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In Control – Out of Control

Taking a step back in time and relearning to Live and to Love Life

There is a particular turn of phrase that always seemed to come drooling out of the mouth of some old fogy intent on pontificating to an unsuspecting and usually unrepentant young trouble maker – that would often have been me. And I suppose in this instance it is actually the most appropriate way to start off. Because now that I am an old fogy, though still quite young at heart, I cherish the memories of an enjoyable, perhaps by today’s standards misspent, activity filled childhood.

So, “When I was Young”, we spent our days messing about, exploring, and playing games. My mother’s daily directive to “go out and play”, no matter what the weather or the time of year, was in retroflection probably the best thing that ever happened to me. Sure, we were all packed off to Boy Scout camp for a couple of weeks each year, which in itself was neat. We learned many skills while exploring a new swamp, or messing around in a boat. Everywhere you looked in our neighborhood there were groups of kids doing stuff and having a good time.

When walking through our suburban neighborhood a while back, one might think as my mother did, that we either lived in a retirement community, or that people have simply stopped breeding. But no, early in the morning on a school day, there they were – droves of them waiting for their school busses. Wondering where these kids were on a beautiful weekend day, we asked some young parents. They had just dropped off one child to an organized Little League baseball game. The other was at home in front of the TV, but they would be bringing him to his karate class in a half an hour, and would then drive twenty minutes to collect their older teenage daughter from her cheerleading practice. While keeping their kid’s lives under total control with organized activities, their lives are totally out of control with no time left for either parents or children to simply have fun.

Unable to get out and explore and learn to love nature, to mess around and figure stuff out, what is it the kids are being given to stimulate their curiosity? The parents are so intent on making sure the kids are occupied, they too lack the stimulation of being outside and just enjoying themselves. Well, “when I was young”, that is precisely what my mother did, and made us kids do. I have to believe that we are much better off as a result.

Take sailing, for example, it has evolved into a highly organized activity for the most part. Kids are taught tactics and rules so that they can compete in their little Optimists, and then in larger dinghies IF they continue with the sport. If there is no ‘event’ in the offing, their boats are all there arranged in neat and (somewhat) tidy rows on the dock with nary a child in sight. I remember “when I was young” summering with our Great Aunt and Uncle on Cape Cod. After doing my gardening chores to earn a little pocket money, I would bicycle a half an hour to a little harbor where they kept a sunfish and a row boat with a small outboard engine. These I was allowed to take out and explore the local bays and islets. I would motor over to Woods Hole and talk to the students and researchers, collect shellfish, troll for the elusive striper, or just go sailing.

‘Grown-ups’ today seem to do the same as their children in their bigger boats – motor out to the regatta course, sail around in circles for a couple of hours with a lot of yelling, screaming and stress (= racing), and then drop their sails and motor home. The rest of the time their lovely yachts are securely tied in the marina or at their mooring. It is the rare breed of sailor who goes out for the joy of it, the sailor who drops a hook and spends a night in a beautiful gunk hole, and who gets to enjoy sunset cocktails in the cockpit. Sadly these are often, though thankfully not always, older and retired couples, or people who have no children.

So, am I myopic in my views that sailing is in decline in this fair country? Would people support sailing more if they were to “sit back and smell the roses”? Is a child brought up with an appreciation for nature and his or her surroundings going to grow up to be a better person? What do I know? I am just a quiet observer seeing that children drop out of their sailing ‘programs’ at an alarming rate. I see that in other parts of the world there is a much greater level of support and excitement for things like their Olympic sailing teams – on a national level and not just among the sailors. I think a little less organization and a little more living may be a solution to many a dilemma here. I think the level of control we impose on ourselves and our children is simply out of control.

Imagine for a moment raising a generation of children to appreciate nature and to go out and mess around in boats or their back yard. Imagine these kids growing up with a true and profound love for nature and for an activity like sailing. Yes, participation in racing would certainly increase, but so would cruising, gunk holing and exploring. As a percentage of these kids mature and become wealthy, imagine them enthusiastically giving back and supporting a vibrant Olympic team or the America’s Cup, doing their bit to protect the environment, and raising their kids to appreciate the world around them.

Just Imagine – and maybe do…

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