Jul 252008

What was your leisure time like at nine years old?  If you were born before 1975 or so, chances are excellent that it was nothing like a nine-year-old’s life today.  Ever thought about that?

Pretty much, I was turned loose on my bicycle during the summer and on weekends.  I had a lot of autonomy, but I had to check in periodically.  If I was at or near a friend’s house, this could be a telephone call.  If I was close to my house, it meant a drop-in visit.

In either case, if dinner wasn’t imminent, I almost always got an extension.  Essentially, we played all day unsupervised, up to a mile or so from my house.  The only thing I had to do was confirm my continued consciousness every two hours.

I picked up several years of divorce-generated potholes shortly after I turned 11, but by and large, I had an idyllic and independent boyhood.  It was full of sun, mud, BMX bicycles, ramps, creeks, dams, snakes, turtles, crawdads, trails, rope swings, forts, sticks, fences, drainage ditches, pocket knives, pine cones, and old man Draper’s ’49 Chevrolet rotting in the woods.

I’m heartbroken that my boys won’t ever have it like I did. They can’t even have pockets of it, really.  It’s the wide-openness of it that bestows its charm, and that world is gone.  I think early- to mid-Generation X contained the last children who experienced it.

I wonder sometimes whether “things” (bad guys, accidents, what have you) are any worse now than they’ve ever been.  Couldn’t instant reporting be creating an illusion that the world is a much worse place now?  What if it isn’t true?

But I’m not going to risk it, and neither are you.  That makes us either the first sane or first insane generation of parents ever.

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 Posted by at 8:21 pm

  8 Responses to ““Mom, I’ll check in at 2:00…””

  1. Your childhood sounds a lot like mine. Between the ages of 10 and 15 (1972 thru 1977). I was routinely kicked out of the house shortly after sun up with the sole instruction to be home by sun down. During those hours I had carte blanche to go wherever and do whatever as long as I stayed out of trouble (which in my mind reduced down to “I can do whatever I want as long as I don’t get caught”). Somehow we all managed to survive.

    On an unrelated note, it has been 14 years and I still do not know what a “Cornflake Girl” is.

  2. Funny, a coworker and I were just discussing this exact topic. That is pretty much how my childhood was when I was staying at my dad’s. I don’t think it’s changed that much up in the smaller towns of northern Minnesota, but there are very few places such a childhood can still exist, and that’s sad.

  3. A pretty good chunk of my childhood was like that. We lived at a country crossroads, and there was adventure in every direction. The best of all was Senachwine Creek.

    There are still places where people, and their kids, live like that, I believe/hope.

  4. Not too long ago, I got one of those endlessly forwarded emails that contained snippets of the kinds of things we did (or didn’t do) as children of the 60s and 70s. I believe the title was something like “It’s a wonder any of us survived.” We didn’t have car seats. We didn’t have bicycle helmets. We didn’t have hand sanitizer.

    I had a conversation with my grandfather about this not too long ago, and his take on this (and I think he’s right) is that the world in general isn’t that much more dangerous than it ever was – there were always crazies and child molesters and such around since the beginning of time. What’s different, he said, is that people don’t look out for each other any more. When HE was a boy, everyone in the neighborhood knew him and knew his parents. He had to mind all the adults in his environment, so if Mrs. Gregory came out on her porch and told him to put that bottle down and what was he thinking playing with broken glass, by God, he put the bottle down (and knew, when he got home, that his mother would know ALL about the bottle). We don’t do that anymore, and it’s to our detriment.

    I try to give my daughters a healthy respect for the dangers out there, but I don’t want to turn them in to paranoid scaredy-cats who won’t leave the house. They understand that there’s safety in numbers, so they are always to STICK TOGETHER. I’m telling them now that I’ll be more likely to let them do things with their girlfriends if there’s a critical mass of them – three’s good, but six is better – and they know that there is never an instance too insignificant for me to come and pick their butts up from someplace where they don’t feel comfortable. It’s the best that I can do, and all I can do is hope that it will be enough.

  5. you forgot to mention the huge disgusting black grasshoppers!

  6. Lee, Ang, Gerry: I’d like to think it’s still that way some places too. Even so, how sad is it that it’s a novelty and not the norm?

    Mrs. Chili: What you’re saying about people not looking out for each other anymore rings true. Though I do so hate to find my particular largest Satan in everything, I think reliance on government, perceived or real, has helped get us to this place. We have laws to govern the well-being of the citizens. I dare not correct this child who doesn’t belong to me; what if I get sued? Etc. I like your thinking on groups, as well.

    Jenny: Those huge disgusting black grasshoppers were/are lubbers. I’ve still never seen a single one in the Huntsville area, only 100 miles north of where we were covered up with them growing up. And would you believe the black coloration is juvenile? Adults look almost nothing like that.

  7. On the flip side, all that freedom allowed me to:

    Inhale my first cigarette at 11. I was up to 3 a day by 13 and a full blown addict by 16. I kept that foul habit until I was 38.

    Have my first go at sex with one of the neighbor girls. I was 14. She was a very worldly 15.

    Commit various acts of Petty Larceny not limited to stealing soda bottles off of carports and back porches to, you guessed it, redeem and buy cigarettes. Some small time vandelism in the mix as well.

    Fight constantly. There were a bunch of us boys in the neighborhood. Somebody was always fighting. We forgave and forgot quickly though.

  8. Lee, you tell a lot of the same stories I can tell. More than once, my friend Brian and I spent the night together, and as soon as our parents were asleep, we’d slip out the back door and run around the community all night, doing very little that wasn’t mildly to moderately destructive in one way or another.

    I still have a faint scar on my left forearm from hitting a barbed-wire fence running absolutely as fast as I ever did in my whole life. (We were smashing pumpkins, and the officer was out of his car with the flashlight. Ah, adrenaline.) Worse, my glasses flew off when I hit the fence, so I couldn’t see. I finally just crouched off the path and hoped for luck, which I got.

    My neighbor girl was across and up the street, and I think we were the same age, but she bloomed early. And how.

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