Musings from the Trunk of a Volkswagen Rabbit

Tomorrow my son turns one.  It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year.  It’s hard to believe that someone could change so much, learn so much, in a year.  It’s been a great year, but there’s something I haven’t quite come to terms with yet: my son will never get to experience one of my fondest childhood memories.

My father owned a Volkswagen Rabbit diesel from my earliest memories up until somebody smashed into him when I was somewhere between twelve and fourteen years old.  This was before there were cell phones, so he had to walk home and then eventually buy another one that I would end up wrecking myself a few years later.  When I was in elementary school, we would get excited when we could hear him coming home from several blocks away: nobody else in the neighborhood had a car that sounded like my dad’s.  But it’s my earliest memory of that car that is the fondest: my earliest memory is of riding in the trunk as my dad drove across the Palouse visiting radio stations and churches.  I could hear the road beneath and the peculiar chugging of the engine.  It was a sound that somehow felt adventurous and safe at the same time.  Sometimes as an adult while making solo road trips in the summer as the sun went down, I’d sometimes imagine that the road sounded the same.  But the chugging of that engine is gone forever.

My son will never know that sound.  It would be illegal, and my wife would probably divorce me if I even tried to reproduce it.  That sound is gone forever, and I’m not quite sure what to replace it with.  It seems to me as I start on this path of parenthood that one of the struggles is going to be how to reproduce the good from my own childhood while leaving out the bad.  There was definitely a lot of bad; not that my parents did anything wrong, but in the age of the Exorcist and the Children of the Corn, being an infant wasn’t really very popular, and society treated that stage of life accordingly.  Having suffered through neglect and scorn as children, my peers have taken it upon themselves to make life better for their children.  And thus was born the helicopter parent.

If generational theory holds true, my son’s generation will most resemble the Silent Generation: the generation that gave us Woody Allen and skyrocketing divorce rates.  Raised by a generation that was neglected, they were so coddled that they followed all the rules until they ended up middle-aged and in need of a mid-life crisis because they never had a chance to find out who they were.  More recently, Millenials, raised to think they were all unique snowflakes, have had a hard time adjusting to the real world where nobody cares how special their kindergarten teacher told them they were.  And generational theory says that sort of conformational trend will become even more pronounced in my son’s generation, the so-called Homeland Generation.  As much as it sucked to be raised in a time of neglect and hostility, it seems to me so much worse to hit adulthood without a clue of how the world really works.

And how can I possibly protect my son from that in the age of car seats and standardized testing?  When society is neglecting children, it’s something that can be mitigated to some extent by an increased focus on parenting.  When society wants to coddle all its kids, how do you make the space for your child to find out who they are?  Becoming an anti-helicopter helicopter?  That doesn’t seem like it would work very well.

In the end, it is just the same dilemma that every generation has faced.  By trying to make things better for our children, we inevitably swing the pendulum in the other direction and they will end up taking their own measures to mitigate all the things that we did wrong when they were kids.  And the cycle repeats itself every eighty years or so, and the only generation we will ever know that is like our own was either dying in a nursing home when we were too young to understand, or will be too young to understand when we ourselves are in that predicament.  The cycle of life.

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2 Responses to “Musings from the Trunk of a Volkswagen Rabbit”

  1. Andy Harrison Says:

    Nicely said. I don’t think your dad ever planned to provide you with a childhood experience. He just lived life as he knew it and the experiences were born. I have no doubt that your boy will have similar fond memories and you might be lucky enough when your older to learn what they are.

  2. Pendulum… The ubiquitous metaphor of social progress. Entropy suggests that the pendulum will eventually stop, at dead center. Assuming the middle is where it belongs, as befuddling as your analysis seems, we appear to be on the the right track.

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