“When we grew up lightning bugs were our curfew…”
And so on. It’s a strange worldview that turns the liberal manner in which our parents raised us into a conservative mantra that “things aren’t as good as they used to be.”
True, things have changed in some ways. I’ve talked to people that have lived in our neighborhood for years and there was a time when household fences did not exist. Kids ran everywhere, crossing through yards on their way to play at the house of other neighborhood kids.
I too lament the fact that kids don’t seem to be as free as they once did to ram around and be stupid and free with their own time.
Have at it
Yet today I cut through the park near my house while walking the dog and found important evidence that it’s not the kids that have changed. It’s the environment they live in and how we let them live in it that has perhaps changed for the worst.
Walking past the baseball diamond it was interesting to note that two massive dirt piles dumped on the diamond by the Park District had been converted into pretty cool jumps by an ad hoc group of kids.
The older boys were in their early teens and rode their bikes up and over the dirt mounds so much there as a single track between the two dirt lumps. It was possible to catch a little air if you got going fast enough.
The other mound of dirt was occupied by a group of girls with pretty bikes. One was sitting atop the dirt mound with an apprehensive look on her face. Finally she mustered courage and went wheeling down the steep little hill without incident.
Sure, you could worry about risk of injury on park district property. But honestly, there’s probably greater risk of injury or illness with some of the joggers circling that park that those kids trying out their bike skills on a couple dirt mounds.
My buddies and I loved finding a dirt pile or riding around a quarry when we were kids. For the most part we knew our limits and didn’t do anything too stupid. I never once broke an arm or hurt my head while riding without a helmet. If you haven’t figured it out yet, kids don’t really like getting hurt. They tend to avoid that if at all possible.
Outside of town a few miles there is a tract of woods where the kids in rural subdivisions gather to create intense jumps. The ground is worn smooth for an acre or two where kids on bikes jump and ride and tear up the dirt. The property owner must believe in the merit of letting kids have at it. I have that area of woods as a spring bird count census area each spring. It’s always fascinating to see the creativity of the jumps and trails they create. I’d be nervous to take my Specialized Rockhopper on many of those jumps. I’ve lost too much hand-eye coordination and my daring. Youth has its benefits.
Back home in town, it made me smile watching those kids go up and over the dirt piles. Surely the park district crew will show up any day soon with a Bobcat dozer to spread the dirt out on the baseball field where it’s supposed to be.
But for the time being, a time warp took place in which kids got to be kids for the day riding their bikes on a set of dirt piles.
Perception and projection
My own kids told me they did not feel like they were missing anything even though most of their play life was confined to a couple back yards in city neighborhood. They had an apple tree to climb on, a sandbox to play in and an alley in which to ride their bikes back and forth on hot summer days.
It’s best not to project our sentiments on the present when the past was frankly not all that perfect. It may have been romantic to ride a Sting Ray bike or two, but most of us did not have them. We made do with Frankenstein versions with big tall tires and the occasional found version of Sting Ray Handlebars.
Then we found a dirt pile and did our best to catch some air. Things really have not changed all that much. We just think they have. I can’t tell whether that’s a conservative or liberal opinion because it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we not project our fears into kids so that they have at least some semblance of innocence and freedom growing up. Anything else is the wrong kind of time warp.