Initially, it seemed like a mission impossible: how to wrestle the eyes and attention spans of two members of Generation Alpha away from their iPads and toward an awareness of the world around them. Those two Gen Alphas—the generation born in 2010 or after, the first to exist entirely in the 21st century—would be my grandsons, Mason and Carter. Let me introduce them.
Planning the Intervention
To know Mason, 10, is to know Mr. Peabody more than Sherman (a Baby Boomer reference with which my grandsons are not likely familiar). A “tweenager,” he’s the owner of a deadpan sense of humor and a near-photographic memory, especially in quoting Big Nate or spitting out sports statistics with all the self-assured swagger of a New York bookie. He plays Madden NFL with the intensity of a crouching tiger stalking its helpless and often startled prey, letting his thumbs do the talking.
If Mason can come off as an intellectual sort, Carter, 8, is the physical one—the hugger, the hands-on grandchild who doesn’t mind digging in the garden with his Papa, starting campfires with his Papa, playing football with his Papa… unless he gets a better offer chasing some Pokemon creature around with his iPhone.
In short, my grandsons are products of their era. That background is necessary to understand the enormity of the challenge—one nothing short of daunting, one capable of buckling a granddad of lesser resolve. And so, the setting for this intervention had to be chosen with strategic care.
Only Sankoty Lakes in Spring Bay would be up to the task. And not just any glamping tent would do among the 20 on the premises but Tent 7—located just below the dam and mini-waterfall on the manmade stream that meanders through the 220-acre property, where the trout congregate in abundance.
They would have to bite on the offered fly swiftly and decisively. They would have to be large and put up a battle. There would have to be an Olympic-sized bonfire to illuminate them. And it would have to be perfect weather—in this case, the last 80-degree day in late October, just before the unforgiving breezes of fall pull the leaves from their branches.
Check, check, check and check. We were competing with an addictive technology, after all. Go big or go home. Still, Papa had brought beer, just in case things went south.
It was time to let the mission begin, with the evening starting off inauspiciously enough—the kids flying out of the car with their parents/chauffeurs in tow, fresh off a day of school, intent on an evening of unfettered cyber-fun with a pandemic-inspired, classroom-free Friday in front of them. The grandparents would be easy marks.
Subtlety, therefore, would be key. If they suspected for even a moment that they were being manipulated, it would be game over before it even began.
I dropped a line into the crowded stream and nonchalantly said, “Carter, can you hold this pole for a second? I need to start the fire.”
The trout, as if on the payroll, needed no further prompting. As soon as Carter felt the tug on the line and I yelled, “Reel him in!”—it was he who was hooked. His older brother would not be far behind. Checkmate.
There are some things you may not know about trout, by the way, since they are not native to Illinois and do not naturally reproduce here—a situation Sankoty hopes to remedy. One, they are fighters. Right up to the point they’re landed, it is no sure thing. Even then, they might find a way to free themselves and flop right back into the water. Second, they are slippery as a greased banana, which makes actually getting a hold on one all the more satisfying.
“Papa, can we keep him?” asked Carter, though whether he meant as a pet or as food was not entirely clear.
“Sorry, buddy, these are catch and release,” I told him. “You can catch him again someday and he’ll be even bigger.”
Naturally, the first-born Mason was not to be outdone—certainly not by a younger sibling. Mason being Mason, of course he was keeping score. The final tally: Mason 3, Carter 1, though there may have been some fudging involved. Regardless, Mason would not tire of reminding Carter of this, household bragging rights being no small thing.
Alas, it wasn’t much longer before the boys had endured enough of pursuing Jaws, leaving that ancient craft to the old man while turning their attention to other kinds of irresistible activities—running barefoot through the mud, climbing the logjam, jumping stones without losing balance—as their grandmother (“JJ,” to them) admonished them non-stop to “be careful!” and “stop that!” It’s what grandmothers do.
The sun was descending, the moon rising. Scenery can be lost on the young, as anyone who’s traveled with children is aware, but it is hard to beat Sankoty.
Bedtime would beckon soon enough, and homework before that, as the boys’ grandmother, a retired teacher, was wont to remind us. But first there were appetites to satiate—skewered hot dogs and s’mores, which required toasting the marshmallows just so. One last cart ride at dusk, and it was time to call it a day.
One critical thing to know: There is no television in Tent 7, which made it a bold choice on Papa’s part, perhaps even pushing the envelope to the point that it might endanger the mission. Fortunately, the boys were beat. But would they sleep?
It was time to find out. The tent could not be scary or cold. The animals outside could not sound as if they were about to break in and place themselves at the top of the food chain. The wind had begun to howl, which freaked out JJ a bit, but the canvas held—not that Papa had any doubts. It was toasty inside, and the boys retired to their respective sleeping quarters.
It beats regular camping on the hard, bumpy ground any day. And there’s nothing more soothing—and sleep-inducing—than the sound of a babbling brook.
This generation is a tough audience. If you can capture their time and attention with something that is not on a screen, you get to climb the podium and have the gold draped about your neck.
We would awake the following morning—the boys slept in, for a change—to a cold drizzle and no end of gray, which did little to dampen the spirits of the young campers or the trout, both of which were still jumpin’.
In one sense, for all its modern conveniences, Sankoty is the Wayback Machine, transporting us back to a more innocent, simple time. “This is really fun, Papa,” said the eight-year-old. “It’s such a relaxing environment.”
“I need to have a birthday party here,” said the 10-year-old, matter-of-factly, as always. “We’re going to need two tents, though.”
Mission impossible had become mission accomplished, at the place where magical family memories are made. PM
For more information, visit sankotylakes.com.
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