Generation XX

The Wet Banana, Shared Phone Line, and Wool Coat of My Youth

The Slip “˜n Slide was a far superior product to the Wet Banana. For those who never experienced the Banana (Koki Toy Company’s answer to the genius of Wham-O’s Slip “˜n Slide and derivative summer slide products like the really awesome Crocodile Mile), it was made up of a long narrow piece of yellow plastic (like a Slip “˜n Slide) accompanied by a sprinkler that looked like a banana (not like the Slip “˜n Slide, which had a hose embedded in the plastic for direct, self-contained sprinkling). The Wet Banana was mostly not awesome because you’d end up hitting your ankle on the metal banana sprinkler while sliding. But it was also not awesome because your dad would take the banana sprinkler and use it to water the flower beds along the side of the house, resulting in it not being available for childhood summer luxury use.

The price difference between the Slip “˜n Slide and Wet Banana was probably negligible. So the question here is why the heck did my parents cheap out and get the inferior product? And why, for that matter, couldn’t I have my own telephone line, which probably would have cost about $12 a month? I begged for a leather jacket in sixth grade and though my parents thought that was an utterly ridiculous suggestion, they had no problem spending the same amount of money on a wool “lodge coat” from L.L. Bean which was definitely NOT the envy of the other eleven-year-olds I knew.

Were my parents just messing with me? Or did the Wet Banana, shared phone line, and wool lodge coat of my youth actually make me a better person?

I’m frequently creased by what I like to call “modern parenting.” Modern parenting is where I’m at the bakery for Sunday brunch and some modern parent couple is sitting at the corner table, enjoying their scones undisturbed, while their little shit bird of a kid runs around the bakery with his hand in his diaper, removing it only to periodically touch all of the table tops. I look around, waiting for someone to do or say something, but no one ever does, especially not the kid’s very modern parents.

On my most recent flight, I sat behind a kid who kept reaching her little arm through the seats in front of me to knock over my book which I was resting on the seat tray in front of me while reading. She’d do this and then get up on the seat to peak over the head rest and smirk at me. She was at least five. After book knock-over #1 I glared at the kid, sending the message that I was not enjoying the game as much as she. After book knock-over #2 I let out an annoyed groan that no one, other than my seatmate Gary Blonde could hear. After book knock-over #3 I said, flatly, “Stop doing that.” The child’s modern parent said and did nothing until book knock-over #4, when she said, with no fervor whatsoever, “Kennedy, sit down please.” Kennedy did not sit down and the modern parent had no follow-up. Kennedy proceeded with book knock-overs #5 and #6, after which I stopped reading and put on my headphones. This prompted Kennedy to reach through the seats to poke me in the leg as an alternative. She did this, not until her modern parent made her stop, but until she finally got bored and started watching The Princess and the Frog on her portable DVD player.

I rarely go to the grocery store without witnessing a tantrum. And I have sympathy for the parents, I really do. I realize even great parenting can’t negate the wild spectrum of childhood emotion, but it’s not the tantrums that bother me, it’s the ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that’s done in response to them.

Which brings me back to the Wet Banana. Did I bitch about the Wet Banana? I don’t remember. It’s very possible that I whined at my dad, “Daaaad, if you’d gotten the Slip “˜n Slide instead of the Wet Banaaaana we wouldn’t lose the banana sprinkler all the time, we could be plaaaaying right now!” To which I’m pretty sure my dad would have said, “Stop whining.” And if I’d proceeded to whine, my dad would have put the kibosh on playing at all, which would have made any old toy look like a pretty good option.

I know I acted up at restaurants. I remember that I acted up at restaurants because I remember my mom pulling me out of restaurants and making me sit in the car with her for twenty minutes while I knocked off whatever hissy I was having at the time. This probably sucked for my mom. She wanted to be in the restaurant eating her dinner, but she was doing the hard work of making sure that I got the point that when she says, “Knock it off!” I will, indeed, knock it off.

“Knock it off!” was not an uncommon phrase during my childhood. My parents said it, my aunts and uncles said it, my friends’ parents said it. But modern parents don’t say it. They start every request with “please.” I’m not an enemy of manners, I love the word “please” and say it often. When I’m out to dinner with a friend and I want her to pass the bread, I’ll say “please” first. But if at dinner with my friend she, in all seriousness, starts throwing pieces of focaccia at my face, I’m not going to say “please” first before asking her to stop. Because, in that instance, she’s being an a-hole and she needs to know it, and I don’t need to tell her nicely.

The kid at the bakery in the Sunday brunch scenario I mentioned earlier doesn’t need to be told to “pleeease” stop putting fecal matter on the tables. He needs to be told firmly to stop it, and if he doesn’t stop, he needs to be taken home. So sorry for his modern parents, their brunch will be ruined. But it’s their kid, so if anyone’s brunch is to be ruined it should be theirs, my childless brunch should be unaffected. Is that crazy?

Back again to the Wet Banana. I really don’t hate kids, I promise, but I don’t think (despite my angst over never getting a real and true Slip n’ Slide) that they should be spoiled. I can assume that my parents bought me a Wet Banana because they didn’t know the difference between the Banana and the Slip n’ Slide. When I complained that it was sub-standard they, rightly, ignored such a petty complaint. Toys like the Wet Banana and Slip n’ Slide are cheap, they could have easily bought me a Slip n’ Slide to replace the Banana. But what would that have taught me? That being unappreciative pays, and that everything I want should be mine. I only realized a few years ago that few of the things my parents said “no” to had anything to do with money. This is a point that also seems to be lost on modern parents.

With the exception of electronics, a lot of toys are cheap. But just because modern parents can afford to get their kids everything they want, doesn’t mean they should. As Draconian as it may sound, doesn’t it make sense to say “no” just for the sake of saying it sometimes. That’s how we learn that we don’t get everything we want.

As cranky as I may have made them appear with the “knock it offs” and suchwhat, my parents were and are outstanding. They gave me everything I needed and most of what I wanted too. But they did not give me everything I wanted, and I suspect that if they had, I wouldn’t like myself today. Viva el banana húmeda!

So go on, deprive a child of something today.

9 replies on “The Wet Banana, Shared Phone Line, and Wool Coat of My Youth”

I’m just so jealous that you had a wet banana. We didn’t have either, because my grandmother lived in an apartment building with a pool a few blocks away and we didn’t need it, goddammit. :) Anyway, I really enjoyed this article. I’m always trying to figure out why a lot of modern parents don’t even say anything to their kids when they act up and bothering other people. Maybe they’re just used to tuning them out.

Our family used to do ‘waterslide’ on our sloped back garden in the summer. Not as sophisticated as a slip n’slide, it was basically a massive long tarpaulin with the garden sprinkler on it, liberally squirted with liquid soap to make it extra slippy. It was awesome, until one day my mum decided to use washing-up liquid instead of soap as the lubricating agent, and forgot to hose us all down afterwards, resulting in the outbreak of an evil, itchy, chemically induced rash on half of the neighbourhoods’ kids. Good times.

Normally it drives me a little crazy when non-parents make comments about parents who “do nothing” while their kid is being a total brat, because I think the non-parenting lens tends to skew things a little bit and I think the vast majority of us parents are doing the best we can. That said, Kennedy on the airplane sounds atrocious. Children under the age of four are very hard to control. Unless Kennedy is highly special needs, she should not be pulling that crap.

I used to argue that almost no parents “do nothing” when their kids are being awful until I saw an airplane scene that tops little Kennedy. I spotted a really ill behaved trio of children about to get on an overnight 10 hour plane ride with me. Wouldn’t you know, the father and one of the little brats were seated across the aisle from me and the two other brothers were seated behind me. Beside a stranger. As their mother was belting them in the stranger (who was hiding her horror) politely told the mother that she’d be glad to switch seats with her so she could be with her family. The mother smiled and said “that’s okay” and proceeded to her assigned seat which was about 10 rows closer to the front of the plane. Not only did this mother do nothing, but she removed herself from ear shot. Yikes.

We had a Wet Banana in the neighborhood, and not a summer day went by when one of us didn’t lose a tooth, scratch up our undercarriage on a rock hidden under the plastic tarp or jam some fingers while trying to stop. Then there was the day the boy down the street covered the slide in vegetable oil…
Although I’m not a parent myself, I taught for eight years, and I learned kids are pretty gullible. If you tell them you can shoot lasers out of your eyes when they misbehave, they’ll totally buy it for at least a month.

Ha, I love this. I too, influenced by too many Babysitters’ Club books, begged for my own phone line. My brother and I also asked for a Slip ‘n’ Slide, but not even a knockoff was given: instead my dad folded a tarp in half, used tent pegs to set it in place on the ground, and set up the hose on a couple of bricks. This is probably where I get my “you know, we could totally make [item] instead of buying it” approach.

It’s been very illuminating for me to think back on the things my parents DID say no to because of money, and the things I thought they were saying no to because of money but actually just didn’t want to mess with. Noisy toys, for one thing, were always “too expensive,” but really my mom just hated the noises. I’m cool with that, as an adult, but as a kid, it was only the fact that I knew we didn’t have a lot of money that could make me stop whining about wanting things like that.

It’s weird to reconsider that sort of thing, though. In fact, it’s weird thinking back on most of the parenting choices my parents made simply as choices that they made instead of the immutable reality they seemed to be at the time.

As far as the rest of the post goes, I’m of two minds. On one hand, I totally agree that failing to teach your kid the difference between manners and rules is a problem–some rules are about safety, and if you’re not going to ask nicely for little Timmy to keep away from the hot stove, it doesn’t make much sense to ask him nicely not to cause harm to other people, either. Those are situations for firmness. Asking for something polite like passing the butter is a situation where you can demonstrate your own manners, and that’s great. Not when it’s about health or safety.

On the other hand, I’m hesitant about blaming parents for things like tantrums, because often, you can’t really stop them. You can try, but eventually your hushing and pleading just adds to the din, and the only thing you can do is ignore them and keep them as contained as possible under the circumstances. Not every parent has the time or means to take their kid to the car for twenty minutes and leave their meal unattended.

I’ve met bad parents, and it’s frustrating to have someone else’s kid bugging you and not being reprimanded with any seriousness. But I firmly believe that most of the time, most parents are doing the best they can with the resources–including time, energy, and help–that they have.

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