This past weekend, I took my kids to visit the USS Constellation in Baltimore. This Civil War-era warship was fascinating—and populated by volunteers in Union uniforms who told us all about every aspect of ship life. As I do most every time we visit some sort of historical site, I mentally put myself and my kids in the place of the people who lived during that time.
I don't think we would have fared well.
I am someone who really enjoys living in the time of antibiotics and air conditioning. My children are very happy that they live in an era where they don't have to start full-time work at age 8. We like our clean water, video games, and bacon that someone who is not me cuts off of a pig.
We watched a demonstration of how to fire a cannon on the Constellation. The ship's captain told us that it took 14 men and a boy to fire each cannon. That one boy was involved in some very important shuttling of ammunition or gunpowder or something (it was hard to pay full attention while keeping track of three squirmy kids) from one deck to another.
While I think that my kids would be way into the gun and cannon firing aspect of history, I'm pretty sure that if one of them were in charge of that payload that those 14 men would end up looking around and tapping their feet while the kiddo stopped to take a rest on the stairs or ended up lost and wandering around the infirmary one deck down.
Speaking of the infirmary and non-modern medicine, none of my children would do well with early American healthcare. My youngest got a rug burn the other day and you would have thought he had lost an arm. Imagine his reaction if he got gangrene.
We went to Jamestown a couple of years ago on one of the hottest days of the summer. We all did a lot of whining and were grateful to be able to return to the air conditioned museum. Imagine if we all had to live in one of those horrible little stuffy houses and work in the fields. Oh, the whining would be epic. And don't get me started on how my kids would deal with winter. We would probably cause serious injury in the scuffle to get closest to the fire.
Also imagine the reaction if I tried to feed them hardtack at mealtime. I'm not sure what exactly tack is, but the samples they had on display aboard the Constellation looked like they could well have been original from the Civil War days. The volunteer told me that sometimes sailors put extra fat on the tack to soften it up. (That fat was called slush, the sideline sale of which earned the ship's cook his very own "slush fund." You can't beat history trivia.) Can you even imagine if I offered my kids thick, rock hard crackers with lard for frosting? Oh, that would be a scene.
There was this time we went on one of the mule-drawn boat rides on the C&O Canal and the tour guide looked at my three kids and told me that at least two of them would have been hard at work on that boat if they lived in the 1870s. Considering I was frantically trying to keep them from falling off the side of the boat at the time, I don't know that they would have gotten past the initial job interview.
What is the child labor version of unemployable?
This makes me wonder what exactly my kids could do if their modern day selves were transported back 150 years. My oldest would probably do well at most occupations, although I think he would prefer the more cerebral, indoor jobs, assuming there were not frequent rest breaks factored into the heavy labor ones. But for his motion sickness, my middle son could use his autism-fueled perfect memory to help with ship navigation. I think my youngest might have made a really enthusiastic...cat petter? Let's just say that his skill sets are not entirely defined yet.
All in all, I have to say that I am happy we live in the modern era. Sure, my kids (and I!) would probably be tougher had we lived in a different time, but we would also be nearing the end of our lifespan. What a gift to live in a time where you can take part in history for just an afternoon and then drive home in air conditioning.
Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.