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Monday, April 1, 2013

When I Was a Kid

How things have changed since I was a kid growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Although there have been many social and technological advances over the years, things weren't all bad back then. The world was seemingly a nicer, kinder, more carrying and worry-free place.

When I was a kid:
  • I rode a bicycle without wearing a helmet. I never fell and broke a bone or smashed my head. (Today, I never ride without wearing a helmet.)
  • I roller-skated without any protective padding. The worst thing I ever suffered was a skinned knee or elbow, and maybe damaged pride if somebody saw me fall. 
  • I played outside until my mom called me to come into the house when it was getting dark. There were no fears of kids being kidnapped, or worse. 
  • I went outside without a hat, long sleeves and sunscreen. 
  • We didn't pay attention to what we ate, other than hoping it tasted good. 
  • We didn't worry about saturated fats or carbs or calories. 
  • Like us, our friends lived in two-parent families. Divorce was unheard of, or extremely rare. 
  • Our mom worked at home, cooking and cleaning and taking care of the kids. She didn't get a paying job until my younger sister was in school. She was always home when we got home from school. 
  • We did things as a family. We ate dinner (called supper) together every evening. We went on vacations together. We went as a family to local parks to play and picnic. 
  • I ate lunch at home every day during elementary school. 
  • I walked to and from school by myself or with other kids. Only when I was in middle school and high school was I driven to school (it was too far to walk). I had no expectation of having a car of my own. If I needed to go some place, I asked my mom or dad to drive me, or I borrowed the family car. 
  • Our house had one bathroom (shared by five people) and one phone (black, rotary). There was no answering machine, caller I.D., or any of the other phone-related 'necessities.' 
  • We went to church every Sunday, and then my mom cooked a big, home-cooked meal. 
  • Kids had chores to do. Mine included housework, cooking and ironing. 
  • We were not allowed to spend hours every day watching television; we were told to "go outside and play." As often as not, I occupied myself by reading, something I enjoy to this day.
  • My elementary school class had a Christmas party, not a holiday party, every year. The two Jewish kids in my class did something else during party time. Both they and their parents seemingly didn't have a problem with us having a Christmas party. 
  • When we played outside in hot weather, we drank water from a rubber garden hose. We all survived. 
  • I ate (and still eat) cookie dough containing raw eggs. I never got sick. 
  • We ate cookies and pies, bread with real butter, and lots of fried foods, and we drank Kool-Aid and soda loaded with sugar. But nobody was overweight because we played outside for hours on end. 
  • Our food was natural, with no ingredients we couldn't pronounce. Food was free of artificial flavors and colors, and contained no additives or preservatives. 
  • If we goofed off or did something stupid and got injured as a result, we likely got in trouble with our parents. Mom would pull out the store-brand bottle of Mercurochrome and maybe an adhesive bandage, and off we would go. Now it's a trip to the emergency room, followed by a 10-day course of $50 antibiotics. And of course, a lawyer is consulted about blaming a property owner or school for 'negligence.' 
  • If we really misbehaved, we got spanked. This was not abuse, as many believe today. And all three of us kids turned out just fine. 
  • We said the Pledge of Allegiance every day at school, including the words 'one nation, under God', and nobody objected. 
  • I had to achieve something before I could expect to receive an award. Nobody got a trophy just for showing up, so their self-esteem wouldn't be hurt. There are winners and losers in everything, something we learned as a fact of life. 
  • The thought of stealing from our friends or their parents, or anyone, never crossed our minds. 
  • We treated our parents, our friends' parents and our neighbors with respect.
Life in the 1950s and 1960s wasn't perfect. But it was a lot less complicated, and people seemed a lot less stressed about life. And that sense of family, the sense of togetherness and concern for the community that was prevalent when I was a kid, now seem lacking.

Our lives also were far less regulated than they are now, and people took responsibility for their actions and decisions. We didn't look for someone else to blame. Everything now comes with three layers of protective coverings and multiple warnings about the product's potential dangers and side-effects. Do we really need to have a warning printed on a cup of coffee to advise us that the contents are hot? We have become a nanny state, where common sense and good judgment have been replaced by government watchdogs and lawsuit-happy citizens.

How did we ever survive all the dangers of those days -- riding without a bicycle helmet, eating fried food, having no one to tell us of the horrors of eating this food or that? My grandmother lived well into her 80s and succumbed to Alzheimer's. My mother died at age 80 of Alzheimer's and shingles. My father lived to be 87.

Maybe as we age we tend to look back on the days of our youth with fondness. As kids, we were oblivious to a lot of the hardships our parents faced. So I guess singer Carly Simon got it right when she sang that "These are the good old days."