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Confessions of a Professional Gummy Bear Giver Outer
By Brandon Boswell
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Brandon Boswell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhen I was a child ...
Looking back on my childhood (which thankfully hasn't been that many years ago) and thinking about the experiences I had growing up, I have come to realize many of my childhood memories are of events that really weren't all that life-changing. But when experiencing those events as a child, in my mind, they were nothing short of the end of the world.
There was that time in the third grade when, for music appreciation class, our teacher decided that the best way for us to better appreciate music was for us to learn how to play a musical instrument. In theory, that made sense, but the reality was that the instrument of choice turned out to be the recorder, one of the favorite choices among music teachers who suffer from hearing impairments.
It's my strong personal opinion that the recorder may very well be the most annoying musical instrument ever created. If I were to rate the pleasantness of the sound of a recorder, especially when played by a young child who is learning to play it, it would rank somewhere between the sound of a dentist's drill and fingernails on a blackboard.
It's also my opinion that the best way to interrogate captured prisoners of war is to bring groups of schoolchildren who are learning to play the recorder into the prison camps and force the suspected terrorists to listen to them perform the same songs over and over again until they finally crack and reveal all they know about plans for upcoming terrorist attacks. I believe doing this could potentially save millions of innocent lives.
Despite my belief that the recorder could be used as a tool for torture, our teacher liked the sound of it. We were assigned to learn to play one song on the recorder and perform in front of our families and friends. I'm pretty sure our families and friends were as reluctant to hear us play the recorder as we were about having to play the recorder in front of them.
The song we were assigned to learn was that musical classic, Mary Had a Little Lamb. I realize this sounds simple enough, and I will admit Mary Had a Little Lamb is probably far easier for a child to learn than say, Flight of the Bumblebee. But in the mind of an eight year old kid who had never played an instrument before and couldn't read a lick of music (and this is coming from a twenty-nine year old adult who still doesn't play an instrument and can't read a lick of music), this experience is nothing short of traumatizing. When faced with such a scenario, a child is likely to have visions of messing up so terribly on the recorder in front of his family and friends that his parents disown him and send him to live in an orphanage where he ends up chained to a stone wall and fighting off rats for his allotted one bowl of gruel per day. Sometimes the child envisions the worst possible outcome of them all where his parents allow him to stay at home, but he's sent to bed that night without dessert.
Faced with the possibility of such outcomes, I wasn't sure how I was going to handle this situation. I considered the possibility of waiting for the day of the recital and just simply letting the child next to me take the blame for my terrible recorder playing by saying it was them and not me who ruined the recital. Then I remembered most of my classmates had the ability to retaliate by getting me in a headlock and shaking me down for my milk money, and that was just the girls in my class.
Thankfully I was blessed with a family who came to my aide with love in their hearts (and probably cotton in their ears). My father tried his best to help me learn the notes of the song. He knows how to both read and play music, but he never really had the patience needed to teach music. To be more specific, he never had the patience to teach me music.
My father's instrument of choice in teaching me musical notes was the piano. However, at the end of an average lesson, which if I remember correctly was approximately ten minutes, it became apparent that my father had not raised a musical prodigy.
I must confess I can't remember all the details of our music lessons. I hadn't thought about this for a while, and some of the details are sketchy. I think this is due in part to our ability as adults to block out painful childhood memories as part of a coping mechanism. If I remember correctly, though, our music lessons often led to yelling, crying, and temper tantrums.
I didn't act much better myself.
(In later years, my father attempted to teach me to play the piano by trying to teach me the notes to Here Comes the Bride. This led to nothing more than a tendency for me to cry at weddings for all the wrong reasons.)
We soon agreed that learning sheet music was something that didn't come naturally for me, but we also learned that I had a knack for memorizing sounds of music notes, and the order in which they were played. All I had to do was figure out which sound came after the next sound and simply memorize them long enough to perform in the recital. I realize I took the easy way out, but it's my belief that sometimes we're given an easy way out on purpose and to not take it as foolish.
The day of our program soon arrived. All of the parents gathered in the school auditorium for the musical program which included our lively rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb. It was the first time I ever played a musical instrument in front of an audience. Coincidentally, it was also the last time I ever played a musical instrument in front of an audience. From start to finish it took less than one minute to perform. As quickly as it began, it was over. Amazingly I didn't mess up ... too badly. Plus, I realized Mary Had a Little Lamb was far easier to play than Flight of the Bumblebee. It should be noted, though, that when you have a group of schoolchildren playing Mary Had a Little Lamb, or any song on instruments at the same time, it almost always sounds remarkably like Flight of the Bumblebee.
After that day, our teacher never had us perform again, which served as a great reminder that God does indeed hear the prayers of small children.
* * *
Looking back, my experience with the recorder is far more laughable now than it was back then. This is true of many of my childhood events. Now that I'm an adult with a job, expenses, and the other responsibilities that come with adulthood, there's a part of me that longs for those simpler childhood days again, though perhaps not the musical parts.
It reminds me of that verse in I Corinthians (NIV) where the Apostle Paul says, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."
Had I been the one who had written that verse, I likely would have concluded it by saying, "But I did so with great reluctance and hesitation."
To be honest, I think some "childish things" are actually quite good, at least my childish things were.
I was a child of the Eighties and early Nineties (not the Fifties or early Sixties). Children then experienced many of the same problems we have today, but oftentimes in much smaller doses. Sometimes we were simply too young to realize there were any problems.
Growing up, I went to the birthday parties of friends and ate pizza, cake, and ice cream, and I can't recall ever being told about the dangers of watching your weight for fear of diabetes. I never worried about how many more calories I would have to burn off on the treadmill if I ate a second piece of pizza (or the third, fourth, or fifth piece, either). I drank sodas and never concerned myself with reading the nutritional level to see what the sugar content was in the drink.
It also seems it was much safer to eat certain foods when I was a child. These days, it seems like every other day some food item is being recalled for fear of contamination. When I was a kid, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was one of the greatest things you could eat. Now that same peanut butter and jelly sandwich could literally kill you.
I grew up playing with toys and nobody worried too much about if the paint on the toy was poisonous if ingested and could kill you. The group of kids I hung around with never really worried about reading the warning labels posted on toys because we were smart enough to know that a G.I. Joe action figure was meant to be played with and not swallowed whole.
We actually made it outside and ran around, maybe not as much as we should have, but almost certainly more than many children today. When we did play outdoors, sometimes we or someone we knew was fortunate enough to have some type of secret hideout in which to play, and if so, it was usually nothing as fancy as there is today.
It's my belief that the days of the children's tree house have come and gone. Today, the tree house has been replaced by overpriced clubhouses that come equipped with a kitchenette that includes a working oven and refrigerator, as well as a guest room for sleepovers, and extras like swings, slides, monkey bars, mini bars, and hot tubs. I've seen clubhouses that make me wonder if the children have to pay property tax to stay in there. These days, many toy catalogs look more like an issue of Better Homes and Gardens.
To put this in perspective, in my own neighborhood, it's been rumored that one particular children's clubhouse has wall-to-wall carpeting and cable television. When I was a kid, I had a cardboard box, the grass, and my imagination.
I suppose it doesn't really matter now anyway because these days, most children don't want to even leave their own homes. Many kids are perfectly content spending their free time sitting in front of their own fifty-inch, flat-screen television which has been mounted on the wall in their bedroom and watching some ridiculous TV show or making it to the next level of their newest video game.
Television. The days of The Andy Griffith Show and My Three Sons were long gone by the time I was growing up, and we were exposed to a considerable amount of sex and violence on the small screen. Compared to the shows of today, though, I really believe we were better off. During my childhood, a program that dealt with drug abuse, rape, and alcoholism was called a drama. Today, we deal with these same issues in sitcoms. Plus, I grew up in an era where we had never heard of reality television. 'Nuff said.
For a boy growing up in the Eighties who loved action adventure shows, we had great shows like Simon & Simon, Airwolf, The Equalizer, and perhaps my all-time favorite, Magnum, P.I. Not only did Magnum, P.I. have great storylines, but it was one of the first shows that featured main characters who had bravely served their country in the Vietnam War and depicted them in a positive light, and rightfully so. The show also taught me it was possible to go on an all-night stakeout while sitting in a bright red Ferrari and rarely be seen.
Though many today would argue that these shows were too violent, they did teach some valuable lessons. They taught that a gun in the hands of the wrong person could do great harm, but a gun in the hands of a good guy who knows how to handle a gun can prevent a lot of harm from ever happening in the first place.
Of course, not every action adventure show of this era promoted gun use. We had that show, MacGyver, which starred a character that was about as anti-gun as you could get. He could, however, make a homemade bomb out of battery acid, a pack of matches, a stopwatch, and a jelly doughnut, so I'm willing to overlook his views on gun control.
What about the video games? When I was a kid, we had video games, but our games were much simpler. The goal of our games was to save princesses while we dodged laser beams and fled from evil villains, as opposed to many of the video games of today where the goal is to mow down prostitutes while driving a stolen car and fleeing from the police. As much as technology has advanced in the last two decades, is this the best we can do?
When I was growing up, we didn't have anywhere near the level of technology available to us today, and yet, my peers and I turned out alright. Most parents would never have dreamed about giving their grade-school children a cell phone. Cell phones were much more expensive back then and weighed approximately thirty to forty pounds. Had some of the smaller, underweight children been given such phones, they would have found it too difficult to hold the phones while trying to remain standing upright.
Texting was unheard of during my childhood. If we wanted to communicate during class, we had to pass notes to one another without getting caught. Of course, this is wrong and just plain rude to the teacher, but rather fun for the students when we considered the possibility of the teacher intercepting the notes of some of our more-difficult-to-like classmates and reading them aloud to the whole class, thus revealing their latest crush of the week, and the hope (or fear) that we would be the object of the crush.
I grew up in the days before the words Internet and e-mail were part of the English language. In the days before the Internet, when a student had to write a research report, they went to places called libraries and did research using these primitive things called books. The word Wikipedia had yet to be uttered in a sentence, let alone used as a reference in a report. People would have probably thought you were referring to some type of medical ailment (e.g., "Aunt Gladys has been suffering from chronic Wikipedia for years.")
If you wanted to get in touch with friends who lived far away, you would most likely have called them on a telephone, which was often connected to the wall with a cord. It was annoying, but it cut down on the chances of misplacing the phone since it's difficult to misplace a wall. For years, we didn't have the option of sending an e-mail, either. No, sir. Instead, we wrote a letter on a sheet of paper using a primitive writing tool called a pencil and sealed the paper in this thing called an envelope. On the upper right hand side of the envelope we practiced the ancient custom of putting this sticky object called a stamp on top. Then we walked outside (yes, you read correctly) and placed the letter in a mounted container on the house known as a mailbox. Then someone called a mailman would come, place our letter into a bag, and carry it off to this place called the post office. He would also leave other letters for us in the box. If we wanted to correspond with the letter writer, we had to repeat the same archaic process all over again. I truly believe that if you tried to teach some kids how to write a letter the old fashioned way, by the time they mastered it, they would be so excited they would actually e-mail their friends to let them know they would be sending them a letter.
Let me come back to the issue of guns for a moment. When I was growing up, there wasn't as much of a concern about kids playing with toy guns as there is today. A child could play with a toy gun and their parents were usually proud because they believed their child would grow up to be a police officer or serve in the military. In my hometown of Jacksonville, North Carolina, which is a rather large military community, I think some parents were actually more concerned when their children were not playing with guns.
Nowadays, because of school shootings and the media's coverage of such events, if a child is discovered playing with a toy gun, many parents will call in psychologists out of fear the child isn't well-adjusted.
Of course, you dare not bring a toy gun onto a school campus. If the gun is mistaken for the real thing, the school will go into lockdown and police officials, likely including the SWAT team, will be called to investigate and the child could face expulsion or even criminal charges.
Growing up, parents had more freedom in disciplining their children as well. There wasn't the level of fear that there is now about spanking a child. Recently I was watching a reality television program (for the record, I was bored out of my mind) in which every week a different family where the parents have little to no control over their children is spotlighted. The children commonly act like this show is just a warm-up for all the on-screen work they know they'll be doing when they're older and being shown kicking and screaming in the backseat of a police car on an episode of Cops.
Excerpted from Confessions of a Professional Gummy Bear Giver Outer by Brandon Boswell Copyright © 2010 by Brandon Boswell. Excerpted by permission.
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