Generation X is the designation given to anyone born from 1965 to 1980. We are the last generation of newborns who rode home from the hospital on our mother’s lap. That was basically a prescription for our entire childhood: “hold on and hope for the best.”
We were latchkey kids in large numbers. This meant we got home from school, let ourselves into an unattended home and did our chores (halfheartedly) before our parent(s) arrived home. Sometimes we liked to unwind after a long day at school with a candy cigarette.
My mom was more protective than some. I had to call her office to check in that I was safely home after school. I used to call my mother on a landline phone, bother a secretary and wait on hold, just so I could ask my mom if I could make the pizza rolls I found in the freezer.
Summer, however, was when our feral nature was really allowed to shine. I was a combination of “city” kid (if we use the term city very loosely) and a country kid.
I grew up in a college town with tree-lined streets and watchful neighbors. I could walk to the library and corner drug store — aka the candy store — by myself by age 9.
I spent weekends and summers at my grandparents’ respective country dwellings. Acres of land and barns full of large animals, unattended bodies of water and rusty objects kept things interesting.
Whether it was a live PTO, plodding hooves, the towering height of a hay loft or a random rooster flying through the air intent on pecking your head, we lost count of how many times we almost died every summer.
I think it is now apparent that the Flintstones vitamin we took every day was working overtime to keep us alive. It’s not that our caregivers didn’t care. They loved us. They just expected us to a) listen and b) have some darned sense.
Those who didn’t were liable to suffer more than those who did. That’s how you learned. That was just survival of the fittest.
We were given clear instructions: don’t stand behind that horse, don’t play around that equipment, and don’t get in the water if you cannot get yourself back out.
At home, we rode bikes and threw balls in the streets. We collected rocks, feathers, random treasures and sometimes, the need for a tetanus shot. We ran with sticks. We “swam” in giant puddles and caked ourselves in mud.
We spent our summers bug-bitten, sunburnt until our “base tan” took hold, saturated in sugar, exhausted at nightfall and utterly happy just running wild. I never heard the term “playdate,” not once.
Summer days started with a few old cartoons or maybe a “Gilligan”s Island” rerun before we were topped off with artificially sweetened cereal and a hearty dose of food dyes and admonished to “go outside and play.”
I loved spending summer days with my cousin who was and remains my best friend. I honestly don’t remember in great detail what we did each day — I just know we had a great time doing it together.
Her mother, my aunt, is famous to this day for her hands waving us out of the house as she exclaimed “You’re laying around like SLUGS! Get outside slugs!”
I never saw a bottle of water. If we needed hydration, everyone had a garden hose. We drank out of that. We also used it for filling water pistols, water fights, and, if we were feeling more orderly, running through the sprinkler.
Accordingly, I grew up to be a mom who sent her own children outside all the time. We didn’t move to acres in the country so they could sit inside the house all summer.
Granted, they were sent outside to a swimming pool, trampoline and a swingset nicer than we had on our actual school playground. Still, I like to think it made them resilient.
Boywonder grew up to be an Eagle Scout and survivalist who enjoys sleeping outdoors (I swear we let him in at bedtime!). Girlwonder is a high achiever who has impressed crowds with her fishing prowess. That girl can cast.
I always want my children — and every child — to be happy, healthy and SAFE. Nonetheless, we cannot bubble-wrap them entirely. Some of the greatest joys of childhood are borne of bumps, bruises and the sheer thrill of unplanned hours spent in exploration.
A little dirt — and a few sips from the garden hose — can’t hurt.
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