Last week I went for a swim in Pontresina, Switzerland, a decent size village in the Swiss Alps, big enough to have a lovely public pool. It was off-season, mid-day and nary a tourist in sight. I enjoyed a lap lane to myself. As I took my breaths I checked out the lovely and very overseeable pool as there where no fellow swimmers to contend with.

Bellavista Erlebnisbad in Pontresina
Bellavista Erlebnisbad in Pontresina

I noticed a gaggle of about 5 boys the same age coming out of the boy’s locker room, then a few more a bit older boys. After a few more laps some girls joined from the girls locker and soon the entire mezzanine was filled with 25 to 30 boys and girls ages 7 to 13.

I assumed, as it turned out correctly, that a neighboring village took their grammar school out for an afternoon at the pool. The kids got a quick ‘lecture’ from the lifeguard and then where let go to enjoy themselves over the entire venue, from the slide (a dark, maybe 100 meter long tube with many twists and turns), to the 1 and 3 meter jumping board, to the big pool with a deep end and the outdoor pool: nothing noteworthy from a Swiss point of view, but certainly unheard of from an American point of view. The only chaperone I could make out was a lone teacher (at least I assumed he was the teacher).

What was much more striking though was that out of about 30 kids there was only one kid with a bit of a weight issue, and that kid was certainly not obese, just a bit better padded than his school mates. All other kids where skinny, not a fat bulge in sight. Once the lifeguard dismissed the group all excitedly ran to an activity. For a moment I was worried for my lap lane and my after swim relax-bath in the hot outdoor pool, when I saw the explosion of 30 kids run into the pool area, but my worries where unfounded.

It was lovely to see that all kids behaved appropriately even if not directly supervised. And by appropriately I mean, that they ran (not walked), climbed out of the outdoor pool to grab snow and through it back at their friends in the pool (forbidden), there was a fair amount of jelling, laughing and posturing, but it was all ‘normal’. If they bumped into us “old” people they gave us a quick apology and carried on being teenagers. They had fun and their fun was infectious because it was real and wholesome.

One of the little ones even struck up a conversation with me for a good three minutes during which he told me that his village was now a political entity with three surrounding villages (maybe the morning’s learning topic?) and he wanted to know how old I was to see if his parents might have been in school with me (a lesson for the young man to learn to not ask a woman her age). Although he did leave me mid-sentence, I was impressed by his generosity to share three of his playtime minutes to satisfy my curiosity about the group and to share what he had learned, be it in school or at the dinner table.

Is there a correlation between a child’s independence and its weight? I’m fully aware that a similar situation with kids from a big town would have probably been a bit less harmonious, but the stark difference in both independence and weight between the kids from a village in the Swiss Alps and kids from a world metropolis like New York is incredibly startling.

Does an America that forbids a postage stamp depicting a child jumping into a lake because it shows risky behavior have a chance to survive into the future, or are we raising a nation of ‘soft eggs’. Isn’t risk taking and dealing with the consequences of our actions part of a learning process that starts with the first stand and fall in the crib? If there is no natural progression in learning how to assess dangers and take responsibility for actions do we end up with binge drinking, hazing and campus rape once our kids are released from direct supervision?

And then again, despite these fears about our future generations’ prospects, the young people I have the privilege to work with are nothing short of amazing, hard working and responsible. And, come to think of it, they all are in just fine shape. Still the questions are worth asking and New York is not America, which I saw with my own eyes last month while in Washington, DC during a Pro Life Rally. ‘Nougth said.

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