I arrived as an immigrant
in New York with my parents when I was in the second grade. We were poor
and lived in a working-class neighborhood. I remember being happy and
not missing material things. I didn't have many toys so I made my own
dolls from clothespins, yarn, cloth and buttons. I loved to draw and the
biggest treat was a new box of Crayola crayons -- how I loved the smell
and the strange names like "burnt umber" and "burnt sienna!" Occasionally
we would go to the candy store where I bought Archie comics for 10 cents.
A new, clean pink "Spaldeen" ball assured me some attention from the boys.
The only collection that I had was several years later when I was in junior
high school -- clothes for Ken and Barbie, the originals. We didn't have
a television set for the first nine months that we were in this country.
When we finally got one, I watched "I Love Lucy" religiously. When the
TV was in repair, in those dark ages before video recorders, my mother
called the upstairs neighbor to ask if I might watch it at their house.
My children always had a
TV and VCR. They had store-bought toys. Their collections consisted of
action figures and matchbox cars, stuffed animals and beanie babies. They
had Atari, Intellivision, Gameboy, and videos. While I had to be proactive
in creating my own entertainment, they had the media do most of the work
for them. On the one hand, it was nice to see that they had incredible
attention spans and "sitzflesch"; on the other, I wondered how destructive
the media blitz really was. Lucy is very artistic and would sometimes
draw or color. David occasionally entertained us by creating shows with
his animal puppets. But for the most part, they were tuned into Disney,
Sesame Street, and "I Love Lucy" (some things never change and yes, she
was named after her.)
My birthday parties took
place at home, with a table set with festive paper plates, nut and candy
cups, birthday cake, soda and pretzels and potato chips. We hung crepe
paper streamers from one corner of the celing to the opposite, twisting
them and criss-crossing them in the middle. We wore party dresses and
party hats, sang songs, played "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" and "Musical
Chairs." My children's birthday parties were at gyms, party spaces, karate
studios, restaurants and theaters.
When I was a child, we played
in the street. We didn't use the phone to communicate -- we called to
each other through open windows. Everyone came out. The girls played hopscotch,
or jumped rope, or told fortunes in chalk-drawn grids -- after a while,
it was pretty obvious in which squares one should put the boyfriend, the
favorite car, the honeymoon destination and the number of children we
thought we'd have. I'm amazed that we didn't get bored with it. The boys
played stickball or "Ringoleevio." The mothers sat on the benches in front
of The Projects on warm summer evenings and talked. Sometimes they set
up a table and played Mah-Jongg. I don't think children born in the late
70's and early 80's ever heard of any of it. My children NEVER played
in the street.
I walked home from school
with my friends, stopping at the luncheonette for an eggcream and a pretzel,
and in the warm weather went out to play. In the winter, we'd decide on
the way home who would go to whose house. My children either had organized
afterschool activities, or formal arrangements for playdates, with the
obligatory notes to the teacher that so-and-so's mother or babysitter
was the designated pick-up adult. There was even stationery available
for this purpose, with boxes to check off to facilitate the exchange.
things never change. Kids are still expected to call home, though it made
me smile when my daughter's friend didn't know how to call her mother
from our rotary phone!
Ruth Hallett, an attorney living in New York, grew up in the Marble
Hill section of the Bronx. She went back to school to study law when her
children were 17 and 12. (They made sure she always did her homework!)
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