Mourning the Lost Luxury of Benign Neglect
by Melissa Bell
I have always considered myself one of the lucky ones. I spent my childhood in a smallish town, ignorant of sex offenders and school knifings and...well, what are some of the other things that make young life a dangerous place these days? Lead paint from Chinese toy manufacturers? Sharp-edges on playground equpment?
I walked to school by myself, usually meeting up with other kids along the way. At the end of my day, I'd go home and ride my bike around the neighbourhood and get back in time for dinner. If it was the summertime, I'd often go off for a walk after dinner or take a book or a Richie Rich and climb a tree and read. We had a ravine near the back of our house - a perfect place for exploring and finding bugs and seed pods and cool rocks. On occasion I would fall and scrape something and need to go home for a Band-aid, and my mom or dad was there to give me one and then send me on my way. If it was a rainy day, I could hole up in my room with some construction paper, some scissors (real ones) and glue (real glue). Or my Barbies. Or some sewing or kntting. Egads. I sewed and knitted. Around lunchtime, I would emerge for a baloney sandwich and some cartoons, and then go back to my project.
There are little kids who live on my street here in Toronto. It's a street that is a dead end. No traffic other than the the slow drive in or out from the residents. But the kids are never outside without their parents at their side. I never see a group of young children crossing the street to go to the convenience store to load up on sugar - in fact one would never see a young child walking anywhere by themselves. It would be enough of a rare sight as to create alarm in the viewer. Why is that child walking unaccompanied?
What has happened between then and now? Are there more "bad things" likely to happen to a young person in today's world than the one in which I grew up? Sure, tragedies did occur and kids did get into trouble "back in my day", but that was just life. Now it appears as if everyone is always expecting the worst to occur at all times, and it's a national catastrophe when it does.
I meet the kids of my friends. Their days are scheduled to the teeth - huge days. School. Then usually soccer or swimming or gymnastics. Something that involves some huge energy. Then homework. I never had homework until middle school. Not ever. I don't know why we didn't, but we just didn't. Everything we needed to do we did in class. I can only assume, given what I read in the news, that a lot of class time must be used for other issue-based matters these days. Like grief counseling. Gun control. HPV vaccination discussions. Cell phone calls.
It must be so hard being a parent these days. It's not even 10 a.m. yet as I write this, and the television is saturated with material that is certainly not kid-friendly. If I'd run into something like The Maury Povich Show at the age of 8, I would have been one of those kids that sees something so shocking they stop talking for about ten years. Jeez, the old black & white Frankenstein movies sent me over the edge (although I loved them, of course), but to see the things - the real things - that show up indiscriminately all over the TV at all times - lipsuction procedures and morbidly obese toddlers - I'd be a neurotic, quivering mess. That was one of the disadvantages of the freedom I had during my own formative years - I developed a profoundly overactive imagination. My parents needn't have worried about "bad things" happening in my world - I worried enough about them myself. But I worried about things that were unlikely - decapitations and vampires and my dolls coming to life to take revenge if treated them unfairly. A brochure at the dentist's office convinced me I had childhood leukemia.
So while I'm thankful that my childhood world was one created mostly by my own spontaneity - the only scheduled activity I can recall was a weekly piano lesson - and even that occurred during the lunch hour during the school week - I grew up to encounter a world that comprises all the things I feared were out there, and much worse, anyway.
Knitting helps. And lots of garlic bagel bites. For the vampires.