My kids are perpetually amazed when I tell them what it was like growing up in my working-class neighborhood in the 70’s and 80’s. Lately, with my Beloved Father, who I adored, having died last week, we have been spending a lot of time in the old neighborhood, so to speak. My older son wanted to see the lake that we used to walk to. When I drove him there he was in shock.
At first I couldn’t figure out why, after all it was a small man made lake and my son’s rowing team practices on the magnificent and sprawling natural preserve known as Monksville Reservoir in Ringwood, NJ. The reason for his shock: “I can’t believe Grandma would let you and your friends walk that far.” It was about a mile away. We didn’t have Fitbits or iPhone apps to measure, so I actually have no idea. I told him we used to keep on walking another mile or so, until we got to the bakery, where we would get brownies and black and white cookies; again he found this incomprehensible. That his grandma, who never wants them to walk anywhere alone and is always telling them to wear a hat, would let her kids out of her sight for so long -- it just defied credulity.
My kids know that, back in the day, our parents used to just open up the door, tell us to go play and the only rule was, be back before it gets dark. All so we could spend our time riding our bikes, playing hopscotch, playing jacks; and walking to arts and craft class (mosaic ashtray anyone?), the bakery, and the library, by ourselves.
“You guys have to be the last generation that lived like that,” my sons told me recently.
And I believe that is true. I think the demise came with Pacman, Atari and video games, which gave kids a reason to stay indoors. But in a way, it was good that we put an end to that lifestyle where the parents were the opposite of “hover-parents”.
I explained to my son that it really was Survival of the Fittest. Sure, our parents didn’t micromanage us, which brought a lot of freedom. But that also meant that bullying was part of growing up. And everybody got bullied, including the physically and mentally challenged kids. Mercilessly.
“That’s horrible,” exclaimed my kids. It was. But that is the downside of not having your parents hovering over you at all times. On the one hand, we pretty much were out there playing and having fun -- but on the other hand, we had to endure teasing, hazing, and witnessed a lot of fistfights. By some miracle, no one ever had a weapon and no one ever got hurt; no one even had their eye poked out. No parent ever made an appointment at school because their kid got picked on or got the worse end of a fist. Basically, if you got your butt kicked, you picked yourself up and went back to class, end of story.
I wanted my kids to know that yes, in a lot of ways our 70’s childhoods were better. We were always outdoors -- and there was no structure, no teams (until Little League started) and no money involved. But I also wanted them to know that it wasn’t necessarily an idyllic childhood -- because it was a tough world out there, Survival of the Fittest is the only way I can describe it. And political correctness did not exist.
We format ourselves to the world we are born into. If you had told me as a little girl that one day, my son would be getting up at 5:15 am to take a train to Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, NJ, where he would then take an Uber to crew practice, row for 3 hours and then take a train home -- I would have looked at you like you were an alien. I guess the first question would be -- what’s an Uber? Followed by -- what is crew and where is New Jersey? Our kids are a lot better educated in 2016, that’s for sure.
Have a great day, everyone and as always, Remember to Count Your Blessings!