It is 9:30 a.m. on a hot summer morning in July, and I am doing the same thing I did the day before this, and the day before that, actually every day since school let out for the summer. I am scanning the big picture window in my parents’ living room, waiting for a sign of my neighborhood friends; specifically, my two best friends in the world. I am 13 and, outside of my family, they are my world. From the time we wake up, until we lay our heads on the pillow at night, we are together.
The phone rings in the kitchen, because, shocker, that’s how the phones were back then, kids! Instead of being nailed to your hands (figuratively), they were nailed to the wall (literally), with a 75-foot (or so) curlicue cord that we could stretch within an inch of its life for privacy. But I digress.
I run into the kitchen, answer the phone, and get the call I have been awaiting. It’s go time. Everyone outside! My friends and I all run outside to congregate and do what friends do: spend time together until we are forced apart by the setting of the sun.
In the hours we were together, we would swim, bike the neighborhood, take every bit of spare change we could muster up to the local convenience store for a fountain drink and candy, play baseball in the street, walk every inch of our neighborhood talking, and generally just being too cool for school. It was the summer, baby, and we were living it up! As the sun began to set and the street lights flickered on, the whole neighborhood would meet at “the good time pole” and play hide-and-seek. The game didn’t stop until my mom’s whistle pierced the night sky, telling me it was time to get home and turn in for the night.
Looking back on those days, I don’t recall ever being separated from these girls. We had a whole gang of kids in the neighborhood, and we all played together. But the three of us, Danielle, Diana, and myself, were as thick as thieves. From the time I was very young, until we all separated to go to college, we shared secrets, joys, heartache, laughter. We shared our lives.
It was and will always be one of the sweetest blessings of my life. Looking back on those years, from age 7ish until 17ish, there were little days or memories that didn’t involve these girls. Those people. That neighborhood. It was my safe place, it was my happiness, it was my childhood. And I am not sure it could have been any better. We were free to roam the world: always aware that danger may be found, but pretty sure we would never find it. Unless we purposefully tried to. Don’t tell my mom!
Fast forward 20ish years, and I am watching my kids grow. They have friends and they have lives, but they do it all from an electronic device. Gone are the days of playing outside, biking a neighborhood away, or strolling the streets in the fresh new pair of Keds or KSwiss. Gone are the days when the neighborhood adults were like second parents, feeding you from their fridge because you haven’t been home in hours. Gone is the idea of running next door to grab an outfit out of your other closet, a.k.a. your friend’s closet, who had cool clothes. Gone are the big sisters you didn’t have, but you were scared of at the same time (I am looking at you, Patty and Donna!). My kids’ childhood feels so different than my own, and that makes me incredibly sad.
Maybe it’s just my kids? Maybe we don’t live in the same kind of neighborhood that I grew up in, one riddled with kids who all wanted to play a roaring game of hide-and-seek? I can grasp that times feel different, in that I don’t allow my kids in the yard without supervision. But why? Were things not scary when I was growing up, or do we just know more about the danger now? Have I not given my kids enough freedom to know the joys of hopping on a bicycle and cruising the streets? Is it a reflection of my neighborhood, of my parenting, or of the times? All of these questions swirl my brain as I watch my kids tell me they are playing with their friends … online.
No matter the cause, I can’t help but think they are missing out. Missing out on something that will put a smile on their face, even after 20 years pass. A smile brought on by memories of your old neighborhood and the people that filled it.