I got a message from one of my closest friends growing up through junior high and high school the other day. He and his wife are coming to San Antonio to see their son graduate from Basic Military Training. While here, we plan to get together, and it will be nice to enjoy some great memories.
I am amazed at how the childhood I had differs so greatly from the childhoods of my own kids. A single generation was so overwhelmingly changed by cable TV, cell phones, computers and the media. I'm not suggesting that children of previous generations were exactly the same up until the invention of MTV and The Cartoon Network; My dad was born during the depression and looked at joining the military as the only way to get out of overalls and off the farm. For me, joining the military was simply an option.
But aside from that, I think many people my age will recall that we went outside an played for hours and hours at a time. Consider just a few memories from when I was a second or third grader living in Oklahoma. I would leave the house either on bike or on foot, and head down to a small creek where kids would fish for crawdads. I'm sure it wasn't far from home, but I was allowed to play in a creek bed unsupervised. Little kids wandered all over the place, exploring, looking for and imagining adventures from whatever surroundings we found. When we drove by the same little creek I used to play in during a visit to see my son in Oklahoma, I noticed that there was a sign on the bridge that read "off limits". I'm sure some nervous mother instigated that, fearing that a child might somehow come in contact with running water, or worse, a live crawdad.
When I was in junior high, we had acres and acres of beautiful woods surrounding our neighborhood. We actually put on heavy jackets, split up into teams and had BB gun wars. The only rule was, try not to shoot a kid in the eye, because that might get someone in trouble. My friend Scott and his younger brother Brett learned the hard way about always assuming a gun is loaded. Naturally, we all came up with some brilliant story about an unknown sniper hiding behind a tree before Scott's mom raced poor Brett off to the emergency room to have a BB removed from his back. That'll teach you to run faster when your brother aims a gun at you. These days, those woods are filled with beautiful homes whose owners probably can't imagine the times we had riding bikes, climbing trees, and smoking the occasional cigarette in their yard.
The miles I put on my bike as a primary mode of transportation, back at a time before Lance Armstrong rode as a sport, kept the candy bars and cokes from being an issue. We played football - tackle football a lot, and when we didn't have enough for two teams, we'd play street football two on two. I don't think I really gained any weight until I got a car and there was no need to walk or ride a bike, or time to shoot hoops, play football or chase friends through the woods.
This isn't for a minute to suggest that the parents of those days didn't care about the kids; but I do think that they and their parents before them came from a time when people really were forced to fend for themselves at an earlier age. People had lots of kids because that meant more labor on the farm. We freak-out now when the news reports little kids working in factories, and that is sad from our point of view, but I suspect some would look at our children sitting idle watching Nickelodeon for 8 hours straight to be a form of abuse as well. We were watching something on the History Channel yesterday about The Plague. They mentioned about a princess in the 1300's being married off at the age of 13. Yikes! But I can bet nobody raised an eyebrow about that, back then*. In fact, it wasn't even a century or two ago that in this country, people married off their kids just so they wouldn't have to support them any more. Say Sally, now that you're pushing 14, you need to get out there and start looking for a good man. * I'm not advocating for 13 year-old kids to get married.
Interestingly, our kids today have been exposed to so much more, because of TV. Why the hell would you go outside and play football when Snooki is right there in your living room? Stuff that I wondered about and probably consulted with the older boys in the neighborhood on are now immediately available via the Internet. If we went out and pretended to be wrestlers, there is game you can play on PS3 that is a lot more realistic without the bloody nose.
It's not that I'm playing the "back in my day we walked to school uphill and in the snow" card, it's just that I think we did more - and our parents did even more than us. When I sat down in front of the TV to watch "Our Gang" and saw Spanky and Alfalfa getting involved in some little adventure, I genuinely wanted to go out and do the same things. I suspect kids today would just as soon flip the channels looking for reruns of 16 and Pregnant.
Ah, the good old days. It will be nice to visit with my friend in a few weeks. Hopefully his mother doesn't search the Google attempting to locate the sniper and stumble upon the truth.