Friday, December 3, 2004
Taking time out
After reading the front page article "Whistles blow for alpha families to call a time-out" in the Friday edition of the Boston Globe, I was reminded of conversations my husband and I had had not long ago at our respective fiftieth high school reunions, mine in Madison, Wisconsin, and his in Scarsdale, New York. At each of these gatherings, the same topic of conversation was brought-up, followed by a similar passionate discussion: We grew up in an easier time, one much less harried than the one our grandchildren are experiencing today. This had me thinking back to when my own children were growing up in Carlisle in the late '60s and '70s, and realizing life was simpler then, as well.
What has bought about this change in life styles over the past 20 years? In the Globe article, which features the upscale community of Ridgewood, New Jersey, community leaders in that town of 23,000 report that youth sports have increased 200% in the last 20 years. These same leaders recently called a meeting of parents "to urge families to slow down, enjoy time together, and emphasize to their children the importance of having fun rather than being the best."
So what is going on here in America in the 21st century? It appears to be a childhood pattern of hyperactivity: overscheduled children playing on traveling sports teams two or three nights a week, including games and practices scheduled on Sundays; extra-curricular activities after school and on weekends; tutoring and test preparation. A family sitting down for dinner together seems to have become a thing of the past.
Darlene D'Amour wrote about this situation a year ago in her article "Children's after-school activities: lives of the young and busy." She interviewed a dozen families with children in the Carlisle School and at the high school who shared their thoughts on their children's frantic schedule of activities. In her article she mentions the book The Over -Scheduled Child, Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap by Alvin Rosenfeld and Nicole Wise. The Globe went further in its article by quoting Dr. Rosenfeld's remark, "Childhood has become professionalized. Parenting has become the competitive sport in America...winning the gold means getting into Harvard, Princeton or Yale."
So how do we go about changing this hectic pace of life? In Minneapolis, community leaders are reported to be urging families to have dinners together four nights a week. I spoke with Carlisle gym teacher Phil LaPalme, who talked about the school's intramural program, which offers students gymnastics, wall climbing, and floor hockey for both boys and girls at different times during the school year. These activities put much less pressure on the child compared with more organized sports, he explained. Yes, we all want to have a star athlete in the family, but at what cost? Should four-year-olds be participating in youth sports programs and then be burned out by the time they head into their teens?
It is up to the parents to speak out. Why not tell traveling sports team coaches to set a more reasonable time for games and practices? Why not ask for a schedule that doesn't allow the time commitment on the part of players and their families to get out of hand?
Parents need to give their children time for unstructured play where they can be creative and use their imagination. There are many joys in parenting, but there comes a time when parents have to set limits and say no to this over-competitive sports scene. It's up to the parents if anything is to change.
This small house
They took away Ole Nelson's house in a dumpster just before Thanksgiving. A day later all that remained was part of a ragged chimney poking up defiantly on land that looked like a raw wound. Neighbors on Russell Street were shocked at the sight — it felt as though the small Cape had vanished into the night, taking with it another piece of old Carlisle. A developer plans to build two new houses there.
A few years ago I attempted, unsuccessfully, to interview Ole Nelson for the Carlisle Oral History Project, but he was taciturn, claiming that his life was uninteresting. He died in November 2003, and it was only after his house disappeared that I learned something about him. He was born in Carlisle in 1924 and educated here, he joined the Navy during World War II and served in the Pacific. According to his friend Mark Struss of School Street, after the war Ole worked at the Honeywell Corporation in Brighton as a skilled machinist. He often worked two shifts and was also a night supervisor at the Dover Ski Binding Company in West Concord. His wife Ella took in laundry. It was clear that the Nelsons worked hard to support their family, a son Paul and daughter Barbara.
"Ole enjoyed his family, hunting and fishing," recalled Struss. "And he loved his vegetable garden behind the house. He had cleared the opening for the garden himself." His strawberries were something to remember.
Casper and Lena Nelson, Ole's parents, were from Loiten, Norway, the same town that Larry O. Sorli's parents came from when they emigrated to Carlisle. Casper Nelson built his house on Estabrook Road, and following in his father's footsteps, Ole built his on Russell Street when he came home from the service. He used stones from his property for the foundation and cut down his trees for lumber. The Nelsons were typical of many Carlisle men of their era skilled carpenters who used building materials from their own land. Larry O. Sorli, Irvin Puffer, Raymond Dutton, and before them Ed French, all built their own houses.
By today's standards, Ole's small Cape fell far short of the minimal four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-baths requirement of present-day buyers. Since the land is so valuable in today's overheated real estate market, the house became the latest tear-down.
Sixty-year-old houses like Ole's, built with loving care, aren't really old, but they become obsolete because of today's stringent state regulations and the homebuyer's quest for space. Wouldn't it be amazing if potential tear-downs could become part of the town's affordable housing stock? Why can't the town buy such properties and rent them on a short-term lease to empty nesters, young couples or town employees? Reusing still-functioning older houses would stem the tear-down tide, provide affordable housing and help preserve some of Carlisle's most diverse neighborhoods. But I fear this is a fantasy.
The reality is that old Carlisle is slipping away, right before our eyes.
© 2004 The