Is it just me? Or are you also annoyed with pretty much everything? “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” is how the the protagonist of the 1976 film expressed it.
There’s this guy. He’s driving a station wagon. (That’s how old this joke is. A station wagon.) There are 14 penguins in the car. Three of the penguins are right there in the front seat with the driver. The other penguins fill up every other space in the car.
I took the above photo at an outdoor “art festival” last weekend. Shark teeth in a plastic container. Eight to ten or 14 to 16 fossils depending on whether parents were willing to shell out five bucks or ten. What’s so egregious about shark teeth—which are unequivocally cool—and a little beach sand? Maybe I’m firmly ensconced in my curmudgeonly dotage, but I might be so presumptuous as to suggest that maybe the children would be better served by going to an actual beach to experience the joy, in real time, of finding their own shark teeth or if an ocean is inconveniently located could we at least take the kids for a walk in the woods so they could possibly develop a passing familiarity with the actual world as it exists and maybe even see a pine cone? I mean, for goodness’ gracious sake, finding shark teeth in a half a cubic foot of sand just isn’t real. It’s not the same as hanging out at the beach as the waves roll in and the shark teeth are sometimes discovered in a fistful of sand and sometimes not.
There’s this other guy on his porch. The guy on his porch sees the guy in the station wagon and all the penguins. The guy on the porch is outraged, totally steamed. He yells at the driver: “What’s the matter with you? Are you crazy? You can’t have all those penguins in a car. Take those penguins to the zoo!”
“I must learn about the birds and the rocks and the trees from books instead of daily interactions with them. This is what the White man says I must do… and I have no choice but to obey.”
–Way Quah Gishig
Couldn’t it be argued that at some point life is about—well—living? Shouldn’t we allow our children to go outside? Aren’t they looking at screens an average of 29 hours a day as it is? I don’t know what your kids might discover on their own in the outdoors looking for pinecones. But I know for darn sure what they won’t discover in a plastic container filled with sand and shark teeth. They won’t uncover anything other than sand and shark teeth.
The guy driving the car with the 14 penguins smiles and nods. But the very next day, there he is again. Same station wagon, same penguins. Now the guy on the porch is apoplectic with rage. He is even angrier than the day before. His face turns scarlet he’s so angry. He screams through clenched teeth with uncontrollable anger at the driver of the station wagon. “I thought I told you to take those penguins to the zoo!”
There’s something about a picture of a tree on a glowing rectangle that is different from a tree in the outdoors. In the same way that—I hope I don’t offend—that there is something different about being in the same room with a romantic partner as opposed to looking at videos of people schmooching and so on.
The driver of the car responds calmly. “I did,” he says. “I did take them to the zoo. And we had such a good time, today I’m taking them to the movies.”
Maybe there are broader concerns, more important issues to be worried about. 2020 was a mess; 2021 is not much better. Politics is polarized and unpleasant; climate change is an existential threat; immigration, abortion, the pandemic, vaccine deniers, are all matters for a blog other than this simple one about parenting. And all these concerns are more important than kids “finding” a prescribed number of shark teeth is a plastic container rather than experiencing the real world in the outdoors.
But I maintain there is something to be said for going outside with your kids. If I were to stop being grouchy for just a paragraph and give some directed advice, I would ask you to get the kids, get in the station wagon, and go somewhere. The computer screen and the shark teeth in a plastic container will be there when you get back. In the meantime, who knows what you might find.