It’s a fun time in my group of Las Vegas friends because everyone is becoming parents. In a schedule that almost seems predetermined by the moms and moms-to-be, the four couples who all live in the same neighborhood will have a combined two boys and two girls by Thanksgiving.
We’re already joking about which ones will fall in love and tell the two girls, who are adorable little infants, that they have to be nice to the boys when they arrive. What I really think about though is how they are going to play with one another.
Not if they will play well, but how they will play. Will they stay on their own and daydream by themselves,, will they have parent-attended playdates or, once they get old enough, or will they yell a goodbye to their parents, hop on their bike, and ride over to pick each member of the gang up one by one to go hang in the park?
I’d like to believe the latter will happen, but truly, it seems the court of public opinion is changing its mind on kids playing outside alone. While my sister and I were constantly outside and about on our own, so long as we told our parents whose house we were headed to or who we were playing with, many kids are either expressly forbidden to venture beyond the yard or simply have too many scheduled activities to have time to play outside (there has been extensive sociological studies on social classes and unstructured social time for kids, happy to recommend some reading).
Which is why The Sandlot was a nostalgic movie for both my mom’s generation and my own because it was set smack in the middle of their childhood, 1962, but it featured kids who were the same age as us babies of the early 80s. There is something else to it though. I think it also has a lot to do with the fact that at the time I didn’t realize that riding our bikes through the neighborhood was going to be something that disappeared along with the 60s.
In the movie, the protagonist is actually encouraged by his mother to go off with some strange children to play baseball in a vacant lot. Okay, fine, on first glance it doesn’t seem like the best parenting decision, but let’s frame it another way. The mom in the movie knew her kid needed to make friends, and yeah these guys may get in a little trouble, but a slap on the wrist in the fifth grade is well worth the potential adult scars of a kid raised in isolation with no friends. It’s kind of like the theory about letting your young kids roll around in the dirt a bit so their body can learn to handle bacteria and germs. You could raise your kid in a plastic bubble, but as soon as they became exposed to the elements, they were done for.
If you look at pretty much any media designed for the tween set, you’ll notice the general lack of parental supervision. The parents exist, but usually only pop up as an obstacle to the next plot point. Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang are bluntly honest with exactly how adults come across: Wah wahhh wah wahhh.
Really, The Sandlot was Tween shangri-la. If you had told me that at 10 years old I had enough good friends within a bike ride of my house to field a baseball team and we could hang out all day and all night, then a carnival would come to town (minus that disgusting chewing tobacco part), I would have assumed I was in heaven.
The only thing missing would be a love interest and something I was always obsessed with as a child: camp.
The Sandlot let us live in the idealized world of unsupervised neighborhood fun, but the shows and movies set at camp upped the stakes. You didn’t have to go home in time for dinner at camp. The counselors weren’t that much older than you, and you had free reign without worrying about pissing off your parents.
At least, that is what camp seemed like to me. I never got to go, so I just watched a bunch of Salute Your Shorts. The Nickelodeon original show followed in the footsteps of original fare like Welcome Freshmen and Hey Dude with a show set at summer camp. Oh Camp Anawana, we held you in our hearts and tuned in to see a set of campers with names like Butnick and Donkey Lips outsmart their counselor Ug (Lee).
In reality, I have a feeling camp is pretty regimented. Go swim now, go play sports, cafeteria, fireside fun, lights out. But in this show, camp was just the place that these kids slept at while they spent the rest of the day scheming, unless it was color war time. All I wanted as a child was to participate in a color war.
In other words, kind of like The Sandlot, this idealized version of camp was fun, but we were never nostalgic for the experience of actual camp watching that show, nor were we nostalgic for our own experiences riding bikes with neighborhood friends during The Sandlot. When we watched those shows, we were starting to develop our ideas of what being an adult might be like. Camp, like college, are chances for kids to dip their toe in autonomy without all the responsibility. This pseudo-adulthood is what I think we’re yearning for when we think back on our love of The Sandlot and Salute Your Shorts. It was a daydream about what the next new freedom, like spending the night at a friends house or getting your own houses key, might afford you and the expectations were rarely in line with the reality. That was the fun part though. We didn’t know any better and actually thought being independent looked like this:
While there was a bounty of TV and movies designed to appeal to my Tween heart, there weren’t exactly songs which appealed to our desires. We were still too young to date, so we hadn’t experienced the joys of love, nor had we dealt with the crushing blow of heartbreak. It was that weird point in your life when you would even daydream about what your first breakup might be like, painting it in a cheerful melancholy light of how drama and romance like Angela and Jordan Catalano.
I place some of the blame on The Cranberries. When you write such a beautiful song as Linger, you can almost make devastating heartbreak and watching your love with someone else feel like anything other than pouring a salt shaker into your slit wrist.
The song is an adult daydream really, a girl playing through her head what happened in her relationship. There has to be a better word for it than daydreaming, but isn’t it really a more advanced version of what we did as kids? Replace camp and your late night shenanigans by the lake with reliving a conversation and saying the right thing or showing up at an event your ex will be at with a super hot date and voila, you’ve got daydreams. Sometimes you prevail, but years of learning how life works and how much TV camp is not like real camp, so instead of dreaming of a positive future, we linger in the positive moments of our past, even if they can smart a little. If Dolores O’Riordian can make her pain sound so pretty, we can still try to make ourselves believe that their is something wonderful we’ll gain if we think through the past until we figure it out. This is our adult version of camp. We just call it therapy.