Several years ago, when I was teaching a class of 4-year-olds at a nearby nursery school, I asked the children what they had done during spring recess. Expecting responses like going to the zoo, visiting grandparents or maybe taking a trip to Toronto, I was startled when Isabella, a beautiful little girl with big brown eyes, excitedly answered, "We went to Aruba!" When two other children chimed in with their reports of familyvacations to exotic destinations, I remember thinking, "Hey!"
Whatever happened to just taking your child to Disney World? When I asked Isabella if she had ever visited Disney, she answered dismissively, "Oh, we did that when I was much younger." Much younger? She was 4!
At a recent book club meeting I thought about that incident when Laura and Kimberly, both teachers in the public schools, were discussing today's changing school environment. They noted that the problems their students face today in both middle and high school seem to be very different from the problems they would see in students 20 years ago.
Laura mentioned that some students come to class tired, ill prepared or without having done their homework. The teachers said their students complain that they are too busy. Their lives seem to be crammed full of events like attending cheerleading practice or playing soccer, hockey, basketball or football. Between taking tae kwon do, ice skating, swimming, dancing or piano lessons, many of their schedules would rival those of presidents of corporations.
Harried working mothers or fathers have become both chauffeurs for their offspring as well as fans at every event. Few children are allowed to be left out of any conceivable activity they can possibly participate in.
Attending or hosting elaborate birthday parties in a home or in a restaurant seems to be the norm in some suburban towns, even in a tough economy. Price tags of expected gifts for the birthday boy or girl may be so high that it often makes it difficult for anyone but the affluent to even consider being a guest.
Several weeks ago, I was idly watching a decorating show on HGTV. Suddenly I found myself transfixed by the project the decorator was doing, as well as her subject. She was creating a "princess room" for a 6-year-old girl. The room had a lavishly draped canopy bed, a large play area for her many toys and a luxurious adjoining bath.
I couldn't help but wonder. Why was it so necessary to spend an exorbitant amount of money on a 6-year-old's room? Do we really want our children to feel like princes and princesses? Most importantly, do we want our children to grow up thinking that they need this type of environment for their own children in order for them to be happy? And what happens in the future if they don't have the money to provide it?
Most of us realize today's economy is in trouble. Jobs are scarce and opportunities are limited. A startling statistic from recent polling conducted nationally indicates that, unlike previous generations of Americans who could expect that the next generation would be better off financially than the past one, this generation's future was seen as uncertain.
As I left my book club meeting, I was reflecting that maybe the richest thing we can give our children today is a loving, supportive family and the ability to weather adversity as they face the future.
Penny F. Zeplowitz, who lives in Williamsville, is a management consultant, writer and travel photographer.