In the seventies our next-door neighbor’s dog bit off the face of the kid that lived up the street. The boy’s blood starred the sidewalk in a constellation that stained the white concrete for years.
As the boy went into surgery the neighbors whispered that he shouldn’t have been teasing the dog with foxtails on such a hot day. What did he think would happen?
I never saw that kid again but the dog continued to roam loose, shitting on everyone’s lawns and scaring the children. I can’t imagine it now that I’m a parent.
Lots online lately about how great it was to be a kid in the seventies and eighties. We helicopter parent our children now. Society was better with fewer rules. We are robbing our kids of authentic childhood. Our kids should have a seventies summer.
I was a kid in 70’s and 80’s middle class suburbia, with loving parents and amid average neighbors. But rip away the hazy film of nostalgia, the 70’s and 80’s weren’t always so great. Those years weren’t all wind in your hair and Wonderbread.
For example, as children in the 70’s and 80’s. . . . .
- We did not wear seat belts. It was a blast sliding along vinyl seats on windy roads. Long trips flew by in way backs and the beds of pick up trucks. But when I was nine, someone broadsided our Dodge Dart and sent us spinning. I rammed my aunt’s cheekbones with my head, breaking her face and suffering a concussion. I’ve been in one totaling car wreck with air bags and seat belts, and one without. I walked away from the seat belt wreck in a straight line. The seat belt law is a good law.
- We watched awful television. I tried watching Wonder Woman with my ten-year-old daughter. She was horrified by the relentless sexual harassment of Diana Prince. Diana gets her revenge later as Wonder Woman, but as a regular woman she deflects men’s gross advances with coy remarks that allow them to save face. So many of the TV shows we remember as harmless and funny are full of the message that relentless innuendo and harassment are harmless and funny. Maybe that was why . . .
had a high tolerance for skeevy adults. If
you were a girl in the 70’s and 80’s, sexual harassment was part of the
landscape. In one office where I had a summer job, one of the adult
managers came in when I was alone, tracing his pen up and down my arm and
sitting too close to me. He wasn’t worried about a harassment lawsuit and
it would never have occurred to me to press one.
My daughter would flip out if a friend’s dad rubbed up against her, or if one of her teachers told her boyfriend she was a slut. I took these things in stride. I told myself none of it mattered to me. Like Diana Prince, I acted polite to the manager, the dad, the teacher. As scared and small as they made me feel, I let them feel harmless and funny. No girl I knew ever did anything different in similar situations in the 70’s and 80’s.
- We didn’t learn in school. I’m no standardized testing advocate but the 70’s and 80’s had no standards at all. I read Jane Eyre and wrote at home and filled out SRA quizzes at school. If it weren’t for my own reading habit the boredom would have crushed me. It was through reading that I recognized that in my neighborhood in the 70’s and 80’s. . . .
- The Lord of the Flies was a real thing. Yes, in the 70’s and 80’s we left the house until the streetlights came on. We weren’t always playing Perfection and freeze tag. The 70’s suburban neighborhood wasn’t all ladybugs and drinks from the garden hose. The biggest kids often did what they wanted with the littlest when no one was watching us but us. When I was my ten-year-old daughter’s age, I walked the mile to school with older kids. We got there early enough to hang out at the corner liquor store where we ate Jolly Ranchers, discussed oral sex techniques and admired the boys as they blew marijuana smoke rings. For a lot of us, the 70’s and 80’s were no Mayberry.
So I choose schools carefully for my daughters, and I drive them there myself. I get to know the families of their friends, especially before sleepovers, and they get to know me. We make our children wear seat belts, we don’t leave them in the car when running errands, and we teach them to apply SPF 15 before swimming.
In fact, I’m writing this right now by the side of our neighborhood public pool with lots of other parents. My youngest daughter is across the way swimming and diving and making friends with the other kids. She’s a strong girl, self-reliant to the point of making me feel obsolete half the time. She’s never needed me out here during the long summer afternoons by the pool and she probably never will.
But if she does, I’m sitting right here. Not a helicopter.