We No Longer Believe Our Kids Will Be Better Off

Beyond debt.

The Classic Game of “Mother, May I?”

  • Pick someone to be Mother.  She turns her back to the group, facing away.
  • The rest of the kids stand about 10 feet away from “Mother”.
  • Mother then gives instructions to the group such as, “Take six large steps forward.”
  • Before following her instructions, each kid should ask, “Mother, may I?”
  • Mother responds with, “Yes, you may” and then all the kids takes six steps forward.
  • Repeat until someone makes it across the room to Mother.  To make the game interesting, Mother can go berserk with the commands. “Take four hops forward on your left foot while barking like a dog!” or “Twirl around three times while clapping your hands and singing ‘Happy Birthday!'”
  • The thrill of the game is that someone  is inevitably bound to act on Mother’s instructions without remembering to ask, “Mother, may I?”  At any moment, Mother can also turn around and yell “STOP!” – and all players must immediately stop what they are doing or be sent back to the starting line if Mother catches them!
  • When someone acts on instructions before asking, “Mother, may I?” he is sent back to the starting line and has to start his approach all over again.

The Daily Grind of Asking Permission from Mother

There was a game we played in elementary school called Mother May I.  Maybe kids still play it today.  One kid was the Mother, and the rest of the kids tried to make it to the finish line while following Mother’s rules.

It seemed like it would be so easy to win the game, to succeed – but Mother was always throwing  new ideas in the way to confuse the players so that they would have to start over from the beginning.

That’s an awful lot like what it’s like in the world today. Government is now Mother, and we have to follow her many rules, and ask permission for too many things.   Instead of helping us to the finish line — Mother seems to take pleasure in making it difficult.

Mother, may I grow my own vegetables and eat them? Yes, but….

Mother, may I raise a goat for a 4-H project? Yes, but…….

Mother may I have a wine and cheese tasting for my neighborhood watch group?  Yes, but ….

Mother may I pack my son’s lunch? Yes, but …..

Mother, may I have a birthday party for my kids and sell homemade crafty things?  Yes, but ……..

Mother, may I may I may I may I……. having to ask for permission to do the things our ancestors did without thinking about them,  adds immensely to stress levels.  We are no longer the masters of our own destinies.  Our Mother is.

Eat this!  Don’t drink that.  Wear a seatbelt.  Wear a helmet.  Fill out this form.  This one too.  Stand in line.  Give your thumbprint.  No, you can’t use that light-bulb, use this one.  Pay this tax, and don’t pay less or else!  The toilet seat is 1/8″ too low, the mirror is 1/8″ too high!  You put snack cakes in your son’s lunchbox and no vegetables?  CPS is on its way.

So although it is a sad statement on society, it is not really a surprise that just 14% of us believe that today’s children will be better off than their parents.  Supposedly, that’s the lowest level of optimism ever measured.

When I was young my parents owned one car, which the whole family of six shared. My mom dropped me off for my shift at a fast food restaurant when I was just 15; if she wasn’t available to pick me up, I waited around until the manager was done with his closing routine so he could drive me home.

It was never too difficult to find work.  My favorite job was working the concession stand at the community pool on Roe Blvd in Overland Park.  After a summer of that I was promoted to check- in at the front desk, which I considered the absolute best job  in the world.  Still sans car, I walked, there and back.  The distance to Roe Pool from my house on Marty per Mapquest — 2.37 miles .  The pool had a high dive back then.  When I made enough money, I bought a bike, and wore it without a helmet.

It never occurred to me that I might be abducted on the way to where-ever I was going.

Our fathers had jobs and some of our fathers had really good jobs and they were the “rich” kids who had swimming pools, the hippest clothes and cars all to themselves. And then there were the rest of us who didn’t, but I don’t remember there being resentment about it between us, never at all.   My best friend had everything she ever needed, and my family struggled at times, but it affected our relationship not one bit. Sure, we spent more nights at sleepovers at her house, but mostly because her parents turned on the air conditioning all summer long. No other reason than that.

The shows on TV were the kinds of shows that we could watch with our parents, and grandparents too, all in the same room. Back then nobody had ever heard of “parental controls” and there would have been no use for them, anyway.

I attended public school. I actually think I got a really good education.

When I graduated from high school, I was able to get a part-time job at a bank working in the afternoon that paid enough for me to get a loan for a used car and to pay the rent on a town home I shared with a friend. I went to school in the mornings, and was completely self-sufficient.

Today, there are lots of people who want to work who can’t find jobs or jobs that meet their education level. We turn on the TV and it’s full of filth, and on the other channels people spend an hour screaming at each other about politics. We worry that our money is safe in the bank– we worry that we will live longer than our money holds up. We worry that our jobs will be outsourced to a place where they speak another language or that we’ll simply be replaced by technological innovation that renders us — unnecessary.

We worry. We worry all the time, actually, in between asking Mother for permission.  Because Mother never seems to tire of wanting to yell “STOP!” at us every time we resolve to fix things so we can stop worrying so much.

Sure, other generations worried too. They had World Wars, and Depressions worse than the one we face. But there was this sense they had, the big idea, the hope that all the problems were temporary, that they would be overcome. That smarter minds would prevail and set things right again.

Not so much, today. In the past, we may have lacked the creature comforts that everyone has now: HDTV running 24/7 and movies on demand. Air conditioners, water softeners, cellphones, laptops. Not having to drive to the library to research the term paper. Medicines and medical treatments that were unthinkable 20 years ago. Forget TV Dinners – the frozen food section has gone totally gourmet. Salad dressing? At least 100 different choices on Aisle 8.

But, what have we given up that we used to have? Privacy, for one thing. It used to be fun and exciting to fly on an airplane. Now flying means we agree to be groped, and threatened and demeaned by a TSA badged bully before boarding. There are other things going on in the sky too — weird spy drones taking surveillance photos of our backyard – peering through our windows. The laptop that connects us to all our friends connects us to identity thieves and hackers intent on making our life miserable.   Worse yet, advertisers who demand to know everything about us to share with the world.

The convenience of ATMs allow us to get money out whenever we want, instead of having to wait for Monday like we actually used to. Credit cards available for practically everybody allow us to get what we want, whenever we want, without waiting. We have access to money – yet, oddly, it never seems to be enough.

We have everything we need and so much of what we want….and so do our kids. Yet, we know things are not right.  Like young adults desperate to leave home and strike out on their own, to get out from Mother’s overprotective, often heavy hand. She is making it very difficult to cross that finish line, and so now, we’re afraid we won’t be able to, and we’ll be asking for Mother’s permission forever.  And our kids will, too.


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3 Comments on “We No Longer Believe Our Kids Will Be Better Off”

  1. John Boddie Says:

    It’s a bit difficult to figure out who “Mother” is in this. She seems to be an amalgam of government, business and society as a whole.



  2. AnotherClioBeliever Says:

    Being opposed to ‘big’ is just as legitimate expression as being opposed to excesses in government, business or society.

    I’d suggest ‘The Curse of Bigness’ (The Viking Press, 1934) by Brandeis, Louis Dembitz. He was a Supreme Court Justice from June 5, 1916 – February 13, 1939.

    Onwards and upwards!



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