OH, to be a kid again.
A today-kid, with all the fantastic vids with high-tech graphics, the endless access to Angry Birds on parents’ iPhones, the Facebook poke wars easing the sharp pains of puberty.
When I was 11, the extremes of technology meant nerdy educational programs like “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” on clunky computers, one-dimensional King Koopas on Nintendo and teenagers with beepers.
There was still such a thing as getting graded on your penmanship.
For me, elementary school conjures highly vivid postcards of the memory: skinned knees, the excitement of getting a birthday invitation from a cool kid in the mail, the taste of that amazing fake cheese you got to spread on crackers with a red plastic stick.
My most frequently used words: troll dolls, pogs, candy, becoming 13, puberty, MC Hammer, pizza, Seventeen magazine.
I know so because in writing this, I went back and found a bright green Kero-Keroppi diary spanning grades 4-6, each entry written in cursive, my fourth-grade yearbook picture taped to the inside cover (pre head-gear, overbite city), and entries ranging from kid-typical to downright embarrassing:
May 12, 1994: “Today was easy going. I did 20 pushups in PE. I lost a really good pog. Eric got a retainer. He looks cute. At lunch I found out what I am doing in the swim meet. I am doing one lap freestyle. After school I went to Vons and got Seventeen and YM. They’re cool but gross. They
talk about sex. I’m getting a new bat. I didn’t have to do homework, but history test tomorrow. UHOH!”No one ever said it was easy being a kid. But since I don’t get to hang with generation Justin Bieber, it was hard for me to really know how things have changed for kids these days. So I decided to do something most people might not want to do:
I went back to my old elementary school, High Point, up in Kinneloa.
It was official business, really. My sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Richman set the whole thing up. I liked her at 11 years old and I like her just as much at 28.
But jeez. Portalling back down into the depths of childhood?
No easy feat.
We squeezed in a roundtable discussion before P.E. and I saw that mostly, kids think the same things about technology as adults do – they’re just as confused by what it’s doing to them as we are.
They say things like: “I pretty much like anything Apple is coming out with.” “I’m really jealous because my brother has a phone.” “It’s a lot of sitting on the couch, watching TV and playing on iPads and iTouch.” “I like texting when I’m tired and I like talking when trying to explain something.” “There’s nothing better than writing a nice handwritten letter.” My personal favorite: “It’s getting too techy,” said one 9-year-old, who recently transitioned from sending his birthday invitations from real mail to Evites.
Generally, they tell me, you get a cell phone when you’re 12, but your older brother lets you use his phone to call your friends, you play the electronic drums on your TV but you watch TV on your computer, you buy apps on your dad’s iPhone, books on your mom’s iPad – though you think real books are generally cooler because you get to hold the actual book in your hand and use a bookmark and stuff.
Oh, and if you forgot your homework, you can download it online.
Sure, some classroom blackboards have been replaced with “Smartboards” (think huge iPad on the wall) and homework is sent up into the Google Doc cloud instead of being shoved in a trapper keeper.
But a report on Tutankhamen or a book report on “Where the Red Fern Grows” is still a report no matter the medium.
If memory serves, having to do a report sucks.
The morning went just fine, but there was something I saw that made the whole day – after the little adults philosophized on all things Apple – there was this glimmer in each of their eyes that I suddenly remembered from being a kid. The glimmer was of course about how excited they were for our little panel discussion to be over so they could run outside and play.
I walked slowly across the same blacktop I used to play Chinese jump rope and four square on, watching them making noise and throwing balls around like it was their job.
Maybe they had already texted their friends where to meet for lunch. But right then, they just played on.