Friday, June 14, 2013

Smoke Screen Tent for A Generation, or, Why Not the Screen Tent?

I thought the screen tent was a great idea. Adam, whose farewell party it was, thought otherwise.

Adam is 17 and I am 47. I am Gen-X and he is--I don't know what he is. Maybe he's Post-Millennial. Maybe he's Gen-A, if we're starting over again with the alphabet, (and if he's not, he should be, for reasons that will soon become clear), and is ten years a generation?

We had set up a volleyball net and a three-lane slip 'n slide. The slip 'n slide was my idea. The three-lane slip 'n slide was my 9-yr old son Josh's idea. The half dozen squirt guns in a bucket of water was my idea. Both of these were very good ideas.

The screen tent, with three comfy chairs inside and a cooler full of cold beverages was bug-free, shady, and had a view of the whole yard, including the volleyball game.

No one showed the slightest interest in it--as Adam, our Czech exchange student, knew that they wouldn't.

Needless to say, the picnic blanket that I had placed in the shade of our large pine tree and furnished with two oversized lounging pillows was not a good idea, either.

Less surprisingly, the blanket and beanbag chair that I had assembled in the play structure's tree-level platform (covered, charmingly, with a canvas roof), private, elevated, and shady though it all was, (and with a view of all of the action), tanked.

This will surprise some of you: No music was wanted, either.

Adam fended off my repeated overtures to set up portable stereo components in the garage. Finally, I took it upon myself to set it up for him. I didn't plug my own phone into it; I announced to the teenagers who had gathered early that any of them could plug in their own phone and turn it to their own favorite Pandora station. Not one of them stepped up. For the entire late afternoon and until midnight, when the party disbanded, their was no music.

So, to recap, there was no music. There was no splintering off into smaller groups or couples for conversation, exchanging confidences, discrete character assassinations or otherwise critical commentary, smoking, or make-out sessions in the tent, on the picnic blanket, or in the play structure.

In fact, to underscore what I'm getting at, Adam and I practically quarreled over the configuration of the tables.

There were three tables: Two rectangles, and one circle. He placed the two rectangle tables end to end, one long harvest table. Then he actually attached the circle table onto the end of the whole thing.

"Everyone wants to be together," he said.

"That's nice." But did the tables have to be actually attached? Couldn't they be arranged in a cluster, really close to one another? 

Gingerly, (I thought I was saying it gingerly), I pointed out that we could attach more chairs to the tables if we separated the tables.

Adam agreed that we could separate the tables--either because he wanted to have more chairs available, or because he could see from my expression (so gingerly) that his original arrangement was making me kind of nuts.   To me, it looked weird, especially with the round table stuck on the end. I felt hemmed in just looking at it.

And it did look better, we both agreed, with the two rectangular tables parallel to one another and the round table near by but not touching.

All of the teenagers gathered around one long table and either sat or stood or hovered nearby. Practically speaking, Adam was right.

It would have been better if the long tables were connected. Because this generation, HIS generation, whatever it's called, is remarkably connected.

They don't want music, apparently, because they want to be able to hear each other.

They don't need little cozy romantic outposts with cold beverages in small coolers handy because they don't splinter off into little cabals, like my generation did.

And they don't smoke.

My fondest memories from parties as a teenager and a twenty-something was of those moments with one or two--maybe three--other people out on a porch, away from the loud music and the madding crowd. There, we smoked cigarettes (and sometimes pot)and yes, absolutely, we shared confidences and traded gossip and social commentary. In effect, there on the porch (usually it was a porch, but if someone had set up a screen tent, we would definitely have used it), we texted, if to text is the exchange of confidences, gossip social observations between two people. Inside, the room was over-warm. The music was loud, and conversation was difficult and superficial.

I should point out that I was raised in a suburb on the East Coast.

Maybe it was who I was and who I hung out with in high school and then college and after, but we weren't much for volleyball. I never saw a slip 'n slide except on tv, never used one until I'd bought one for my own son. (They're wicked fun.) When I did play volleyball, it was with people one generation senior to me, the baby boomers who were more extroverted, sporty, and fun-loving than the Gen-Xers, who, admittedly, somehow developed a reputation for being a dour, critical, marginalized assortment of misfits on the margins of society, preferably on a porch or in a screen tent with a small cooler nearby and an ash tray.

Sometime after me, in the nineties, was it the Y Generation that had those parties where they listened to techno and did some sort of meth together that made them very affectionate but which later made them incredibly depressed? I totally missed that.

Each generation is remarkably different, that's all I'm saying.  I couldn't believe I was so wrong about the screen tent.

Maybe with each generation there are subgroups that are so different from each other as to be mutually baffling. I suspect this is the case, especially as I observe that the kids in my back yard last night took part in no illicit consumption whatsoever. Adam would have preferred, I think, to eschew even carbonated drinks, but I prevailed on that point as well. So now, wouldn't you know it, why don't I listen to Adam, we have a huge cooler full of cans of Diet Coke. The Sprite, by way of contrast, was consumed in a New York minute. Go figure!

I know that drugs are consumed by teenagers still (an awkward adverb, "still", but far preferable to "nowadays"). I have heard that the drug of choice is (and this shocks me, because it's such a gargantuan leap away from Diet Coke) heroin. Heroin! Isn't that so Sid-and-Nancy-retro-deviant?! I mean, well, sure THEY would have appreciated the screen tent.

Such a splinter group, that tent-appreciating subgroup, splintered off from an otherwise super-...

No, I don't want to say wholesome. That implies a bovine innocence that utterly fails to capture the qualities that I observe in Adam and his friends.

How to encapsulate those qualities? I could say confidence, but that suggests hubris. I don't mean hubris.

I could say mature, but that sounds dowdy, and I don't mean dowdy.

They are not perfect, these kids, but they amaze me. They perform in front of audiences. And they don't suck at it (ergo, not hubris). Adam plays piano. Lydia sings. They have both performed countless times.

Heck, Adam left his home, friends, and family and traveled a distance no less than what Christopher Columbus or Magellan covered, to live for ten months with the first family to pick him, AND HE WAS NOT ALLOWED TO REFUSE US. (A stipulation of the program contract.)

These kids are athletic, competitive, smart, optimistic, and determined. At 17, they are more generally evolved than I was at 30. In the course of time, I have accumulated more experience, but it seems that I've only recently, perhaps through the experience of parenthood, perhaps through the experience of parenting Adam, arrived at the evolutionary place where Adam and Lydia seem to be in the bloom of their youth.

If I had raised Adam, I'd take some credit for this. But I'm not. Kudos to their parents.

I realize, reading this over, that the above paragraphs do not explain the conjoined tables or the spurned screen tent. Perhaps there's no explaining it. There probably is an explanation, actually, but I've grown ADD-bored with the question.

The parents raising my 9-year old's generation struggle to balance screen time with reading time, with outdoor time, with Lego time.

We wonder whether Mine craft really is a creative or constructive use of time. Did my son test higher in geometry and algebra because of Mine craft? Or did he test lower in reading comprehension because of Mine craft?

 If two kids are playing Mine craft on a split screen but in the same world and in the same room, are they still playing together? Or are they playing next to each other?

And if the disembodied voice of Jack,(11), next door, comes over our speakers through our television, and he is shouting out to Josh and they are playing Mine craft on split screens but in the same world and from different houses, what does this mean? (The disembodied voice of the neighbor's kid floating into the kitchen freaks my husband out no end.)

My son's curriculum is becoming increasingly reliant on Chrome books and the Internet; its content is, Mine craft-like, becoming more of a split screen, in which kids have their own section in the same world, i.e., individualized, but with the same hierarchy of learning goals.

Once again, I digress. I am wondering aloud what Josh's generation will be like. Their childhood is already so different from Adam and Lydia's. This was about a tent.

We pulled up stakes, folded it up, and put it away. It was the first time, I realized this morning, that we had ever used it--though really, we didn't, and so we still haven't. What is a screen tent for? Is there a place for a screen tent in society? I mean, the one that doesn't include heroin?

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