My childhood was idyllic. Perhaps because life was actually good, or perhaps because i didn’t know there could be anything different. My only view of other realities was through books, television and movies. And other than “Swiss Family Robinson“, i never found a childhood situation i liked better.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Until my hormones shipped me off to the realm of teen angst, i was a happy kid.
Dad worked, Mom was home. In the late 1960’s suburbs in the midwestern United States, that was how things were. Very few working Moms in the neighborhood. Reading recent discussions on “the mommy wars” over at Anniegirl1138, got me reflecting on my own childhood.
Mom was responsible for all logistics at the homestead, was chauffeur for car-pooling operations, maintained order and was Chief Justice of the Family Supreme Court. Did she hover? Help us with homework? Anguish over our choices of classes at school? Insert herself into every aspect of our extra-curricular lives? Not exactly…
Summer mornings were all pretty much the same. My sister and i would wake up and forage in the kitchen for breakfast*, scratch our bits in front of the television for maybe a half hour, and were then expected to get our sorry asses outside. For the entire day. Mom had work to do**. Fortunately, there were dozens of children our age – the golden years were between 7 and 12 for me – so there was always someone to tag up with for adventures.
What did we do? Nothing and everything. No structured sports, summer camps or organized activities. We filled the days with pick-up games of wiffle ball, kick ball, football, pickle or just random shit we’d make up. Climbed trees. Construction materials were stolen from building sites and turned into tree houses and forts. Pylons (also stolen) set up in the largest driveways for bike rodeos. We put on summer carnivals***. We played “Capture the Flag” in the soybean field behind our house, against the older boys down the street….
Did our mothers have any fucking idea what we were doing? Nope. We’d stumble home around lunch time, grab something to eat, then it was back outside again. We played Army. We were spies, keeping notes on the activities of people in the neighborhood. We’d become characters from TV shows… Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, F-Troop****, Partridge Family, Lost In Space – and my personal favorite, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Barbies? Absolutely! Intricate societal games with the collective Barbie Arsenal – trundled to someone’s garage in an armada of busted American Tourister suitcases that doubled as our Barbie houses. These games would last an entire day… we’d build cities, create “soap opera” situations, work through adult problems as only children can do… At the end of the day, we’d often retrieve the Ken dolls from a corner of the garage, tied up with dirty shoelaces and abandoned. On occasion, there were Barbie mutilations and sacrifice.
Were there Moms watching this? Nope. Sometimes they’d wander by and offer Kool-Aid, but in general, we were on our own until dinner time. Oh, we could run home mid-afternoon, but we had to make damn sure we didn’t wake up Mom, as she snored in front of “The Guiding Light”. Much like awakening a hibernating grizzly, we knew better…
So long as we were home for dinner? No one really gave a shit what we’d been doing all afternoon. My first beer, my first cigarette, and my fist look at the soft-focus porn in Playboy magazines all happened before 5:00 pm on sunny summer days.
After dinner, and washing dishes, it was back outside. Sometimes the older brothers and sisters in the neighborhood would join up for pick-up sports, set off fireworks or – joy of joys – to take us for rides on motorcycles and dirt bikes. Helmets? Huh?
One of my fondest memories is of something we christened “Twilight Call”. Summer nights, dusk. The parents would call their children home… Voices wafting through the warm summer air. Each voice distinct, not just by the name being called… “Taaaaaaaa-meeeeeeee! TAAAAAAAAAA-meeeeee!” came the tiny bird-like voice of Tammy’s mom. If Tammy ignored it? We all knew that it would be followed in a few minutes by the gruff, angry voice of her father – who scared the collective crap out of us. “TAMMY! TAMMY!” At the first staccato burst transmission, we’d generally get Tammy’s ass moving on her way before he came out looking for her…
We knew our boundaries. We worked within them. We had to stay within vocal range. Simple, and universally understood by parents and children alike.
Were there injuries? Of course… Every summer one of us broke an extremity on the cable swing down by the pond. Salt-pellet buckshot in the ass for stealing apples. Walking barefoot through a construction site, scavenging plywood for the walls of a fort-in-progress, i managed to step on a nail in a 2″x4″, which went through my foot. Tetanus shot and a pressure bandage and i was on my way…
Given such happy memories of my childhood, did i afford my own children the same latitude? Not entirely, but we attempted to preserve elements of it for them. We chose our family home partly because it was in a landlocked neighborhood, with low traffic, allowing kids to ride bikes in the street. Oh, and there was a creek running through it. Crawdads. Frogs. Turtles. Oh, hell yeah!
My son was fortunate enough to have a pack of boys to run with, but the girl situation was limited – so there were lots of ‘girl parties’ and sleepovers with school friends. Since both of us worked, the kids were in after school care until The Girl was eleven and The Boy was nine. After that they had fairly strict operational constraints as latch key kids.
For three summers, i took a month off – without pay – and was damn lucky my profession/employer allowed the option. Just to let them hang out and be bored. Not to have to get them up early every morning and bundle them off to ‘day camp’. They at least had a taste of it…
It was a balance that worked well for our family. Perfect? Hardly. But allowing children a chance to live a little “Lord of the Flies” style may be the best way to prepare them for the big bad world…
* Quisp and Quake were favorites — WITH SPOONFULS OF SUGAR ON TOP. Seriously. We put sugar on top of cereal. Pop Tarts were another staple… Fruit? Whazzat?
** And she worked her ass off. Three loads of laundry a day. She ironed sheets, shirts and Dad’s damn handkerchiefs. Ironed. Handkerchiefs. Yeah. That’s what i said, even as a kid. “But he’s just gonna blow his nose on them?!?!” Food, cleaning, basic home maintenance.
*** This is a topic for a future post, but basically, our gang of kids put on a successful summer carnival — autonomously — every summer for five years. Raised money for charity. Virtually NO parental involvement.
**** Which turned out to be fine training for my future stint as a supervisor…
Awesome post. Kind of prompts some reminiscing of my own.
sounds a lot like my childhood too. lots of imaginative outdoor stuff and pretending to be the Famous Five off on an adventure…. we didn’t even get a television until I was nearly ten… for which I will be eternally grateful!
Holy shit, are we related? No one else remembers Quisp and Quake (I liked Quisp, my sister preferred Quake), and we practically built a city out of stolen construction supplies, supplemented with small trees cut down with Cub Scout hatchets. No Barbies, though. I must have been riding bikes around the construction sites on my fake Stingray with the Vroom! motor, picking up empty bottles to collect the deposit, while you were playing Barbies. Good times.
It’s posts from the heart like this one, that keeps me coming back time and time again.
Sounds so much like my childhood, undoubtedly happy happy times. Thanks for the memories, I’d almost forgotten about the time before these stupid “play dates” …
Oh wow, does this bring back a rush of childhood memories (like a hot kiss at the end of a wet fist). where and when did we lose that innocence of joy of “just doing”? maybe your recent passion with “just putzing” is a lead in to rekindling that. and did you really get ass-salted?
rob – thank you. figured it might trip some memory wires for those of us of the same age… would like to read your version sometime.
nursemyra – we had television, there were only three channels, though, and not much on during the day except game shows and soap operas…
chris – just grew up in the same era… forgot about collecting bottles to cash in the deposit for candy and gum at the village market (that was really it’s name!). i had to eat Quake because my dominant older sister liked Quisp. But i snuck the Quisp whenever possible. Knowing full well that it was the SAME FUCKING CEREAL in a different shape… did you put a quarter cup of sugar on yours?
jimmy – thank you. even the good stories are hard for me to write. i’m not a writer… more of a raconteur, with little imagination. there’s a lot more. glad you’ll be coming back for it…
tNb – would love to hear your stories… what i loved, even then, was the autonomy we had! freedom, with boundaries. seems we’ve tightened the boundaries on our kids… community standards change, and i did make adjustments with my own sprogs. but we both fought to build in freedoms…. i think it mostly paid off…. i hope…
gnukid – i didn’t feel the sting of the pellets, but i was shot at by the farmer as we swiped apples… get this, it was for our mothers to make pies!?!?! how corny is that? mom told us it was ok to pick up the dropped apples, so long as we didn’t pick any from the trees… and yes, i think this is where i’m headed. back to my childhood. endless days of unstructured play… ah, but the days will end… clock is ticking and all that…
Ohmigosh, my childhood! And I grew up in the big bad city of Detroit, but we still ran the streets when I was a kid and played outside all day long. I remember my mom letting my sister and I take the bus to the library, I was probably only 10 or 11 and sis is one year younger. But outside all day until dinnertime, most definitely. I’ve never thought about it but it really is good preparation for adulthood. We knew, as kids, who the perverts were in the neighborhood, and we knew you didn’t take the shortcut thru the alley if he was lurking in there.
Good stuff, found your blog thru DoubleSifted.
Same here…we’d disappear for the day, playing in the woods, at the pool, out of ear and eye-shot. Husband grew up the same way. I feel sorry for the kids today and their ultra-structured lives. Has to lead to a decline in imagination.
You described my own childhood in Ohio perfectly, right down to the Barbie Town we’d occasionally set up on the Halls’ garage floor. (Were we neighbors?) My daughter doesn’t have anything remotely resembling this lifestyle – and I have a lot to say about this sad fact but will spare y’all & just consign it to a future blog post instead. 🙂
Same childhood. Wonderful memories. I feel so sorry for most kids today–every minute planned out for them. When do they ever get to stretch their imaginations?
Same here. We built undergroud forts in empty lots and played army. I was the nurse and had to do alot of bandaging. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
kat – thanks for stopping by, and welcome to the trailer park! it’s true – we knew through the network of children who to avoid, when to run and when to stand and fight…. and there was less pressure, somehow, NOT being the center of the universe!
hereinfranklin – more than just the loss of imagination, i think we’ve dumped a burden on our kids that we never had… the burden to delight us, as we place them on the pedestal and watch them perform… no wonder they’re all on Xanax!
pam – welcome to the park! and no, it wasn’t the Hall’s garage, but the Stephen’s! Community standards and expectations changed – and somehow turning out kids outside all day just didn’t work… although my son got quite a few days like that, i still knew where he was, where he was going and all that…
luvn2lose – i hated being nurse. but typically i’d never get one of the good guns, so i’d have the choice of being medic or using a wiffleball bat as a bazooka, which never seemed to work, because when i’d shoot someone they’d say “that’s not a gun, it’s a BAT, asshole!”…. yeah. i’m still mad about that!
I love living in a trailer park where the children run free, and I don’t even have any of my own. A summer day without the sound of children playing, though? That would feel as cold and dead as a day in Antarctica.
Excellent post. I didn’t have a whole pack of kids to play with, just a male cousin a year older. We did the GI Joe thing instead of Barbies and thank heavens for the chance to play all day under a shade tree with a battery-powered transistor radio playing the latest pop in the background.
We used to play Naked Barbies. Ahh, memories. (And my Barbies had lingerie.) We occasionally would sacrifice them as well.
tattytiara – welcome to my park! and YES! the sound of kids playing is perhaps one of the most wonderful sounds in the world — granted, not outside my window at 7am…
squirrelqueen – transistor radios. i still get happy listening to 70’s bubblegum pop music. can’t help it. singalongs with The Partridge Family, the Fifth Dimension, from the back of someones stationwagon…. good stuff…
newscoma – yes, our barbies got naked. we weren’t exactly sure what to do with them, but we gave it a good try despite their anatomical limitations! one smell i’ll never forget? barbie on a bonfire! blech….
We lived in a rural area, and the limitations of our leash were the ditch on one side, and the boundary of our four acres on the other. We had chores a plenty to do, (especially me as the oldest), but there was plenty of down time, too. No TV until I was 10 either, although we did watch it at Grandma’s. I would sneak out of the 100 degree heat, and read books on my bed in the nice, cool basement. Extra-curricular activities? What were those? Too far away from school.
silverstar – for the life of me, i’m still trying to figure out why it’s not done this way… even my kids, 15 years ago, didn’t get the same freedom. and i wasn’t an overprotective mom, but it just wasn’t done… how the hell did we survive?