Today was a beautiful early summer day. The sky was blue. It was warm but not hot and a gentle breeze blew. While out walking, I remembered the halcyon days from my youth. Early summer freedom.
For the most part, summer meant being outside, all day. At one point, I lived in a rural area, surrounded by woods. My friends and I created a world of our own. One day, we were explorers on an unknown planet. Later, we fell through a time hole and ended up in a land of dinosaurs. We were war heroes and park rangers. The days ended by catching fireflies in a jar, only to turn them loose the next night. I had pet frogs and turtles. We played.
When I moved to Oregon, we no longer lived rural. We were in a suburban neighborhood. The games shifted to various versions of tag, hide and seek, water fights, pirates, and bike riding. Parents noticed what we were doing but rarely intervened. One rainy day game was “mice.” Two of my friends had the best rooms. They had a small storage area under the house’s eves with access through doors in their rooms. We used to pretend to be mice, based on the book “Ms. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.” We were mice with enhanced intelligence. We went on “raids” of the kitchen, taking cookbooks, dish towels, and various other odd items. Pat and Debbie’s mother would “track” us back and we’d end up in a pillow fight or sprayed by a water bottle, or play fight with old wrapping paper tubes. Their parents also had a second job cleaning a bowling alley. Sometimes, I went with them. The kids would have small chores, then get to bowl after.
Childhood today seems to be different. The NFL has a program “Play 60” to encourage children to be physically active for an hour a day. It saddens me that our children’s fitness and activity has come down to football players having to tell kids to play. But, then, I notice a virtual absence of children riding bikes or playing in neighbors. The only time I see a kid on a playground, a parent is helicoptering in the background.
We have, sadly, become a nation on fears. Fear of something happening to our children if we dare let them out to play, fear of terrorists, fear of economic collapse, fear of gun violence, fear of not having guns, fear… Fear. It is paralyzing our nation.
Yes, times changed. We are more aware of violence. And also less connected to our neighbors. My parents knew the kids I played with and knew their parents. They watched from their houses as we played. Other adults also paid attention. After a particularly fantastic bike wreck, a neighbor who didn’t have children, came out of her house and helped. We had neighborhood barbecues and other gatherings. We knew who lived there- and who was a stranger. Interestingly, the rate of child abductions by strangers has not grown. It is still a rare occurrence, just as it was when I was a child. Most abductions are parental abductions.
As I continued my walk, I felt sad for our country today and a sense of loss. I felt sadness for children who will never know what it is like to have no cell phone and know when to go home by when the street lights came on. Children growing up harbored indoors.
I turned a corner and heard children laughing. On the street were 5 kids playing an interesting game involving a plastic baseball bat, a whiffle ball, and a garden hose. I never figured out the object of the game. But, that wasn’t important. What mattered was the children having fun. For a moment, I wished I could join them. Laughter.