Every generation has a tendency to mock younger folks. It’s in the American DNA. My father did it, my grandfather did it, and now, God help me, I’m doing it.
Recently, I had occasion to travel to New Hampshire with seven children ranging in age from 3 to 16. Don’t even ask how this happened. It was kind of like an earthquake: Things began to rumble, and soon there was destruction everywhere.
The primary purpose of the trip was to get the urchins away from their electronic gadgets and show them the wonders of nature. The fall foliage in Bretton Woods, N.H., was magnificent. Upon landing in the shadows of Mount Washington, one of the children looked around and immediately said: “I’m cold.”
It is a struggle getting many kids out of the house these days. The lure of computer games is substantial. I mean, these things are like opium. Pretty soon they’ll be growing them in Afghanistan. The games often feature explicit violence. They are not encouraging kids to read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
And then there’s texting. Today, every nuance of a child’s life must be broadcast immediately. After all, the adults are tweeting about things like what kind of Vodka they drink. Why shouldn’t their offspring join the trivia extravaganza?
Mark my words: These machines are taking over. Many younger Americans are so addicted that they can’t function without them. Never mind nature, witty in-person conversation and games like stickball or keep-away. Those things are soooooo obsolete. Why bother braving the elements or actually thinking up creative activities? The machines provide instant excitement.
So, there I am trying to coax a bunch of machine-heads to commune with nature. It is not going well. A room at the hotel is quickly cleared because a spider has been sighted. Blood-seeking Internet zombies all day long. A tiny spider? No way.
“We’re going hiking,” I say. Silence. Finally, a reply: “Hiking?”
“Yeah, in the woods. The leaves are changing; the air is clean. Let’s go!”
No one moves. “Are there animals in the woods?” The 12-year-old girl is concerned.
“Moose, deer and plenty of squirrels. Let’s hope we see some.”
“Are there BEARS?”
My policy is never to fib to an urchin. Total credibility is needed to get anywhere. So I tell the truth: “Yeah, black bears live in the woods.”
Chaos. Frowns all around. Weeping close. “Bears?” the 8-year-old says. “And you want us to SEE THEM?”
My reply is pithy: “I will protect you.”
No one buys it.
We wind up going mountain tubing with a forest in sight. Then the kids ride a zip line over the forest. Then they go by car to the Mount Washington train station, where they can see more forest from the cafeteria. We never actually venture into a forest.
Finally, I try to channel the Kennedys and organize a touch football game on the vast lawn of the Mount Washington Hotel. The urchins were reluctant.
The 8-year-old: “It’s too hot.”
The 7-year-old: “Everybody’s bigger than me.”
Enough was enough. “OK, we’re all playing football. Does everybody understand me?”
We played. Water had to be brought almost immediately.
When these children grow up, I pray they don’t have to fight the Chinese. War is always bad. And if the Chinese are hiding in the forest, we lose.