When I was little, my grandparents lived on a sprawling ranch in the Florida swamplands (Florida swamplands = all of Florida.) To a kid this place was heaven; orange trees dotted the fields, just waiting for me and my siblings to shimmy up and pluck a juicy sun-warmed orange and eat it while still tucked up high in the branches. They owned horses, and though most of them weren't tame enough for us to ride them, from a very young age we learned how to approach a horse and feed it slices of apples, the right way to stroke down the white patches on their long muzzles; we even woke up early one morning to watch a brand-new foal take his first wobbly steps. We'd spend hours making up imaginary adventures on the thick grass of the pastures, the towering haystacks in the barn, the sloping shores of the pond. They even had a swimming pool. Their house was our play-time empire.
But there was one room inside that we could only stand looking in wistfully from the threshold, voices lowered to a murmur. It was The Room Where No Children Shall Pass: white brushed suede couches, plush ivory-colored carpet, fragile knick-knacks beckoning enticingly from high shelves. Everything about this room said touch me. Mostly because we couldn't.
Not that we didn't try. We learned the hard way that the pristine carpet was so thick and vacuumed so often and so thoroughly that sneaking across it on a dare would leave footprints. Sometimes we'd lay on our bellies on the edge of The Room and the living room just to run our hands over the lush pile.
The rules for The Room relaxed over time, too many grandchildren to keep tabs on probably; but the lesson was still embedded deep in our young psyches: There are places that children shouldn't go.
With newer generations it seems like this is less and less of a concern. With my own kids certainly there isn't a place in our house they don't claim as theirs. Not a well cared for room that is only for adults to do adult things, like complete a sentence or relax for all of a minute. Not our bedroom which has long been the domain of adults doing other adult activities. Not even our bed, where all three of them spent their early months and years; where they never hesitate to come back to during a thunderstorm or a bad dream.
We see it everywhere, too. Kids at R-rated movies late at night. Babies at bars. Pint-sized protesters holding up neon poster boards and shouting along to directives that they can't fully understand. Gone is the trend of the adult-only room, but is this a bad thing?
I know I'm certainly glad we're past the days where children were to be seen and not heard, where being young meant being marginalized and disrespected. I always want my kids to feel valued and heard and that they are an important part of this family. But then I remember those days of swinging from tree branches, and pretending to hunt alligators with spare car parts we found behind the garage. While inside the adults sat on plush sofas, in a room with even plusher carpet, sipping Bloody Marys and having actual conversations not punctuated by requests for juice or squabbles over toys; and I can't help but wonder if they were on to something after all.