C’mon in! No, no, no, leave the bags. We’ll get them later. Oh, it’s so good to see you! It’s been toooo long.
Survived the Jersey Turnpike, the Belt Parkway and LIE unscathed, I see.
No, I didn’t expect you to encounter a rogue 18-wheeler, I just meant no one had an “accident” or barfed along the way, right?
Anyone hungry? No? You ate at a turnpike rest stop? Really? You truly are road warriors. Now, come get yourself something to drink.
And you, Missy! Does Papa get a hug? No? Get over here, you! Ahhhh, gotcha! We are so happy to see you! Did your little brother behave? Of course he slept the whole time. Know what, Nana did too when your Dad was little. Does your mommy do that? She drove? Your daddy’s a lazy bum. Uh, never mind.
What, Pumpkin? Yes, I guess you can watch Sesame Street. Ok, here we go, Channel 13…
What? The new Sesame Streets aren’t on 13? Since when, son? HBO bought Sesame Street? Seriously? Jaysus!
I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around that. I mean, that show’s been the flagship of The Children’s Television Workshop on PBS since I was in high school. Yes, buddy boy, we had electricity back then. Oh, of course. We did our homework on the back of shovels by candlelight and walked to school five miles, uphill both ways.
You need some new material, son.
You don’t? Because I’ll forget it within days of your saying it? Well, ever since you were her age, I’ve been waiting to hear you say something worth remembering.
Huh? Nobody says “Oh, snap” anymore? Yeah, well, guess what? The rules governing ever-changing youth culture linguistic patterns don’t apply. No, not because I’m “older than the pyramids.” The deal is, once you’re blessed with grandparent status, the only codes and customs in force are the ones you chose to follow.
For instance, I could go down to your office, wearing shorts with black socks and dress shoes, and ask all your coworkers, “Hot enough for ya?” caring not what they might think, but knowing just how mortified they would be.
Hmm? I’d have to buy a pair of dress shoes first. Ok, you got me there.
Anyway, where’s the remote? HONEY? WHAT CHANNEL IS HBO ON?
Uh, right, I knew that.
Ok, Little Girl, Sesame Street coming right up? You know, Sweetheart, we didn’t have Sesame Street when Nana and I were your age.
Relax! That just slipped out.
No, I’m going to filibuster on watching Popeye, The Little Rascals and Saturday morning cartoons. I’m sure you told her all about how we didn’t have a color TV until we got married.
Papa’s just being silly, Little Girl. Here it is. Yes, Papa will watch it with you. Let me just talk to your daddy for a minute first, ok?
Look, I know she’s not old enough to go outside by herself, but she will have that opportunity, right? You know, to go outside and play just for the sake of play?
I know you don’t live in a – what did you call your ol’ hometown? Right. “A one-horse town without the horse.” Sure, gymnastics and swimming lessons are great, but…
No, no, no, I’m not stuck in the past! At least I don’t think so. I know the only constant is change. It’s just that …
Listen, there was a New Yorker magazine cover in the fall showing two young girls chalking out a hopscotch court. And…
Hopscotch? You’ve never heard of hopscotch? Single malt? Yeah, not quite.
No, they were not in antebellum attire. “Antebellum,” eh? I’m impressed! Was that in a porn video dialogue? Yeah, of course you didn’t. You paid attention in high school. You sure? Dammit, I hate to lose bets to your mother.
Anyway, the magazine cover shows two girls marking each hopscotch square with either a 1 or a 0. Get it? Computer code? Ones and zeros? In fact, the cover caption is titled “Coding 101.”
It’s brilliant! The artist cleverly combined a once widespread and very popular childhood game – Listen, I don’t know or care if it’s antebellum or not, wiseguy – with a simple, yet elegant representation of the technology that now rules their young lives and their world.
No, I didn’t swipe that line from “The PBS Newshour.” I paid attention in high school.
What? Your grandmother said otherwise? Ever think that maybe she got it wrong? There were seven of us, after all. No, of course she was right. That’s not the point!
What I’m saying is, why can’t kids be kids? We just went outside and played. You just went outside and played. Yeah, I know, we don’t know half the stunts you and your future felon friends pulled. And since we were never visited by anyone in uniform armed with a Glock, or served with any writs or suits, in this case ignorance is bliss.
And if you want me to keep me mouth shut when your kids are old enough to understand the, um, let’s say “ill advised” crap that we do know you were involved in, it’s gonna cost ya.
Ah, sweet vengeance!
Look, I get it – Yes, Sweetie, Papa will be there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail! – What? I heard that a lot when I was a kid. Fine, I’ll never say it again.
I know that your kids’ childhoods won’t and can’t be like yours and mine. To be honest, I’m surprised yours truly and your aunts and uncles are all still alive. When we weren’t in school your grandparents said simply, “Why are you inside on a day like today?”
So we made ourselves scarce. Our only obligations were Mass on Sunday and on the Feast of the Assumption in August – it’s a long story – and to be fitted for new uniforms and get new shoes sometime before the new school year.
Sunscreen? Never. And we thought it great fun to run through the fog when the town sprayed for mosquitoes. You know what they sprayed? DDT! That’s one seriously nasty pesticide banned long ago. Google it, for cryin out loud.
In one of his bits, Jerry Seinfeld, who’s our age, said kids growing up in the 60s were like “wild dogs.”
Cars didn’t have seatbelts and we never wore bike helmets. Hey, just like you! I forget who said, “Hey, I saw your son riding through town the other day.”
Was he wearing his helmet? I asked. Not unless it’s red, he said.
Seinfeld went as far to joke that our parents were ignorant and … negligent, I think. He wasn’t far off.
Yes, you’re right I’m arguing against my own, um, argument. It’s just that seeing my granddaughter taking selfies on a smartphone – at age two for cryin out loud! – was both amusing and more than a bit unsettling.
Yeah, I know, if it wasn’t for you, I’d still have a VCR blinking “12:00.”
Anyway, you know what I’m saying, right? It’s a question of balance. Ones and zeros and sunshine, or mudpuddles.
Ok, sorry, Honey. Papa’s coming!
Oh, you give such good hugs!
Who’s that funny looking guy? Yes, “The Count.” I remember him when your Daddy and Aunt Caitlin watched this show. Yes, just like you.
What’s he doing? Counting? Of course! Yes, Papa’s silly. Is he counting by stomping his feet?
Tim Kelly is a former congressional press secretary and award-winning reporter, editor, columnist, and photographer. He has lived on the North Fork for 30 years. For his mid-life crisis, he became a bagpiper.