- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2007

Culture is preserved by parents who pass along commonly held customs to their children. For generations, one such custom was the picnic. When my wife and I were children, the picnic was a fairly regular good-weather ritual for our respective families. These minivacations usually took place far outside the city limits, in a state park or even just at one of the many roadside picnic tables (with charcoal grill and sometimes even a horseshoe pit) that used to dot the American landscape.

As parents, we passed on the joys of picnicking to our children. I’m aware that this cultural preservative is in danger of going the way of the drive-in theater, another old-fashioned place families once got excited about visiting, especially when Dad and Mom hid the children in the trunk of the car so they wouldn’t have to pay as much for admission.

For those of you who are too young to know what a picnic is, or was, here’s a brief synopsis: The parents pack a lunch of yummy, albeit unhealthy, stuff like fried chicken, potato salad, really salty pickles and various canned carbonated chemicals, and then everyone gets in the car and travels to a shady spot in the country, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. When a suitable spot is found, a tablecloth is laid out on the ground or spread over a public picnic table; the food is placed upon it; and everyone eats while commenting on the beauty of nature. Before and after the meal, family members take walks, throw Frisbees, play guitars and sing, or maybe just lie back on a blanket and sleep and get sunburned faces.

It wasn’t exciting, no, and that was the idea. It was an opportunity for family members to tone down their daily lives, get away from it all, and just relax and enjoy one another’s company. Unfortunately, in these hurry-up-we-gotta-go times, organized after-school and weekend activities such as soccer have replaced relaxing activities such as the family picnic. That’s too bad, because watching a child play a sport and yelling your head off while he does is not a family activity, nor is it especially relaxing. Yelling and relaxed do not compute.

Today’s families, more than ever, need to relax and spend relaxing times together where there are no scores or goals or rules, which is why I am calling for a national movement to bring back the picnic. I’m calling it, appropriately enough, Bring Back the Family Picnic.

If that means taking your children out of organized after-school sports and the like, I say, do it. Go on a picnic every good-weather weekend and play Frisbee. After all, Frisbee probably exercises more brain cells, not to mention more muscle groups, than soccer. Frisbee also is more fun, and anyone who doesn’t agree has never been on a picnic where after everyone ate, the Frisbee came out.

Picnics are more fun than the movies because at the movies, you have to be quiet, and if you go to the bathroom, you miss something. At the movies, a soda and a small box of popcorn cost the average American a half a week’s wages. At a picnic, a soda costs what you pay for it at your local discount grocery store, and it tastes even better, because everything tastes better when it’s consumed in the open air. Another advantage of picnics over going to the movies: You can’t get fried chicken at the movies.

Hey, listen people. Do something daring this weekend. Shock your friends and neighbors. Go on a picnic. One warning: Picnics are addictive. Once they find out what picnics are all about, children would rather picnic than play organized soccer. Who could blame them? At picnics, adults don’t stand around yelling their heads off.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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