Here's another little parenting quandary to consider: how much is too much? Not fizzy drinks or lollies or late nights or toys for Christmas, or anything so simple. No, the question is how much is too much when it comes to the stories we tell them? How far into the truth should we go when we tell our kids about what we got up to when we were their age.
Clearly, this is a no brainer for most people because they were little angels when they were kids. All they did for fun was help old people across the road, coax stuck cats down from trees and sell lemonade by the side of the road in summer. For the rest of us, childhood was a pretty fun time. In fact, being a kid was utterly fantastic, especially in the olden days.
If they know we got away with a bit of mischief, will the flood gates of evil open for our kids as they attempt to be even badder than we were?
If I've heard it once it's a gazillion times about how much freer we were as kids, how things were safer and we would roam the streets 'til the lights came on. We'd walk to school by ourselves, buy fish and chips on the way to footy practice and learnt to mend bike punctures with gum leaves and spit without any help from anyone.
Isn't that how it was for you?
And the older our kids get, the closer they are to getting into some real fun: the good old-fashioned mischief, which was probably the same stuff we used to get our butts smacked for - back when butts used to smacked, of course. Nick-nocks on people's doors, pushing over the neighbours' letter box, making stink bombs out of ping pong balls, selling the old Schweppes bottles from the back of the Milk Bar to the bloke out the front for 10c a bottle. That kind of stuff. Pretending you were Evil Knievil, jumping over toy trucks instead of real ones and maybe even streaking.
Okay, definitely streaking!
That was fun, and so daring as an eight year old to rip your togs off in the middle of summer and run the gauntlet from lamppost to lamppost all the way home. We were a riot, actually, because growing up in a semi-rural area, there weren't that many kids in waking distance of the local shop. So we used to go down there, stick our jocks on our heads (so we wouldn't be recognized) and wiggle our bits out the front of the Milk Bar.
We only worked out the reason we were always caught was because the old fart who owned the place (very decent fellow as it turned out) would ring our mum and tell her what we were doing.
And we were a bit naughty. What'd you expect from four boys in one family, including twins. And next door was a family of three boys. And the kid over the road had a mini bike! I'm not even going to start about the other kid with the air rifle!
And we broke lots of rules, lots of the time, but not big ones. Not really.
Although getting the bottles from the back of the shop and re-returning them to the front for a profit was technically stealing, it felt a lot more like getting one back on the shop owner who put the price of bullets and cobbers and Fizz Whiz through the roof. We had to pay for that stuff somehow.
So the question is, how much of those stories we should share with our own kids? If they know we got away with a bit of mischief, will the flood gates of evil open for our kids as they attempt to be even badder than we were?
I mean, the world has changed, hasn't it? It was safer to streak back then, wasn't it? Do we teach our children in a 'do as I say not as I pretend I never did', way? Or do we tell them what we did, enjoy the story, and hope they learn from the trouble we got, instead of them repeating what we did and getting some trouble of their own?
Let's be honest, it does feel as if lots of the community has had some kind of humour bypass in the last twenty years. What used to be funny doesn't seem to tickle the old funny bone the way it used to. The PC lament seems to be pretty popular these days as kids are told they can't run, can't touch, can't have class parties and can't deliberately run into brick walls any more. That's true, too. There's a school in south Sydney that had to ban running into brick walls - why the kids would do that is a mystery, anyway. But you get the idea.
I'm just not convinced many people would think it's funny to wake up with two flat tyres these days because the punks up the street let the air out of them using matchsticks. That used to be a beauty, didn't it?
Now, for the record, I'm not about to offer these ideas up to my own kids for the sake of telling a story. But from time to time, they will ask what's the stupidest thing you did as a kid? To which I have told the truth and explained the consequences, which were not much fun.
And that was not the time we piled our bikes on top of ourselves, put tomato sauce and strawberry jam all over our faces and lay by the side of the road looking for sympathy. That was hilarious, actually, I should tell the kids that one... but they'll have to do it on the footpath. Where it's safer.
- Essential Kids