came over and asked my mum if she could cope and if she needed help. My mum was furious, but she didn’t say anything, she couldn’t. The streets are quiet and parents and children are cooped up together. My Dad once said he felt being a parent had taken years off his life, caused him memory loss and physical problems. It was probably said when he was under particular strain, but I tell you, parenting at the moment is stressful. Every regime is stressful for those who have to be complicit but who are human, who question things and have to ask – is this for the best? I mean, look at my face. A picture of innocence huh? Yet I’m fatigued, I feel a weight of responsibility about the way I look, my grades, my ideas: do you think this is right?

George Orwell’s 1984 is an important book. Yet, too little emphasis is placed on its reference to parenting and childhood.  In the book, the Parson’s children who torment the central protagonist are Junior Spies. They can report on adults for ‘thought crime’. ‘Thought crime’ is something you know all about when you are a child because everything you do at some point is considered wrong. Shouting in the wrong place at the wrong time, day dreaming, playing with anything you can get your hands on. The idea of ‘thought crime’ is easily passed over to children in the somewhat necessary trojan horse of Discipline.

I don’t necessarily buy the whole distopian thing, but childhood is a battle ground right now, a site of real tension. I don’t go out there to inform on my parents, but I am judged and in turn they are judged in a way more intense than at any other point in time by the way I conform. You see, actually, I don’t think capitalism really cares what you think, it cares what you do. In fact, it actively encourages the imagination through evocative adverts and the movie industry, you can dream big but only act small. And this brings us back to the fact that kids don’t get out much. In 1984 the Parson’s children are frustrated because there mum won’t let them out to see a hanging. This puts the mum in a vulnerable position, she is trying to protect them, but in so doing may have given the children a reason to question her loyalty to the party. My parents could never let us out on the street in the evening without being accused of negligence.

So, where will I go when I escape? To be honest I don’t know. I think I’m hoping that the act of escaping and of disappearing for a while might make a point, some kind of statement. They’re probably find me, like a child of 50 years ago, playing in an alleyway with an old tin can, making mud pies and singing out loud. I picture my parents finding me and being immediately charmed. They’ll realise it’s what they want for me, some kind of freedom. Then I picture a busy-body coming over and wiping the smile off all our faces, “how can you let your child do that? It’s dirty, they might catch something, they might cut themselves on the can and get tetanus.” So, they quickly get me wrapped up and smuggle me home. There, we sit silently together feeling uptight and sad.

I’ll write again soon. But for now, let me simply finish by lamenting. My name is Rachel, I am 6 years old and I am desperately unlost.

children children2

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