Ah, kids these days. The list runs long of their digital addictions: texting, gadgets, Facebook, internet, and video games. But during our visit to the U.S., we bore witness to a few fleeting moments that reaffirmed that kids are still kids.
That is to say, kids as we knew them: little girls leveraging the lemonade-stand model to raise money for an afternoon trip to the toy store, middle schoolers oohing and aahing over stories about eating bugs and engaging with giant rodents, and high schoolers jumping off absurdly high cliffs to demonstrate their mettle.
With cultural evolution at high speed, it’s comforting to know that while many things have changed, a few remain the same.
Note: If you are looking for eye candy, check out the time lapse audio slideshow of the kids jumping off the ledge at the waterfall here.
Little Kids and Lemonade Stands
After a visit to the Saturday farmer’s market, we strolled the residential streets of Black Mountain, North Carolina and encountered Gracie and her friend, Elizabeth. Their sidewalk stand featured a container of ruby-colored juice and a stack of plastic cups.
Even at a distance, there were no signs needed. The scene was immediately recognizable, iconic, and reminiscent of something timeless and American.
“Do you want a glass of cranberry juice?” Gracie asked as we approached from the corner.
“Sure. How much?” I asked
“Ten,” Gracie responded.
“Ten cents?” I asked. We hadn't lived in the U.S. for nine years. I wasn’t sure if inflation had taken such hold that a glass of juice now fetched $10.
“Yes. And you get a free daisy, too,” Gracie sweetened the deal.
Sold. We asked them to combine our two juice orders in one glass so they could cut down on costs (and garbage) and hung out with them as we drank our juice.
“We're raising money to go to the toy store later. We want to buy more bracelets,” Elizabeth explained as she pointed to the colorful bracelets decorating her arm. They looked a lot like gummy bracelets from my childhood.
We wished them luck as we said goodbye. I put one daisy in my hair and saved the other for my grandmother.
8th Graders and Gross Stuff
Before speaking to groups of 8th graders in suburban rural Northern Virginia, we wondered: “Which stories from our travels would 8th graders be most interested in hearing?” We felt a bit out of touch.
So we polled our friends on Twitter and Facebook, and many of the responses boiled down to two things: the grossest things we’ve eaten and the weirdest animals we’ve encountered.
My friend Stephanie captured the sentiment well: “I think that big water rat thing will be a hit.”
Sure enough, the photo of the capybara above drew gasps, shrieks and hoots (one student actually knew what it was called!). The story of Dan eating bugs in Cambodia elicited lots of “eeews!” but the kids wanted more — in particular, to know about the bugs' texture, taste and crunchiness.
Under the theme of the similarity of kids around the world, this Cambodia video we produced made the same impression regarding the relationship between poverty and happiness on the Virginian kids as it did on the groups of Estonian students we spoke to two years before.
“I really liked their video. Happiness doesn't mean you have to be rich and just because you're poor doesn't mean you're unhappy.”
Eighth graders suddenly didn't seem so different from what I remembered after all.
Until the police showed up to shoo them away, kids leaped off a 60-foot ledge into a gorge at Nay Aug Park in Scranton Pennsylvania – just as they did decades before, when Dan and his siblings were kids.
The following audio slideshow says it all. Please note that some loud music comes on after about 1:07 seconds. So, if you're at work you may want to use headphones.
Note: We do not advocate jumping off “Killer” or any 60+ foot ledge like it. We would not jump ourselves and we advise others to refrain from doing so. Some of the kids that jumped showed brush burns on their arms, legs, and backs — simply from entry into the water.
But, kids will be kids and not listen to the rest of us. And we will observe and tell the story like it is.
Over the past several years, we've spent more time with kids in foreign countries than we have with American kids. Perhaps as a result, we can't turn off our “traveler's eye” during our visits to the U.S. — and we find ourselves collecting memories and vignettes to weave into a broader thread.
As we do, it’s refreshing to know that even amidst life's growing complexity, evidence of a refreshing simplicity still remains.