10 Ways We Grew Up Tougher Than Our Kids


When we were kids, life felt more like an ongoing experiment. After all, who decided ‘Lawn Jarts’ were a good idea? No one raised their hand in a development meeting and said “Hey, did we think about the safety issue that inherently goes along with children launching spears at each other?”

The hard edges weren’t removed from our childhoods. We played in playgrounds made of asphalt with metal playground equipment that got so hot in the summer that you could fry an egg  on it. Although, egg frying wouldn’t be advisable as metal playground equipment was covered in rust. Our parents warned us about lockjaw every time they shooed us away to the playground. The only non-rusty metal was on the 3 story high slide. The slide metal, which came from another planet, heated up to skin blistering levels – in the shade.

We didn’t have arranged friendships. We went outside and met other kids. Then, we went as far as we could from parental eyes and then did dangerous shit like have rock fights or built rickety ramps to jump with our bikes.

We didn’t know that our comic books and baseball cards would be valuable one day. We’d roll the comics up and put them in our back pocket. We clipped baseball cards to our bicycle spokes and found puddles to ride through.

Today’s kids experience life in a different way than we did as kids. They are definitely more safe than we were, but they’re also definitely more soft than we were. Here are 10 things that toughened us up, but our kids won’t experience:

  • Bazooka gum. Bazooka gum was like chewing mummified gum. The taste of Bazooka can only be described as sweet and angry. No way kids today could handle Bazooka gum. Bazooka Joe would laugh at them and then not let them read his comic. We chewed so much Bazooka gum that our jaws could apply enough pounds of pressure to break walnuts. Pit bulls feared our bite.
  • Click Clacks. Like Lawn Jarts, who thought giving small children a deadly weapon to swing around was a good idea? Schoolyards sounded like they had been invaded by mutant cicadas as the sound of click clacks cracked through recess. Well, the sound of click clacks and screaming because those click clacks could take out teeth with the slightest flick of the wrist.
  • Free Range wasn’t a thing. Because we were all free range. We knew to be in ‘by dark’ and then argue that it wasn’t ‘all the way dark’ every summer night.Our parents didn’t have a clue what happened during those hours of freedom.
  • We were sent to the store to buy cigarettes for our parents while we still had baby teeth. A store clerk wouldn’t blink an eye over selling a pack of Lucky Strikes to an 8 year old.
  • We rode bicycles, skateboards, and pogo sticks without helmets. We hung from our knees on monkey bars dangling 10 feet above hot concrete. We compared concussions the way old people compare surgeries.
  • We got bundled into cars with pillows, blankets, homemade snacks, and went to the drive-in with our parents. The movies were grownup and boring, but there were always other kids running and screaming in between the rows of cars. A bad night at the drive-in was when you got clothes lined by a speaker cord. A good night was when your parents took you to the drive-in that had the playground under the big screen.
  • Seat belts? Seat belts were for shoving down the car seat to never be seen again. We didn’t wear seatbelts. Babies rode in front with mom. Bigger kids fought over who got to ride on the ledge behind the backseat. If we were driving to the store, chances are that mom and dad were going to leave us in the car to wait. While they did the grocery shopping for the week. There was nothing else to do but hang our heads out the windows and talk to strangers. We randomly beeped the car horn and, when our parents questioned us about the honking, we’d swear it wasn’t us.
  • Not wearing seat belts and abandonment weren’t the only ways our parents made ‘car’ mistakes with their kids. Our parents smoked with all the windows rolled up. We would be in the back seat taking shallow breaths, getting a headache, and praying they’d crack a window. Then, after hearing our prayer, they turned the heater on full blast.
  • The sun. We weren’t covered in sunblock and locked indoors between noon and 3:00pm every day. Our skin burned and blistered, which was okay because there was the disturbingly satisfying skin peeling days ahead. Sooner or later, your skin would turn brown or at least you’d grow accustomed to walking around with 2nd degree burns.
  • Creepy Crawlers. What could be better than toxic goop and hot metal molds. Touching the molds could make the skin on your fingers shrivel up and fall off. Then, you’d have rubbery toxic solidified goop in the shape of a bug which you dared your cousin to eat. Of course, they did and goop puked. So, you know, totally worth it.

I am in no way suggesting that those days were better. I’m stunned that so many of us actually lived through childhood. Still, in some ways, we are way better prepared for life when life decides to swat us down. If nothing else, growing up before children’s safety was on the radar did teach us how to toughen up.


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  • To be fair though, you share those memories with at least one other generation (2 if you go by the naming system we all seem to use instead of the age of your kids). I’m not going to do the math in public but based on some of our conversations, I’m pretty sure that we’re from different generations and I remember all of that stuff…except for not using seat belts but then my parents were worried about giving the cops a reason to pull them over and the laws where I lived changed just after I was born.

  • Now you’ve got me pining for the old days! And I wish I’d had the guts to scream at my kids, “Go outside!” which is what my mom did because she needed her space. We grew up next to fields where we routinely played, using whatever discarded crap we’d find to embellish our “forts” and encountering sketchy guys on the long footpaths, so far out of any parents’ radar. Don’t think I had skin on my kneecaps until I was 12. My mother had no clue. None whatsoever, about where we went and who we interacted with and what kinda shit we got into, nor did she meet my teachers or have any idea how often I skipped highschool and how often I was stoned or when I was riding shotgun at 14 while my bolder friend drove her mother’s car with nary a driving lesson, let alone a license (so technically, a stolen vehicle). I too, as a young kid, could walk up to the corner store and buy my dad’s cigarettes, and beer! (We can buy beer and wine at any corner store here in Quebec – and we sure do!) People say “it was safer back then” but I disagree. Creepy pervs were everywhere then too, and not one of my girlfriends made it to adulthood without her share of perv stories – and they go way back to when we were LITTLE girls! How’d we survive that shit? Don’t know. But my 3 sisters and I always made it back to a nice clean house, home-cooked meal waiting. It was like we’d get home from our daily job of Life Lessons. I’d like to add, my 85 yr old mom is in great shape physically and mentally and takes no meds, drinks no alcohol. Huhn.
    I love this post. Love it. Thanks for making my morning after a shitty week and before I head back out to work. Mmwaah! (I’m sending you a kiss. Sorry I haven’t brushed my teeth yet.)
    Do you remember those little comics inside the Bazooka wrappers?

    • Holy hell…this sounds like the outline of the beginning part of the book I”m working on. hahaha. I have no idea how we survived.

      And yes…I do remember the comics!

  • Michelle, you just told the story of my childhood, with one exception: after my twin and I were born in ’67, we went to visit our Nana in the country. A 20 minute drive, propped in separate clothes baskets in the back seat, we actually made it out alive.

    We caught polywogs, drove our bikes thru trails hard-packed in the elephant ears, bought smokes for our parents and stole a few from packs left thru the house.

    We didn’t need to be kicked out of the house; we were gone after breakfast, came home for food and left again. We played skip rope, football and baseball.

    August brought the Exhibition came to town. The ‘carnies’ were our babysitters for 10-14 days. And some of them were pervs.

    Thanks, Michelle, for Sunday morning memories!

  • And another thing different during our childhoods: if we DID get hurt or slip or fall, get hit by a bully, etc., our parents didn’t sue anyone! I remember a tetherball pole in a friend’s yard that had the cement “bowl-shaped” base coming out of the dirt. It was top heavy and some kid was rocking on it. It came down, I was standing in the way and it hit me squarely on top of my head. (Probably what happened to me to make me this way! Haha!) The CLANG reverberated inside my head. I was stunned for a brief moment and then, took off in a panic, jumping the fence like a pole-vaulter to get to my home, crying for my mom all the way. I was not rushed to a hospital for x-rays and overnight observation, my parents did not sue the parents who owned that home or the tetherball pole and they did not sue the tetherball manufacturer. Back then, you just figured “shit happens” and we should know enough to not be messing with something that isn’t “right”. Granted, I was extremely LUCKY that I either have one of the hardest fucking heads in the Universe (my husband won’t argue that, I’m sure!) or that it hit me in a spot that caused no harm, other than brief pain and panic. In the case of bullies, no one sued anyone, there was no counseling to work through your feelings about being a victim, we were simply told, “I don’t want you playing with those kids anymore. Stay away from them. They’re bad news.” Yup. That was pretty much it. I’m sure there were many people traumatized, too, by some of those events and counseling would have been a good idea, but what can you do? Those were the times. Everyone went through the same thing. But, oh, those summer nights and drive-in movies! Ha! Great memories in both cases of lying on the hood of my parents’ car with my sister or with friends, in our pajamas, gazing up at the stars and moon in the inky blue night sky. (By the way, isn’t there an actual weapon that Clackers were based on? Like, a bola or something? Haha! I was a Clacker PRO, baby!!! Mine were pink resin with silver glitter specks throughout. Loved them!)

  • I remember playing in a treehouse made of rotten wood that was at least twelve feet off the ground. And cutting my foot open on a rusty nail left over from the building of said treehouse because I never wore shoes. There wasn’t a neighborhood playground–there was one at school which was not within walking distance–so my playground was a vacant lot where, if anything had happened to me, it would have been days before anyone could find me in more than a dozen acres of brush and tree-covered waste.

    What bothers me about the loss of a childhood like that isn’t that it toughened me up. It’s that I learned to entertain myself without technology.

  • As kids,we rode from Virginia to Michigan in the back of a pickup truck. Once, at a truck stop on the Ohio Turnpike, my dad asked if we were all in. Middle brother and I said that we were. Baby brother, then 8, was left at the truck stop for the 20 miles it took us to go 20 miles west to the next exit and then 20 miles east to the lost brother exit. My dad wasn’t worried about my brother – he was pissed that he lost 60 miles and an hour’s worth of travel time.

    Click-clacks – I wish I still had some. I would also like to have a Puzzle Ring.

  • I remember commercials that encouraged people to wear seat belts before it was the law, in particular this one woman saying “But I’m only going to the store and it will wrinkle my dress!” Also, we’d wear them in the front seat but never in the back. We were allowed 30 minutes of TV a day, since it would “rot your brain” if you watched more. We spent the rest of the day outside and our parents just assumed we were safe and fine unless we came home crying. My mom had 3 kids under 4 and I asked her a while back how she did it when we were babies and toddlers. She said “Oh, I just put you in a playpen with some toys in another room.” Not only were we more independent and resilient kids, our parents also had more time to live their own, not 100% child focused, lives. Seems healthier on balance for everyone to me. And I agree, those times weren’t all that less dangerous.

  • Wow!!! What a blast from the past. I had totally forgotten about click clacks! I loved those! I wish I would have hung onto mine — they would make great bolos (the weapons, not the tie) to bring down prey (or zombies) when the apocalypse comes. Did you play “night games” when you were little? We’d stay out late, playing Hide and Seek, Red Rover, and War (kind of like paintball — but with water balloons instead).

  • OMG, Yes to all of this. I’m glad you mentioned the smoking in the car with the windows up. My eyes would burn out of my head. So, I guess I started smoking when I was 7 and quit when I was 15 or 16 whenever I stopped riding on long trips with my parents.

    Ah, summers of our childhood were wonderful. Dangerous but wonderful. We’re NOT special, either like the kids today…they’re all winners and when they find out they’re not? There’s grown up tantrums everywhere. 😉

  • Creepy Crawlers? !! I loved that machine and that goopy stuff. My brother and I made hundreds of them.
    Never had lawn darts, and hey, my mom put sea and ski sun lotion on us – spf 6!!!!
    Peeling for days.
    (Could explain the pre cancerous spots I have been dealing with on my forehead…)
    and don’t forget those roller skates you had to attach to your shoes with a (bent) key and then the skates would come off as you were careening down a hill (without a helmet of course.)

  • I started riding motorcycles (little ones) when I was eight, and racing them in sanctioned competition when I was twelve. And aside from the dirt-clod wars and green apple and blackberry fights (the blackberries were trouble; those purple stains didn’t come out) I think I got my first Daisy BB gun when I was seven, and my first shotgun for Christmas when I was nine. I also used to hang out with older kids, and I won’t even get into the shenanigans my two older siblings and I got up to when we were living on some acreage from ’64 until ”70…

  • Loved the trip down memory lane !!!! Did you used to play french skipping or with a ding-bat – man, I was the ding-bat queen in our road.
    Yes – times have certainly changed and, when I sit down and really think about it, I’m not sure that it’s for the best.
    Have the BEST day !
    Me xox

  • Wow! That was surely a blast from the past. So very true. Why are kids so sheltered these days? Why does everyone always expect the worst which leads to overprotecting? Let’s stop being so over prepared and deal with a catastrophe if and when it ever happens. I actually remember standing on my head in the car, knees bent with my feet on the ceiling. The greatest discovery was the Walkman and sitting by the radio trying to catch our favorite song on tape at just the right minute. Life has changed so much that sometimes it makes me sad but that train has long passed. Great post!

  • I loved all those things, but can’t remember click clacks??
    Those were definitely good times. I do wonder if we are producing a softer generation, or a more enlightened one?

  • As an aunt to 11 nieces and nephews, I’m STUNNED by the limitations that are placed on their childhood. I grew up to be a pretty kickass adult (imo) exactly BECAUSE of all this shit. I developed an imagination, a sense of self-confidence, and an ability to entertain myself. Oh, and my skin isn’t soft. Both because of the lack of sunscreen and also because I know how to take an insult, because my mother wasn’t there to fight all my battles for me.
    Preach, Michelle. Preach.

  • This is so hilariously true! I really don’t know how we did survive. My dad was an EMT (a paramedic today) on the local volunteer fire dept and if you got cut and needed stitches you got up on the kitchen table while he sew you up. Hospitals were for rich people. I had 4 brothers and I am the only girl so until I was to big my seat in the car was up where the speakers were in the back window…you know where all of the cigarettes smoke collected! My dad chains smoked non-filtered Pall Malls!

  • Love this post. Gone are the days of kick the can and long trips in the back of the station wagon reading a book.
    I loved going to the drive-in. We would watch the cartoon before the real movie and then go to sleep in the back while the parents watched. Helmets? Never. Riding bikes to the store? Always. Those WERE the good ole days.

  • Wow – this brought back memories. We used to ride lying down in the “big back” of the station wagon; I used to hold my baby cousins on my lap in the back seat; the slide in my playground had a metal ladder that always bruised my shins; I climbed trees and got bruised up so much that people used to give my dad dirty looks while I smiled proudly at them.
    Kids are soft now? Hell yes! My son refused to ride a bike because he was traumatized by the funny story of me breaking my arm roller skating when I was 10. We kicked ass compared to many of today’s kids 😉

  • I remember all of that and then some. Daddy smoked Camels, but with the window down. Not a problem until he went to throw it out and you had your window down. Then it was duck and cover. Mother sent me to the store for beer, the same store that sold us bologna that was green three days later. “Just fry it and you won’t see the green” was what we were told. Hey, penicillin is made from mold right? Couldn’t be bad for you. My brothers and I had a place a block away from the house that we could have disappeared for days and no one would have found us. We were just afraid of the tanning we would get from daddy’s belt if we weren’t at least within earshot when the streetlight came on.

  • Heheh. Everything – EVERYthing – on this list is true.

    My Dad would step out on the front porch as darkness started to fully grip the neighborhood. He’d do that shrill Dad-whistle thing, the one you could hear for miles, and then step back inside the house. He knew that wherever we were, we would hear it and come running.
    I can remember hearing that damn whistle and going still, like a deer, ears perked and eyes staring in four directions. Mostly because I had been rambling all day and was trying to get my bearings for the shortest distance on a full out run back home.

    Do you remember being out and running home (’cause it was the closest) for a drink of water? Sometimes I’d actually make it in, but sometimes I couldn’t be bothered and drank straight from the garden hose.
    I’m equally guilty of trying to skateboard in the storm drainage ditch (30 foot high walls) next to our house. Getting in that sucker was easy. Getting out took some running skills and a decent grasp of geometry. “Ok, if I run really fast at *that* angle, I can probably snag the fence at the top so’s I can climb back over.”

  • So true, I used to wander off to the neighbours when I wasn’t much more than a toddler. That certainly wouldn’t be regarded as safe these days. I remember the playground at the park, no soft landings there, we used to get the roundabout up to a speed that would fling us all off onto the concrete in fits of giggles, with a few scrapes. Most of the boys would be trying to get the swings to go over the top of the bar and often did. It’s all so homogenised and safe these days, not saying that playgrounds should be dangerous like they used to be, but wrapping kids up in cotton wool isn’t going to help them deal with the reality of life.

  • This time and that time are worlds apart. But I guess it’s all for the better now, right? Parents are more at ease because parents always make the decision. If it were up to the kids I think they’d still want to go on adventures like how we used to back in they day. I see it in my daughters eyes every time I tell them a story from my childhood. But since everyone’s not doing those anymore, then they aren’t too.

By Michelle


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