I have an increasing number of friends who have children who are ages I can actually remember being myself. This makes me feel ancient! And it brings back so many memories. Today, I was talking to my friend who has an 11 year old son and a 9 year old daughter. They are what we used to call “latch-key” kids (and the cutest kids you ever want to know!) Today, they called her at work, bugging her to come home. (I am assuming so that they could go outside to play.) I was puzzled for a second. I tried to understand why exactly they couldn’t just go out and play. That’s what I did when I was their age. Especially in the summers. This quick second of perplexity was followed by a sage realization that times, indeed, have changed significantly.
Do you remember summers at their age? I sure do. I grew up in Washington, DC. I didn’t go to summer camp and enrichment programs (except for maybe once each). They were for the “other” kids whose parents could afford to send them. We had a free grandmother, so the only structured activity we had was two weeks of Vacation Bible School, which was a must (and boy did I learn a lot in VBS that ain’t have nothing to do with the Bible!) During those 2 weeks my brother and I would go to church and then spend the rest of the day with Granny and our cousins outside her DC row house. We’d play double-dutch, freeze tag, tonk, dodgeball and “do cheers” on the sidewalk until the street lights came on and we smelled like boars in heat. The only time we were inside was during a thunderstorm, during which we had to be completely quiet, sit or lay on a “palette” (read: blanket) on the floor in the middle of the living room, with no lights, and everything electric removed from the socket. There was definitely no talking on the phone, and except for the fact that we giggled like crazy because this was all so ridiculous, it was basically silent (well, except for Granny’s random hums.) Did I mention that we were no less than 6 cousins at any given point in time? Very possibly upwards of 10 if all were present and we counted the kids we brought home with us from VBS (whose parents also obviously needed free child care!)
The rest of the summer was spent hanging out at home doing what I thought all kids did during the summer. Mom and dad were at work (well, until I was 8 and then my dad had a terrible accident in which he was burned severely and out of work for years). Now that I think about it, I don’t really remember where dad was after 8. Maybe he was home after all. Maybe he was doing errands. I don’t remember….the point is that I remember being home alone during the day with my brother. All we were required to do before going outside to play was to have our chores done and call mommy at work to tell her where we’d be. This could have been anywhere: outside on the block, across the street at a friend’s house, at a friend’s house we had to walk 3 miles to, downtown at Vendor’s Mall buying all kinds of worthless junk, riding the subway to the movies at Tenleytown, or pretty much anywhere in DC, MD or VA that had a subway stop, or my favorite-one block over at my brother’s friends house where his mom would be smoking reefer in her back yard! And nothing ever happened to us.
Well, there was that one time on the bus going to Granny’s when the nasty drunk man kept trying to hand me something. My dumb-ass big brother just laughed at me because I was in the state he most enjoyed experiencing me, scared shitless. I was sitting next to the window in the pair of seats just across from the back door of the bus. I don’t know who was sitting next to me in the aisle seat, but the drunk guy was sitting across the aisle from that person. He kept reaching past him/her with something in his balled up fist, motioning for me to take it. He didn’t talk, he just grunted. Well, we got to my stop and there was no way in hell I was going to walk past this guy, so I (I was about 11 or 12) politely climbed over the back of my seat, in my skirt into the laps of the people behind me and then down the steps and off the bus. I was rushing like crazy and I missed the last step off the bus, landed on the curb in front of the line of people that extended from the front of the bus where they were waiting to get on. As I hit the ground, I let loose. I screamed, cried and peed all over myself. My brother is standing over me laughing so hard he’s crying as he opens his hand to show me the $20 bill the drunk man was trying to give me! WHAT? How was I supposed to know it was money? And why was he giving me money anyway? “Never talk to strangers!” Remember! The only other time in my life a strange man has offered me money was when the men in Argentina mistook me for a Brazilian prostitute, twice a week. Good thing I didn’t take the money, in DC or in Argentina!
I’ve said all this to make the point that times sure have changed for kids. We have to make sure they’re enrolled in a structured activity where all the staff has had federal background checks to make sure they aren’t sex offenders. Hmm. I started this post thinking I’d be nostalgic about this, but given the work I do, maybe they’ve changed for the better. I think I’ve mentioned before that I am a child sexual abuse survivor. Some of my assaults took place during undersupervised summers. We can never do too much to protect our kids. Man, I didn’t mean for this to end like this. But there’s no turning it around. It is what it is. The truth.