My childhood experiences that will sound strange to my kids

This post was supposed to go up on Friday but, ironically, the internet went down and stayed down for almost two days. Why ironic? Well …

The summer before we moved to Laos, Mike and I met both sets of our parents in Alaska and we all did the inner-passage cruise together. We learned something about our parents on that trip, something that shocked us.

Only one of the four of them had an indoor toilet in their house when they were born.

I know, sort of hard to imagine, right?

During that week we spent more than one dinner talking about childhoods. All four of them grew up on farms. Mike grew up on a farm. I, with my globally nomadic childhood, was the odd one out. But even my cross-continental urban mishmash provided a patchwork of experiences that I suspect will seem utterly foreign to my own children.

Here are some examples.

1.   The only show I can remember watching television before I was nine is the A-Team (Bangladesh). If there were other English language programs playing there, I don’t remember them. I’m sure I probably watched Playschool etc. in Australia earlier, but I don’t remember those either. Between the ages of 12 and 16 (Zimbabwe) we only had two channels on TV. English programming came on one at 3pm and the other at 5pm. My favorite shows were MacGyver and Mash. MacGyver was my first and most serious tele-crush.

2.   I spent hours in 7th-10th grade (Zimbabwe) taking dictation by hand in my classes at school and then memorizing those hand-written facts because we didn’t have textbooks.

3.   I researched many of my school assignments using the big set of encyclopedias my parents kept on our bookshelf.

4.   I first learned how to sew on a hand-crank sewing machine.

5.   I weighed out all my ingredients for cooking class on scales using little bronze counterweights.

6.   I had to do my 10th grade national physics exams using log tables instead of a calculator (that one was archaic even for Zimbabwe, I think).

7.   I was still buying tapes instead of CD’s when I was fifteen.

8.   I was in 11th grade (and back in the U.S.) before I turned in my first typed school assignment.

9.   The first two years I was at university (in Australia) while the rest of my family was in Washington DC, I used to write them letters once a week (yes, the type that require you to put pen to paper and use an envelope and a stamp). Also, we shared one phone between nine dorm rooms, and that phone could only accept incoming calls. I was lucky if I got to chat with my family for half an hour (usually Sunday morning) once a week.

10.   I was 21 years old when I got my first personal email address.

11.   I was 27 years old before I ever owned a cell phone.

Most of these experiences that will probably seem old-fashioned to Dominic (heck, they seem old-fashioned to me) have to do with how much information technology has changed during my lifetime.

I came of age right alongside the internet, and in many ways I think I’ve been very lucky in this. Yes, I didn’t have email or facebook during those early, hard days of separation from my family. But now I also don’t have much childish or teenaged awkwardness documented in Technicolor for all the world to view. You can find out a startling amount about me online now, but basically none of that has anything to do with my life before the age of 25, and that suits me just fine.

If and when he wants to play this game in twenty years, Dominic will be able to tell people that when he was born his parents didn’t own a car or a motorbike (we only own bicycles) and that we didn’t have hot running water on the ground floor of our house (the water in the showers is heated by wall-mounted units). He can thank Laos for that. He will also, however, be able to thank the internet and his mother for the fact that anyone who so desires will be able to find photographs of him the day that he was born and any number of baby anecdotes. Little D’s got the best of both worlds. Or perhaps, the worst?

What are some of your childhood experiences that will probably seem foreign to your own children? And what do you think about parents writing about their kids?

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4 responses to “My childhood experiences that will sound strange to my kids

  1. For me, as some one who is slightly older, the things I’m most amazed about are safety features. I never wore a helmet when I rode a bike, and I don’t ever recall riding in a child seat in the car. While I’m sure I was in one as an infant, I recall my favorite riding position was standing up in the middle of the front bench seat of the family station wagon. To most people reading this, it may make my parents seem like monsters, but in the early 70’s there were no seat belt laws and I don’t think my experience was atypical.

    • I know, I did some safety stuff now that I cannot BELIEVE my parents let me do (like sitting on the trunk of a two-seater open-topped sports car while it was being driven round Harare at 16). When I pointed this out to my parents (my shock at their laxity) recently they asked me whether it had occurred to me that they didn’t know what I was getting up to, and that if they had, they would have put a stop to it. Now that I think about it, that version does make more sense.

  2. Yes, Lisa. I relate to your ‘third culture kid’ experiences!! First Mars Bar at 11 and nearly vomited because it was so rich; No TV until I was 11 and so do not know what anyone is talking about discussing TV from the 70s; Happy to eat rice based meals 3x a day; Bathed every day from a bucket of cold water – 1 splash to get wet, 2 splashes for rinsing off soap; squat toilets until 11; ate with my right hand just like the locals; our phone calls went through an operator who would connect us…..ah jungle days of Indo…my kids love hearing about my stories and wish they could see for themselves.

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