As a kid, I remember starting most summer days with the announcement, “I’m gonna go play!” as I walked out the front door. Going to play could have meant anything from creating a chalk-art masterpiece on the sidewalk in front of my house to stalking lizards on the train tracks behind the bowling alleys. I might have made a pit stop at home to grab a drink, but I was just as likely to hijack a neighbor’s hose for its thirst quenching properties.
If weren’t aware, hose water happens to be the most delicious and refreshing beverage available during hot summer months. Although today, I’m pretty sure that BPA fears have given hose water a reputation of being only slightly less toxic than H2O in Flint, MI.
I think hose water is actually safer than people currently believe, and certainly much less lethal than anything I consumed back on the sweltering days of yesteryear. I grew up during a time when people were less safety conscious. There was no such thing as a bike helmets, we were all potential little human projectiles riding around unrestrained in the backseat and did you catch the part at the beginning about playing on the train tracks?
In fact, I’ll go even further and say that people weren’t just less safety conscious, they were actively more danger friendly. Who remembers flammable pajamas and red dye #3? I’ve already written about the myriad ways my mother tried to kill me. But though her plans failed, she may have figured that the odds of anyone surviving childhood were not in their favor, and perhaps nature would take care of things.
We routinely rode in the backs of pickup trucks, regularly played in the street and built tree houses that no one checked for weight-bearing abilities or construction quality. I know that someone definitely should have checked the fast-exit zip line we installed, because doing so may have spared me the falling from a tree house experience. You haven’t seriously had the wind knocked out of you until you fall fifteen feet and land flat on your back. It’s very memorable.
I tend to recall my childhood, especially the summers, as being fairly idyllic. In my memories, I spent the entire three months running around barefoot and in a bathing suit; but I also remember the street being so hot it was uncrossable without shoes. We built things, like go carts and the aforementioned tree house. We had carnivals in the yard, put on plays for our parents had and naked a Barbie parade with a group of dolls and a remote control Cadillac I found at a yard sale.
Yes, it was a one car parade and Full Frontal Barbie was the Grand Marshall. No, the Barbies weren’t mine. As a good little future lesbian, I had a collection of Big Jim action figures.
I’ve heard that memories are a collection of real events, things we’ve heard from others and our brain’s attempt to fill in blank spots. So I’m sure if I thought about it long enough and hard enough, I could flush out memories of the day that Sawyer kid tricked me into whitewashing his fence; or the warm summer night when Jem, Scout, Dill and I stopped an angry, racist lynch mob using nothing but the power of our innocence.
For the most part, the kids in my neighborhood (and there were a lot of them) got along, and we spent countless hours just hanging around on the corner at the end of my block. Sometimes we’d grab our nets and go butterfly hunting (catch and release, of course), or see of we could fly a kite so high it disappeared, or engage in an epic game of Hide & Seek.
We spent day and night on that corner. And yes, you read that right, I said day and night, as we often stayed out long after the street flickered to life. I know the day for many kids ended when the street lights came on, but we were pretty bad-ass and weren’t going to let a little thing like darkness get in the way of our fun.
So bad-ass were we that we decided we needed a name and a logo. The name we decided on was Night Patrol and our logo was a moon rising behind and above the two.
I suppose we could have been called a gang, but our gang activity wasn’t what you might see today. For instance, I remember my dearest, oldest friend, Chumly, my little brother and I walking down along the lizard-stalking train tracks; and, if memory serves, I had adorned my ears with a couple of ginormous Christmas tree ornaments, my brother was dressed head to toe in Caltrans orange rain gear that was many sizes too big and Chumly had somehow procured a very large bottle of champagne that we were passing around.
Dangerous? Maybe. Dorky? Absolutely. But we were Night Patrol and exactly zero fucks were given.
Every generation tells tales of how much better everything was back then. So I don’t want to sound like the crabby old lady whose every conversation includes some version of “when I was younger [insert specific food, feeling, taste, smell, etc] was so much better! Not like this half-assed shit masquerading as [food, feeling, taste, smell, etc.] that they have today!”
I think my generation, Gen X, may be the last one that got to experience the freedom and independence that comes from growing up free-range. I don’t believe that life is more dangerous to kids now than it was in my day. I believe that now we just hear more horror stories than before. We’ve got newspapers, magazines and news shows in constant competition for ratings, and the more sensational the story, the bigger the audience.
I know there are exceptions and in a number of ways, the world is more dangerous for everyone. But much of what is presented by various media outlets is designed to instill fear rather than share information. A station whose commercial asks the question, “Are your children safe in their own beds?” followed by “Tune in tonight at eleven and find out,” doesn’t care about your kids, and very likely has no valuable information to give (if they did, it would be the lead story rather than the very last one). They simply want your ass to be planted in front of their broadcast at the end of the day.
Regardless of how low their helicopter parents hover, I know that kids today will also have awesome childhood memories. Many of them will just be based on or around things that weren’t even being considered when I was a kid. But I wonder if they have to wait until they go away to school or get their first apartment before they get to experience the “I can go anywhere I want and do anything I want” feeling that I had just about every day as I left the house with my “going to play” announcement. Or is that magical summertime feeling that the door to everything is open, only experienced during childhood?
Now, all of this writing and reminiscing is starting to make me thirsty. So if you’ll excuse me, there’s a hose in the backyard with my name on it.