On Picnics

I did something last weekend I've not done in a while: went to a picnic.

There is a beautiful park only miles from where I grew up. It offers 3,000 acres of rolling green hills, open fields and walking trails. It has 63 picnic groves and I must have picnicked at every one of them as a kid.

There were lots of reasons to picnic in those days. Family reunions, church gatherings or neighbors getting together. Schools, companies, unions and other organizations often staged an annual event.

The park was packed with people then. Kids running around, footballs and Frisbees being tossed, water balloons gliding through the air. While the kids played, the adults talked and laughed while sipping ice-cold beer.

The park was vibrant then — people routinely waited in line one year before their annual event to secure their favorite grove — and the spirit of people, connected to each other in a million different ways, filled the air.

But people don't picnic like they used to.

According to Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, "the number of picnics per capita was slashed by nearly 60 percent between 1975 and 1999." This reflects a larger trend of the breakdown in social-connectedness that has taken place over the last 30 years.

Why the breakdown? For starters, argues Putnam, there are lots of dual-income couples. Both mom and dad are slugging away in the workplace and when they get home at night they are exhausted. Who has time to go to a PTA meeting?

 When I was growing up, most moms were home during the day. They collaborated with each other to assist with school events and they sometimes joined each other for tea and coffee. They worked together to watch over their kids and their work made our community extraordinarily tight.

Television and the Internet are also breaking down our connectedness. Putnam says that "time-budget studies in the 1960s showed that the growth in time spent watching television dwarfed all other changes in the way Americans passed their days and nights."

Before there were 300 channels to choose from on the tube — before people zoned out for hours in front of the thing — people sat out on their porches at night, sipping lemonade and talking with each other. Now we sit in our air-conditioned homes sending text messages to each other or putting up photos of ourselves on myspace.com or one of the other "social-networking" sites.

Putnam says transience is also contributing to our connectedness breakdown. More people are moving from connected places such as Pittsburgh to the big metros where the jobs are. This "repotting" tends to weaken the roots that foster strong connections.

I lived in Washington, D.C. for nearly eight years and am grateful I was able to escape the place. Things are moving rapidly there. You spend hours in traffic jams and hours more at the office. There is very little time to talk to, let alone connect with, your neighbors. And as soon as you connect with them, they take a job in another city and off they go.

I'm glad I live in Pittsburgh again. I'm glad I was able to go to a picnic last weekend. Though the heyday of community picnics is over even in Pittsburgh, the old park is still hosting its fair share of them.

The one I went to has been organized by an old high school friend for 23 years now. He does all the work and planning, so that old friends can reconnect once every year.

I get there later in the evening usually, just in time for a delicious cheese burger and an ice-cold beer. I catch up with people I've not seen for a while. And we laugh and talk and fill the park grounds with some much-needed connectedness.

It is true that rapid change in America is affecting our civic-mindedness and social connectedness. It's true that our sense of civility is not as strong as it was, and Putnam's thesis explaining why has a lot of merit.

But I'm hopeful we can change that. Here's a good way to start: go on a picnic.

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  • Guest

    I also long for those days.  However, I think that tools like the Internet can be beneficial when used responsibly by Christians.  Last week when I had my miscarriage, the Internet was a Godsend for me.  I was crying so hard that I couldn't even complete a sentence, and I didn't want to be around anyone.  Yet, home alone, I didn't know what to do with myself.  The back and forth emails with members of my online Catholic infertility group and CE viewers really got me through that horrendous first day.

  • Guest

    Claire,

    Please know that even though it is the week after your sad loss of two babies, you are close to my heart (and will continue to be).  I wish I could email you a baked ziti and chocolate chip cookies to help you as you recover and show you that we're real people who care.

    I hope you are physically healing well. 

    Also, never let Satan snatch the joy of your motherhood from you.  You have conceived twice without intervention.  Sadly, for some reason, you have been unable to parent those children through a long life.  That doesn't mean that God doesn't have other children for you (either biological or adopted).

    Satan works through fear.  Never give in to His will for your life. (Satan DOES have a will for your life.) 

    I taught prenatal aerobics for years.  One of the most beautiful women I have had the privelege of meeting had suffered 6 miscarriages and 1 stillbirth. (she was "allergic" to her babies and her immune system fought the babies until she lost them.)  When I met her she was pregnant for the 8th time and on heavy doses of steroids.  She gave birth at 32 weeks to a little girl and went on to have another child.

    She was a joy filled Christian woman who inspired me with her courageous acceptance of her circumstances and her perseverence.  (She traveled hundreds of miles to receive her diagnosis and treatment.

    I know you will overcome this sad time in your life with the Joy of Christ supported by those "internet friends" , among others, of yours.  I'm having a cup of coffee now, as I picnic with my kids….among a poopy diaper, which my kids remind me needs changing. Cocoa puffs roll along the floor waiting to be crunched but I wanted you to know I'll "cyber picnic" with you anytime!

    As to the article, I agree!  I remember the days of my grandparents in Philly sitting on the front porch knoshing with the neighbors….I guess that's why I have taken up the call to create a neighborhood within my own four walls…  and I remind my kids, "You create the family you want to live in." 

  • Guest

    I had a different comment prepared, along the thinking of the article. That is until I read the above comments. Now I'm thinking that life at various times is not at all a picnic for us. There are times we make all the preparations for the picnic and it rains. That happened for my daughters graduation. All the beautiful floweres I planted for that occassion were beat to shreds by hale. Last month we were holding tents and getting drenched by a thunderstorm that was tearing the place apart. We saved the picnic. For all of these reasons we need to picnic.

  • Guest

    Thank you, Elkabrikir. I am doing much better. I ended up needing a second D&C; my body just didn’t want to let go of those babies. But the second one appears to have been a success, and I am feeling better physically. Emotionally, I’m coping better than I ever imagined I would in a situation like this. It still hurts every day, but I feel very optimistic about the future.

  • Guest

    Claire, I am glad you are coping; you and your entire family remain in my prayers.  Glory to God for the grace you've been given!  

  • Guest

    Thanks, Arkanabar.  God is good!

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    Ahh, but, Goral, such as picnics are the other side of the coin from our sad and awful times. We need that kind of carefree break from indoor norms to let kids make more noise than any of us knew they had in them. And, that cool breeze under spreading trees – and even ants, bees, mosquitoes, etc., seem a little less annoying.

    Claire, by our good God’s graces, you have gallantly chosen to share your tragedy with us. And, for our part, we put you in our prayers, and give names to two more little saints waiting there for you and for us.

    Being a lonely widower, I leaned for life’s pleasantness on taking my grandkids to parks, etc., with various comestibles just to hear their jolly noises – using their ‘outdoor voices’ to frolic and celebrate. That doesn’t happen anymore, as indoor things have taken them. Their ‘picnic’ memories are placed in the back of mental closets, for all of ‘today’s’ activities. With yesterday gone, my mini-tragedies are that much more painful.

    But, MY memories, and how I relished the hope in being with God’s young in God’s nature . . . Tom Purcell’s right – we need to get on more picnics.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Reminding that we are all on the same side – His,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    I grew up in suburban NJ and as an adult couldn't wait to get out. Now I live in rural NH and the reality is, my children will never be able to ride their bikes to a friend's house, play tag with the neighborhood children, or walk to school…all the things I did as a kid. I love where we live but you really have work at creating a community. With three children under the age of 4 and another on the way I feel like I have become housebound. God bless the internet and email! But still there is nothing like a picnic at the playground…when I'm feeling up for it.

    I have been reading CE for a while now but this is the first time I have posted. Claire, I just have to tell you that you have been in my family's prayers. I was filled with joy when you posted that you were pregnant and cried when I found out you lost your precious babies. Though I never had a miscarriage I struggled with infertility before my first was born. I at first prayed for a baby, then I just prayed that God would give me the strength to handle what came my way. 3 children and one on the way later…and I'm still praying for God to give me strength, just for different reasons!

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    kafournier,

    Bravo, Mom, and prayers from all of us parents and grandparents!

    Yet, too, pray (tongue-in-cheek) as one beleaguered mother did:
    “Lord, give me patience – patience, now. Don’t give me strength, I just may kill ‘em.”

    Remember, I love you, too

    Reminding that we are all on the same side – His,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    I've been reading the same book to my various children since 1990.  It's called Little Bunny's Picnic.  Of course I have memorized the simple lines, which I read in a gentle, lulling tone, over the years.

    It begins:

    "Inside Little Bunny's house all the rabbits are getting ready for a picnic.  When everyone is ready, off they go to the country.  It is a beautiful day for playing ball.  Or strawberry picking and finger licking.  Then the rabbits find a boat and sail down the stream.  At last they find the perfect spot to spread out their picnic feast.  The sky is getting dark now.  Little Bunny gathers wood to make a fire before they have to go.  It has been a wonderful day."  

    The simple idyllic setting and tone brings peace to our energetic day.

    Personally, as the mom of a large family, I hate picnics.  They are a complete bother.  Why move home away from home?  But, when I give into the moment, time and eternity meet.  Thank goodness my husband and –little kids– push me out the door.  Frequently I repeat, "It has been a wonderful day."

  • Guest

    Pristintus Sapienter, thank you for your prayers.  I think I remember you many months ago saying that you were going to pray for me to conceive twins.  I am very thankful that prayer was answered.  Even though I would have liked to have had them with me longer, I will always be grateful for them.

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    Actually, Claire, I was seeking five and a lottery win for funds. Think of you having not only your little litter of children, but your lucky little boy husband home not needing to work! Come to think of it, let him keep his job – men get in the way unless they’re born baby-sitters – I was – changed diapers from when I was ten.

    Actually, I left a message for all parents – mainly Moms – over at Heidi Hess Saxton’s ‘Confessions of a Catholic Mother’ – the last part for you – I repeat -

    God only permits our children to break our hearts, sometimes poignantly, sometimes pointedly, that we go to Him because He is Father – Abba – Dad – Pop. In His embrace, each of us is just one more heartbroken child . . .

    The more kids, the more heartbreaks, the closer we get to our loving heavenly Father.

    Claire – in your heart so broken – you may as well have borne a battalion. Like I do so many nights in loneliness, let your head sink not into a pillow, but your Papa’s knees. He knows the loss of an only Son.

    God be with you. And if you have five someday – name the last boy ‘Joseph Maria’ – my favorite boy’s name. You know, out here in my sixties, I wish I had a son, too.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Reminding that we are all on the same side – His,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

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