When I was a kid…
I use that a lot with my boys. I am usually trying to convey how much more self-reliant and mature I was at their age. Sadly, it gets me nowhere. They believe I grew up in the Middle Ages, and nothing seems remotely relevant to them.
When I was a kid, nobody brought us juice or water to the park. If we were thirsty, we’d stand too close to a neighbor’s sprinkler with our mouths wide open.
When I was a kid, we were out the door by 7 a.m. and home by the time the streetlights went on. We did not eat anything in between. We were ridiculously skinny and childhood obesity was not an issue.
When I was a kid, nobody smathered us in sunscreen or sprayed us with bug repellant. We were tanned and bitten. And maybe just a little infected.
When I was a kid, nobody laid out clothes for us each morning. We wore too-small plaid shorts with too-big striped shirts. We thought we were fabulous.
When I was a kid, we did not know that when a tinted van pulled up and called our name, we should not run over. And we thought helping someone “find their puppy” seem neighborly.
No, it wasn’t perfect when I was a kid, but as we head into the lazy days of summer, I sometimes wish I had the luxury of ignorance for summer child-rearing. I would do what my parents did: open the doors and let my kids roam free with the solitary condition of:
Do anything stupid and you will be spending the rest of the summer in your room!
To this day, I do not know what my parents considered “stupid.” Sure, there were things that defied logic. We used to steal my mom’s tomato poles and use them for fishing rods. We would tie a bent nail to some dental floss for the line and hook. We’d then ride our bikes up to “Chevy Lake” (a small pond behind the Chevy car dealership in Tinley Park) and catch countless fish. With dental floss. Because kids are good like that.
We would also ride our bikes through fields and paths in search of frogs and snakes. We would load up on tadpoles and butterflies for no other purpose than to annoy my mother. We would snag lightening bugs by the barrel. My sister once caught an entire family of baby bunnies with a Twinkie box and some yarn.
When I think about the grand adventures of my youth, I wonder if I will ever be comfortable enough to allow my children to head to the park by themselves. I doubt it. Well…perhaps when they’re 20.
It is part of the human condition to romanticize childhood. Yet I did experience that rare kind of Tom Sawyer type upbringing. It was a world where kids entertained themselves for hours with a dirty old tennis ball, where danger and possibility lurked behind every corner, and where the rules of the playground trumped all.
I suppose we all want to offer up those same nostalgic experiences to our own children, but too much knowledge and awareness of the evils in the world stop us.
And besides. They bulldozed Chevy Lake to build townhouses.