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Sunday, September 27, 2015


So a friend of mine was recently bemoaning the propensity we all have for looking at the past, most especially our childhood, through rose-colored glasses.  “It's a great time to be a kid. NOW. It's a great time to be a kid at any point in time!” she lamented.  And of course, she is right.  It is GREAT to be a kid, for too many reasons to count, most of them relating to the fact that ignorance is bliss and not being responsible for anyone but yourself is basically the definition of freedom. 

The reason so many of us have rose-colored memories of childhood is because childhood is a time in life when we are in fact viewing the world through that rose-colored filter.  If we were lucky enough to come from a relatively happy home…if we were lucky enough to have enough to eat, a roof over our head and all of our basic needs taken care of…if we were lucky enough to be loved.  If all of these things were true, then we undoubtedly lived in a space of security, wonder and unfettered possibility.  Unburdened by all the knowledge and responsibility that comes with adulthood, children are free to roam in the field of imagination where dragons are as common as clouds and the realm of the magical is not only possible, it is probable.

My childhood was spent in the 1970’s and as far as glorifying that as an era to come up in, I am guilty as charged.    The comic piece of it is this:  compared to my son’s life, I basically grew up on an episode of “Survivorman”, so unsupervised and wild were we.  But I had the ridiculous privilege, so uncommon today, of growing up in the kind of neighborhood where everybody knew everybody, and everyone knew what kids belonged where, and a lot of Moms were able to be at home during the day, so eyes were everywhere. 

Summer mornings we would roll out of bed and hit the streets after breakfast, only to return at mealtimes.  When I think of the adventures we took alone at such a young age, I am flabbergasted.  Our parents would be arrested today for what we were allowed to do back then.  One of the false arguments I hear about this was that the world was “safer” then.  This goes back to my friend’s lament.  Statistically speaking, the world was probably far more dangerous, but because we didn’t have the 24 hour news cycle apprising us of every time a kid falls off his bike, we remained blissfully free of fear.
My husband and I have been lucky enough to be raising our son in one of those “old-fashioned” type of neighborhoods.  There is only one road in to a series of cul-de-sacs and most of us know each other and each other’s children by name.  The kids can ride their bikes in the streets, and we are the neighborhood to beat at Halloween…people come to us from miles around.  We have woods to explore in our backyard, a common land with a good sledding hill and some well-attended neighborhood events that give us a nice sense of community. 

But the kids certainly don’t have the kind of freedom that I did growing up, not only in the lack of any real independence, but also in not having that unstructured, unsupervised play time.  So many activities outside of the house, and then yes, I am going to bang the drum of too many electronics again inside the house.  My parents were constantly telling us to “go play in the yard” (and by this they meant ANY yard we could get to on our own) and we did; how many versions of tag did YOU know?  Not to mention “Red Light, Green Light”, “Red Rover”, “Hide and Seek”, “Capture the Flag”…to have a good time, you needed nothing but some other kids, NOTHING.  And that seems to be the piece of childhood that is dying on the vine.

It is ironic that it seems like childhood has traded one kind of freedom for another.  We had a physical freedom, yes; but also the freedom from the tyranny of the electronic age, where any idiot with a cell phone can capture your personal moments and transmit them to the world.  We suffered our “growing pains” of all kinds in private…I am so grateful that there is no permanent record of my humiliations, my confusion, my angst, my immaturity.  I found my way without a spotlight on me, and most kids today will never understand that particular kind of freedom. 

On the other hand…when I think about what life must have been like for my LGBT peers, I shudder.  No role models, no open dialogue, no understanding that they are not struggling alone; for them the world is much more free now (although obviously far from ideal).   I think about all the kids I grew up with who today would receive a diagnosis and nurturing treatment; we called them “hyperactive”, “dumb” and “weird”.  I think about kids who grew up in situations of domestic violence in a time when police and even communities “looked the other way”.  I think about kids who grew up in times of insidious racial oppression.  In all these ways and more, kids have it much better today than at any point in history.  And that is more than worth any sacrifices we have made to the sanctity of childhood.
Childhood was once upon a time a luxury of the privileged.  Nowadays, most children in developed countries are afforded the relative freedoms of the childhood experience.  Children were once considered properties, boys much more valuable than girls.  Now kids are so much more than people too—they are universally acknowledged as the most precious resource on earth.  Not so long ago, it was unusual for a woman to get a college education; now, more women than men will earn at least a bachelor’s degree. 

It is easy to long for “the good old days” and forget everything that was bad about them.  Anytime a child is born into a situation where he or she is wanted, loved and provided for is a GREAT time to be a kid.  Too many children, now and then, are not lucky enough to have such circumstances.  Parenthood will always be the most sacred responsibility entrusted to the human soul; it should never be taken lightly, nor should it ever be foisted on anyone against their will.  I recently saw a sign that said “All love is unconditional; everything else is just approval”.  Approval is nice, but love is fierce, driven and indomitable.  No matter when, where and how a child grows up, if that child is loved, he or she will be alright.


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