In 1984, I was 5 years old. I wore cowboy boots, had red curly hair and hated riding the school bus because the big kids taunted me with songs from the movie “Annie”. My favorite things to do included shooting my pop gun, smoking candy cigarettes and chasing imaginary bad guys through the fields with my best friend, Josh. I knew how to ride a bike and steer our old 1970 Ford truck, but I couldn’t say the alphabet without singing it and I could not, for the life of me, tell my left from my right. That was me at age 5.
Things have changed since then.
I’m not talking about how I grew up to be a nonsmoking, peace-loving, dress-wearing city girl who would die a little inside if her sons went around shooting off pop guns and smoking candy cigarettes.
I’m talking about what it means to be a kid these days. It’s been on my mind because our typically developing son, Little Bear, is 5 years old and just started kindergarten. I’ve been casually observing him and his friends, and let me tell you — these kids seem SO much smarter and more mature than I remember being at that age. I feel like we might actually be witnessing evolution in action. Could that be possible?
Looking back on my 1984 self, it’s clear that I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. One morning I found a dollar at the bus stop and instead of saving it or spending it on something useful, I ran to the closest place that sold things – our school’s pencil shop – and used it to buy 100 pencils. WTF. I didn’t even want pencils. I couldn’t even fit them all into my pencil case. Even my mom was like, “Hon … ????”
Despite feeling confused most of the time at that age (who exactly was The King, I wondered. Was it Jesus? Elvis? BB King?) I somehow made it into my school’s academically gifted program and emerged from the other end of the education pipeline with a PhD. How this happened, I’m not sure. But it suggests that if I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, the other kids in my generation weren’t doing much better.
Today, in 2015, Little Bear and his friends wear lace-up sneakers, talk about things like atoms and walk themselves into small neighborhood markets with $20 bills and simple lists, emerging a few minutes later with bags of groceries. Little Bear’s favorite activities include anything related to nature and animals, reciting facts from “The Magic Schoolbus” and helping me figure out which way to go when Siri directs me to turn left. (If Siri were real, she’d shout, “Left! LEFT, I SAID! DAMN it, woman. Rerouting.”)
So I guess I’m just wondering what all of this means. If kids are really smarter today than they were in 1984 … well, what happens next? Will there be different benchmarks for academic achievement? Will they figure out how to teleport instead of fly? What other magic lies in store for us? I don’t know whether to feel nervous or excited or both.
According to Little Bear’s description of how evolution has played out so far, we might expect future generations to have new and exciting appendages, for example:
In any case, let me know if you figure it out.
I’ll leave you with one little story before I go: The other day I took Little Bear to get a special snack after swim class. He pointed to the chocolate milk and asked, “Mama, do you know how they make that?”
Now, here I thought he was actually asking me for information. My chest puffed up. I felt proud! I didn’t go to school all those years for nothing! I smugly turned the question around and asked him what HE thought, sure he would mention something about brown cows.
Here’s what Little Bear thinks: They melt chocolate and add it to regular milk.
Now that’s what I’m saying, people.
What the heck.
(At age 5, Little Bear’s proposed list of chores include: “Kleinn d’ flor” and “Mece sure d’ Kat doesn’t poop on d’ bed.” That sounds about right. At least some things never change.)