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.