All too often, I feel like Rip Van Winkle. Except, unlike Mr. Winkle, who slept for 20 years, it seems I have slumbered for 50 years or more.
One of the sequences I appear to have dozed through has been an unwelcome metamorphosis in the development of boys.
I am not certain where or when it began, but I seldom see boys engaging in pickup baseball, football, soccer games they organized themselves. Other than basketball, which requires a minimum of players and organization, youngsters of today are content to wait for adults to organize, supervise and often take the fun out of sports.
I understand that I am from a different era, at least two generations removed from the youth of today. Nevertheless, what has happened to transform boys into couch potatoes, video game players, tweeters and texters — preferring activities that require little or no effort whatsoever?
Boys were always expected to be boys, rambunctious adventure seekers. They climbed trees, built forts and clubhouses (no girls allowed), engaged in sports that were both physical and exhausting — the rites of passage from boy to man.
Yes, there were scrapes, bumps and even a few fractures accompanying this high-spirited roughhousing, but, in the end, it was a magical experience and a lot of fun.
It is no secret that our schools and society as a whole are hostile to what was once considered the natural development of boys into manhood. This stifling may not be readily apparent to today's parents and school officials who may not have noticed a gradual shift to the "gender-norming" experience.
Perhaps the increasing mobility of women into occupations and fields once monopolized by men, and the "I am woman, hear me roar" attitude, has caused an imbalance of what was once normal. Woefully, I have both experienced and noticed a decline in the courtesy and deference shown to women, largely because it is no longer expected and often not desired.
I miss my generation's standing to give a lady a seat, opening doors, walking to the outside — my father would always touch the brim of his hat or cap to acknowledge a lady's presence. Sadly, these courtesies seem to be disciplines of bygone days.
Change does not occur in a vacuum. I have long been troubled by punishment awarded to youngsters for activities so normal as to be unnoticed when I was a student.
I have written of these before. However, I am outraged at the recent treatment of a 5-year-old boy who brought a cap pistol to school to show to a friend who had apparently brought a water pistol the day before.
The youngster, a Dowell Elementary School kindergartner in Lusby, Md., was interrogated for two hours by school officials who called his mother only after the boy wet himself, according to a report in the Washington Post. In an earlier column, I wrote of a 7-year-old who was suspended for biting his pop tart into the shape of a gun.
Other such "criminal acts" include an Arizona student suspended for a picture of a gun on his computer, a 6-year-old South Carolinian for taking a small, transparent toy gun to school for show and tell and a 5-year-old in Massachusetts who faced suspension for building a toy gun out of Legos.
The concern over firearms in schools is warranted, but it is an utterly ridiculous overkill to browbeat, frighten and punish boys in grades K-4 for incidents involving toy guns. School officials who are so misinformed about small boys playing cowboys and indians, cops and robbers and soldier should be subjects for remedial childhood instruction.
For crying out loud, cap guns were standard accessories, along with pocket knives, tops and yo-yos for boys in the schools I remember. Playing with toy guns usually lasted through the fifth grade, the time of life when girls are suddenly more interesting than Black Bart, Geronimo or enemy soldiers.
Additionally, not one in my circle of cap gun desperadoes grew up to be gun-toting criminals of any stripe.
Sadly, it is probably too late to overturn, or even modify, the too-rigid "rules of engagement" concerning toy guns for boys (and girls) in grades K-4. The overreactions that are all too normal tend to teach impressionable youngsters that all firearms are forbidden fruits and, rather than turning them off, may actually increase their natural curiosity, a dangerous omen indeed.
In my memory, playing the cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians games in the schoolyard, the good guys always won and the bad guys always got up to play again. Significantly, that is seldom the case in today's movies and video games where people are blown away in wild abandon by gunfire, rockets, bombs and in car chases.
I suppose I am doomed to disappointment in longing for a society in which one size does not fit all, that boys permitted to be boys and girls are permitted to be either, until grades 3 or 4.
However, a school official who cannot substitute judgment and common sense for "by-the-book" rules and regulations in dealing with individual students should be required to seek employment elsewhere.
J. Karl Miller is a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.