“Lord of the Flies” parenting, c.a. 1967

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…

Much nicer than anything we ever constructed - and probably a few less rusty nails sticking out at face level...

Much nicer than anything we ever constructed - and probably a few less rusty nails sticking out at face level...

* 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…

My Mom’s Better Than Your Mom

Escape from The Park for me was straightforward:  get an engineering degree at a university 60 miles from home.  Far enough that they wouldn’t bother me much, close enough that i could get there if anyone needed help. 

Shortly after graduation, i was married and a homeowner, just starting out on my career, when i backed into motherhood.  We were both working full time, and taking graduate courses part time.  Really not sure how i got knocked up, to be sure, but we were thrilled at the prospect of a child in our lives!

Oh, but what to do?  Abandon my young sprocket to the Charles Manson Family Day Care Center?  Take a chance that she’d be molested in a home day care?  Stay home full time?

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