As I was walking into the park today with Morty , he found the first of 42674521 “areas of intrigue” to sniff/pee on, in an overgrown and bushy area. There were dangling vines and branches from a nearby tree which smacked me in the face and then became a private little umbrella under which to stand while he did his investigating. I thought to myself, “Oh, aren’t these the most lovely curtains?”
Of course, this was a somewhat odd thought to be thinking at such a time, or perhaps any time, really, but it was a throwback to my memories of being a kid, and the life of adventure that surrounded me in my universe (neighborhood block) of Kid-dom.
I have often wondered, and I know too, that others of my generation do, whether kids “these days” (and probably back to before my son’s generation) are really done a disservice by their ever-watchful, ever-paranoid and news-infused parents. I wonder if they are truly able to experience a sense of wonder, imagination, and adventure as I did, growing up. Sure, Barney and Dora taught them all about imagination and quests, but is that the same as being daring enough to go into the local “swamp” with their neighborhood pals?
When I was a kid, big leaves, “berries,” and pine cones were used to make pretend salad for “dinner.” A hole in a tree could be anything from a troll’s lair where stolen objects were hidden, a portal to H-E-double hockey sticks (or possibly China), or even possibly your bank vault, where you hid important items. Of course the problem would be that making a withdrawal could result in being dragged to the Underworld, or bitten by a troll, but these were the dangers of growing up outside of the backyard or a play group.
We’d search for wild animals, we’d search for “moon rocks” (I still don’t know what those things were exactly, but I’m sure I haven’t seen one since I was a kid) (and no, I’m not talking about the super-cannabis things, which I didn’t know about until I tried to see if I could find a picture of a moon rock), we’d scour the sidewalks and bushes in hopes of finding some pennies so we could buy Swedish Fish at the bakery.
We configured how we could build a mud hut in the swamp (we could run away from home and it could in a pinch be used in case of nuclear attack, which was eminent), we looked for rocks that might have gold in them- surely gold and moon rocks could fund whatever comforts we needed. In fact, we were always trying to figure out ways to make money, so we could save for the church/bazaar, more Swedish Fish, or something more exciting, like Lik’M Sticks at the ballpark. I always longed to be one of those kids with an “allowance,” as begging my mother and random change on the sidewalk was not a steady and dependable income. An allowance was something only existing on TV shows (if you caught them at the right time and had finished your homework and were allowed to watch them). But I suppose that’s a post for a different day.
We considered whether it was true that the mushrooms we found would kill us if we ate them, we considered whether our parents would kill us if they knew we had ventured past the tree at the end of the street, we thought of tales to tell as to why the street lights were on and we hadn’t yet arrived home.
During my trip to Italy, I had a conversation with a newly-met cousin-in-law (https://www.facebook.com/RizzosAstoria1959/ ) and we were talking about how different it is for a kid growing up in Italy (today) and having the bravery as a parent to actually let your American kid go play down the street with the other kids in the Italian neighborhood. We talked about how everyone in the (Italian) neighborhood knows everyone, and knows everyone’s parents (and their parents, and their parents’ parents), and how everyone looks out for each other. We talked about how it used to be that way in America.
Here in American suburbia, we barely know the names of our neighbors (I’m talking about anything past the ones that immediately surround our houses), there are not tons of kids playing outside on the block, and the “go outside!” play area is generally the backyard. My neighborhood doesn’t even have sidewalks. I know this isn’t always the case, and that there are pockets of newly built neighborhoods and cul-de-sacs where you may see two or more kids playing together, who aren’t actually related, but I think it’s becoming more rare by the second (and it doesn’t happen every day).
Anyway, I could go on and on about this, but I’ll leave it here. I really consider myself lucky to have grown up the way I did- to have the opportunity to always fuel my imagination and to create worlds and adventures which existed outside of the TV console and past the confines of my own yard. I know it’s a very different world that we live in, but I don’t believe it is necessarily a better one, in some respects.
Did you have similar adventures, growing up? Share them here. And, while you’re contemplating, I’m going out to collect some leaves and berries for dinner.