For crying out loud, it’s three weeks into summer vacation and I very rarely see a kid outside. Where the heck are they? Tethered to the television? The internet? Video games? Now I know my generation is really the first generation raised in front of the boobtube and I was in my teens when the world made the technological leap from American Bandstand and Solid
Gold to MTV, but for the most part we were not glued to the thing all day and all night. Saturday mornings were for cartoons (’cause there was no Cartoon Network running 24/7) and evenings were for families to gather and watch a couple of shows together. Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Andy Griffith Show, Donnie & Marie, and later on Happy Days, All in the Family, Laverne & Shirley and the rest. And for years every Sunday night began with Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom followed by The Wonderful World of Disney.
I’m digressing here, so getting back to the point……there was life beyond television. Kids still played outside, people knew their neighbors and the diet industry wasn’t one of the biggest in the country. It didn’t need to be. We still got enough exercise during the day to burn off the calories we consumed, but then, too, we didn’t live on junk and fastfood. In fact, we rarely ate out. Getting a pizza was a huge treat and there were only one or two places in town that even made them. Now there are probably 25 even in my small town.
On sunny summer days we left our houses as soon as breakfast was over (none of this sleeping till noon business). There was so much to do and always someone to do it with! Having to come home for lunch was torture. We had miles to ride on our bikes, forts and clubhouses to build, kickball games to play, fish to catch, tennis balls to whack and we USED OUR IMAGINATIONS. Remember those? Way too many kids don’t seem to have much of one these days. They want the world to entertain them. We spent hours with friends playing with Barbies, or forming clubs (where determining all the rules and whatnot took longer than the clubs lasted). Many wars were fought across the backyards of every neighborhood, the pow-pow of the guns accompanied by the tortured moans of the "wounded." Cowboys and Indians populated the land….those these days that’s more than a little politically incorrect. Little girls perfected their homemaking skills playing house for hours on end. Little boys learned mechanics working on their bikes and go carts. Swimming was something you did in a lake or a pond (before you had to worry about bacterial contamination from all the duck and goose poop) or if you were really lucky and your parents felt like shelling out the money, at the community pool. Otherwise, a sprinkler or a Slip ‘n’ Slide that had to be held down with rocks was as good as it got. Nobody had a pool. And if they did, every kid in the neighborhood was their best friend all summer long. Every kid had chores, too. What they were varied from family to family, but you can bet we all learned the value of honest work.
And let me mention the mothers and fathers. In the life of a kid back then, any mom in the neighborhood would do. Got a scraped knee? Knock on the door of the closest mom. She’d patch you up and give you a hug….and maybe a cookie, too. The chain fell off your bike? Stop and ask the first dad you saw. He’d be only too happy to show off his mechanical prowess. On the flip side, do something wrong and not a one of them would hesitate to yell at you and you could bet that by the time you got home, your own mom and dad would know what you did.
In the evenings, after supper, when all the chores were done (evening was prime gardening time) the neighborhood adults would gather on someone’s porch or in a backyard to shoot the breeze about everything and nothing. Neighbors were like family back then. Kids would drift through the yards playing freeze tag or hide and seek until the lightening bugs came out. There was usually just enough time to catch a jar full to use as a nightlight. You had to be careful to put grass in the jar and make the air holes just the right size. Too little and you ended up with dead bugs. Too big and you ended up with a room full of bugs and a really mad mother.
Slowly the moms and dads would drift into the houses for the night. Lights would appear in the windows and a ballgame could be heard on the night air. One by one the kids would be called in for a bath. You could tell how late they were by how shrill the mother’s voice got and how many names she used. When a kid heard their first-middle-confirmation-and last name they knew they’d better get home or start thinking about a life riding the rails.
So, where are all the kids? I’m sure some of them are pursuing the electronic activities I mentioned earlier. Some are surely sleeping in. I’ve noticed a tendency to stay up late at night and sleep-in till lunchtime. Older kids probably have a job to pay for the cool car or truck every teenager seems to be unable to live without. Then there are the summer camps. Not the let’s-wear-feather-headdresses-and-give-ourselves-ridiculous-Indian -names-while-making-bad-crafts-and-telling-ghost-stories-around-the campfire kind. No, camp has to have a higher purpose these days. There are drama camps, art camps, sports camps, science camps, math camps, even a state police boot camp….you name it and there is a camp for it. A lot of kids go to more than one camp. Much like they are in one activity after the other during the school year with barely any free time at all.
When is enough, enough? When do kids get to be kids? A neighborhood shouldn’t be quiet in the summer.