I would suggest that one of the greatest gaps in human understanding is the one between parents’ belief in their ability to raise children and their kids’ belief in those same parental abilities.
OK, that sounds meaner than it was meant to. I’m fairly positive the very worst that could be said about the job most of our parents did was that it was the best they could do at the time, and that likely they did wonderfully. I mean, neither you nor I are Jeffrey Dahmer. So, to quote the noted philosopher Carl Spackler from “Caddyshack, “We’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.”
No, the gap only manifests itself when we’re older, when our parents start giving parenting advice, telling us how we endanger their grandchildren by practically letting them run feral. Or something like that.
That’s when you remember the long car trips, when you were a kid, unencumbered by stuff like seat belts. Or that bike rides didn’t involve helmets. And that castor oil was believed to have some medicinal value beyond making you think really, really hard about whether you needed to claim you were sick. Which may very well have been the point.
If any and all of these aren’t clear indications that, despite what I’m sure were fairly wonderful childhoods on most of our parts, our parents were largely winging it, I’ve got two favorites that serve as evidence.
Easy Bake Ovens and Jarts.
Those are, in fact, my Exhibits A and B. The fact that in some court cases they may very well have been Exhibits A and B is really all you need to know about them.
For the uninformed, or for those of you who haven’t almost burned down the family home or don’t have fairly impressive scars on the top of your foot, Easy Bake Ovens and Jarts were both popular toys when I was a child. Which is sort of like saying at one point owls were popular pets. “Popular” does not equal “good,” as many of us would learn later in high school.
Easy Bake Ovens were small, oven-shaped devices (which would explain the name) that would allegedly allow girls to, well, bake things, just like their mothers. OK, there’s so much wrong with that last sentence, given what we know about gender roles and stereotyping. But those things sort of pale into insignificance when you realize parents were giving their children things that got super hot and then walking away.
For the sheer “what exactly were they thinking”-ness, the Easy Bake Oven has to both (sort of) bake and take the cake. Until … the Jart.
If you don’t know what a Jart is, or think it’s a popular Asian subcompact, you’re both lucky and likely possessed of fully functioning toes. And you probably don’t know because Jarts, or at least the metal-tipped versions, are illegal in the United States and Canada.
Jarts were these steel-tip mini-javelins with three fins that you tossed underhand at your brother … no, at a ring a few feet away. Think Cornhole, if you could use the beanbag to maim.
They were called Jarts because, apparently, “Lawn Darts” might actually have parents saying “wait a minute.” As it was, that reaction was left to government officials (back when government officials said things like “wait a minute” and banned dangerous stuff) who outlawed them in the U.S. in 1988.
Until then, the summers of our youth resonated with the sounds of parents enjoying long, lazy evenings until they had to rush their children to the hospital to have a small spear removed from some appendage. Ah, memories.
As I understand it, the folks who make Easy Bake Ovens have made numerous safety improvements and the product in its newer, less dangerous form is still for sale. Jarts, however, have yet to make a comeback, at least in their original form, and are now likely the property of the Department of Defense.
As for my generation, whatever scars – literal or emotional – may have come from playing with older, less safe toys (Jarts involved tiny harpoons — how could it get any less safe?) have faded and we have come to grips with the fact that our parents were both wonderful and in some matters fallible.
And if Easy Bake Ovens and Jarts aren’t enough, in shop class or some Boy Scout meeting we were given access to solid point burners used to scorch our name on leather and wood and also give ourselves interesting scars to talk about later.
What could have gone wrong?