As I drive to work each morning from 6:30 to 8, I pass various residential settings. Along Atlantic County Road 575 there is a pair of trailer parks with half a dozen kids of various ages standing curbside, if there is a curb, as the school bus approaches. A similar group of children stands in the driveway of a cheap motel on highway 322, likely a location at which the state sets up as low-income housing. Before I get to those places, I pass two suburban developments and a stretch of farmland. Maybe half of these kids are Hispanic, some black, some white, but they all talk to each other. Occasionally a few parents stand with them and talk too.
Before that, I pass the McMansions and developments with once-clever, outdoorsy names like "Deer Run," "Dillon's Creek,"and "Waterstone." Announced by gold-lettered signs, the entrances of those subdivisions are clogged with SUV's and crossovers, engines idling and spitting a stream of carbon-based poison into the precious atmosphere. Inside sit silent parents listening to AM radio news as the children are plugged into their IPods listening to a stream of sounds that they interpret as music. September to June, regardless of pouring rain or a wondrous and warm sunrise, these children are sheltered both physically and emotionally by their loyal parents' overpriced and under-efficient cars until the bus comes a-rolling along.
Somewhere between the motels and McMansions is a gravel path that leads to a farmhouse partially hidden by the early growth of next year's crop of Christmas trees. Each morning, six or seven high school kids stand where the rocks meet the road and wait for the same school bus that had just picked up the McMansion kids. These kids aren't hiding in Mom or Dad's SUV. The farm kids are different. They're not plugged into IPods, nor are their parents driving back up to the house with empty coffee cups. The farm kids can handle it themselves. They talk. They interact. They play "catch" by kicking hacky sacks around. When it rains, they get wet. When it's cold, they bundle up. When there's a beautiful sunrise, they feel it.
They also feel life. They work and will deal with problems, maybe feeling the residual "trickle-down" effects of a poor economy. The kids up the road will complain about getting Mom's two-year old BMW for a graduation present. The farm kids might get to college. If they do, they'll hustle out of class to their part-time jobs, the same jobs they have now in high school. They'll learn life skills, like how to please the boss, be on time, and get along with despicable co-workers. The kids up the road will only go into a workplace if it's the one their parents own. They'll deal with college as more of a social opportunity than an education. They'll step into jobs, or maybe careers, like stepping into a limo for the prom. However, they will never have that drive, that hunger that will have developed in the farm kids who have actually worked hard to get that job or career but were never completely certain that they would actually get it.
I don't know with whom I have an issue. It's hard to blame the McMansion kids because they don't set the conditions, not at first anyway. They're a product of their environment, and they're what they have been taught and raised to be. One of the very few times my brother, a staunch Republican, has ever agreed with me was when I said, "I don't want to hear parents saying that 'kids are different these days.' Kids are what we have allowed them to become. They're born the same way we were, but they're being raised much differently." I guess I should take issue with the parents who schedule too much coddling time instead of quality time. On Friday night those parents leave a handful of $20's on the kitchen table with a note that says "See you Monday," then they pack up for the condo at the shore while the kids are home with the house to themselves all weekend. The parents are the ones who give the teenagers the new Lexus for Christmas their senior year and send them to the Caribbean after graduation, setting up a lifetime of expectation and entitlement. These parents are the attorneys who threatened to sue the school district if their kid was cut from the team. Now we have thirty kids crammed into a baseball dugout. They've all got uniforms, but not all of them have really earned the right to wear it. I guess I have an issue with the parents.
Or maybe the problem is my problem, and it's called jealousy.