My kids aren't me, and lucky for them. They are growing up to be their own persons, in their own ways, having their own particular all-American boyhoods, which they seem to think have been pretty good so far.
But watching them hard at work growing up has made me realize how good I had it when I was growing up. And in some ways I think I got the better deal. There are differences between my all-American boyhood and theirs that make me...well, not sorry for them, exactly, but wistful on their behalf.
The main difference is that they have never lived in a neighborhood where there were close to thirty kids their own age running around all the time.
I took it for granted back then, but how great was it that any of us could walk out the door any time of day (and in summer, well into the night) and be sure of rounding up enough kids for a game of kickball or capture the flag or just a group bike ride down to Friendly's for ice cream?
Not that the Mannion boys have grown up in isolation, but they've been thrown on their own devices a lot more often than I was, and this leads me to ponder another difference between their kidhoods and mine.
I'd have thought that having to spend a lot of time on their own, they'd have developed hobbies.
My time on my own was pretty much defined by my hobbies.
The Mannion boys have had passions, enthusiasms, favorite past-times, beloved toys, specific and lasting and all-involving interests. They've enjoyed collecting things. But neither one has had a way of passing time constructively that I'd call a hobby.
I suppose right here I need a good definition of hobby and I don't happen to have one. That's what I get for writing a post off the top of my head.
Let's try this.
A hobby is a systematized, borderline obsessive form of usually solitary play that requires multiple trips to a specialty store for supplies and parts and manuals and has as its goal intellectual and spiritual and psychological satisfactions beyond simple amusement.
When I was growing up, I had a new hobby practically every year. Sometimes I had two or three going at a time, and a few of them kept me busy for years. My favorite was model-building. I built an entire air force and a legion of superheroes and a whole Round Table of knights in armor. But I also built and flew model rockets. I collected comic books. I was into photography. I filled countless sketchbooks with my drawings and cartoons. One year I became pretty proficient at ventriloquism.
A determined little obsessive can make a hobby out of any form of play or entertainment, and I did that with baseball and my GI Joes, both of which I folded into my history hobby. Some kids are in Cub Scouts for the fun of it. I made a hobby out of being a Cub Scout, which is how I wound up with more silver and gold arrows than any Scout in the history of Pack 82.
The Mannion boys have kept themselves busy, but nothing they've enjoyed doing regularly seems to fit my definition of a hobby or cost the blonde and me as much as my enthusiasms cost Mom and Pop Mannion or require from us as much patience. Neither of us has ever had to go down into a basement workshop where the air was choked with the fumes of airplane glue and paint thinner and try to pull a weeping ten year old away from his workbench which he's refusing to leave until he can make the black paint stop running into the yellow on Batman's insignia.
A few years ago I thought they were on the brink of making building Warhammer figures their hobby. But then it dawned on me that I was the who was on the brink. (I still am. I love the dwarfs and it's only because the nearest Games Workshop closed that I haven't built my own army of them.) They were more interested in playing with the toys the figures that got built and painted became.
I realize that what I'm describing may just be the difference between the kid I was and the kids they are. (Were. Got to keep reminding myself that one of them is six foot one, about to turn 16, and is shaving.) But all my friends had hobbies too, and I don't think any of theirs do. In fact, each of those thirty kids running around my old neighborhood probably had at least one hobby, and I just haven't seen any signs that this is true of the kids I've met through the boys' school activities and sports and Scouts---a lot of their Cub Scout experience was a matter of we fathers trying to instill a passion for our old hobbies in our sons and being disappointed that it usually didn't take.
Here's another thing though. My definition of hobby includes solitude. Most of the work required by hobby has to be done alone. But that doesn't necessarily make being a hobbyist a lonely pursuit. One of the best things about a hobby is sharing it.
Hobbyists like to---have to---gather together from time to time to talk shop. They have to exchange information, pass along tips, trade supplies.
I might have been temperamentally inclined that way---or genetically disposed. Pop Mannion was an industrious collector of stamps and coins when he was an all-American boy.---but I have a feeling that I wouldn't have enjoyed my hobbies as much if I hadn't had friends to share them with. I might not have even taken them up. There were a few I couldn't have even tried without their help and encouragement. No Lance-built model rocket would have gotten off the launch pad without the technical expertise of my pal Sandy Weissman.
Oliver Mannion, reading over my shoulder as I type---maybe his hobby is spying on his father---Note from Oliver- No it's not, it's spying on you and mom.---just informed me that he thinks Dungeons and Dragons could become his hobby, if he had somebody to play it with.
In short, I don't know if what I've been wondering about here is a difference between them and me, a difference between the times we grew up in, or an accident of the difference in the way we grew up and the places we lived in.
Do other kids today have hobbies?
If they do, what are they?
Are there still kids collecting stamps and coins? Buying microscopes and telescopes and ant farms and chemistry sets? I know there are parents and grandparents and other well-meaning adults buying these things for them. But are kids themselves saving up their allowances and begging their folks to take them to the store for supplies and parts and manuals?
What's going on out in your world?
And did you have a hobby? Do you still have one?